Because the current Jeep Wrangler suffers from poor overall fuel economy, the next-generation model will undergo changes to make it more competitive with the “soft SUVs” of Jeep’s rivals, according to Automotive News. To that end, Jeep engineers are focusing on incorporating lightweight materials, more efficient engines, and an improved transmission for the planned update in 2017 -- all while preserving the vehicle's legendary off-road capabilities.

The current 2014 Wrangler in both two- and four-door trims is EPA-rated at 17/21 mph city/highway and 18 mpg combined, when equipped with either the five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. The Wrangler, without any further changes, would improve fuel economy with the addition of Chrysler’s eight-speed automatic, which currently is not compatible with the Wrangler’s four-wheel drive system.

An updated transmission would bring along an updated engine lineup as well, including a smaller gas-powered engine, and the chance for a diesel to find its way to U.S. shores.

Along with an updated transmission and engine, expect the 2017 Wrangler to shed a few pounds. Back in May, Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested the Wrangler is the vehicle which would benefit most from an aluminum body.

With Jeep's sights set on luring buyers away from its competitors’ softer SUVs, there have been rumors that the next Wrangler might lose its current solid front and rear axles. This type of axle is rugged and adds to the Wrangler’s off-road aptitude, but also contributes to a rough on-road ride. Jeep’s CEO Mike Manley sees a reason for this potential change in direction. "You can't sell 19,000-plus retail Wranglers [as the brand did in May] to people who just want to go off-roading," Manley told AN. "Why would, for example, somebody else's SUV that's really an on-road 'soft' SUV not be for me a genuine target for Wrangler?"

While big changes are ahead for the 2017 Wrangler, don’t expect the Wrangler to completely water down its off-road legacy. According to Manley, we will not see the return of a two-wheel-drive Wrangler. "One thing that we will not do is dilute what Wrangler stands for," Manley said. "I killed the two-wheel-drive Wrangler when I took over the brand, and I'm not bringing the two-wheel-drive Wrangler back."

Images shown are of the 2014 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition.

Source: Automotive News (Subscription Required)