Unless you’ve splurged on the 6.4 litre V8 pushing out 470 horsepower and doing the 0-60 sprint in 4.5 seconds, the Jeep Wrangler isn’t exactly the speed machine most of us want it to be. This is a car that’s meant to get you places no matter the terrain, and while straight line fun isn’t exactly its trump card, you can do better. The standard 3.6 does the sprint in just over six seconds, heavier Sahara models nudge 7, with similar numbers in the turbocharged 4-pot. Respectable, but this can be improved.
Performance upgrades come in all shapes and sizes for the JL Wrangler, and can cost a fair bit. If you’re not willing to spend thousands to get better acceleration, adjustable traction in different terrain, improved towing and cut down on fuel use, then going with a Jeep Wrangler electronic throttle control seems like a sensible choice. This small device lets you play with the car’s factory throttle response, either with a more direct and immediate reaction, or more subtle acceleration depending on where and how you drive. The benefit is that drivers can fine-tune how the engine and car behave when you’re firmly pressing the gas pedal.
Throttle Control Basics
The throttle in your car is a fly-by-wire unit. It works by sending information to the car’s ECU from sensors that determine how far down the gas pedal is, in order to adjust basic engine metrics like fueling and timing. The ECU is also tasked with opening and closing the throttle body to supply the right amount of air needed for efficient combustion. All good, but when you take into account the slight delay that Jeep and other manufacturers throw in to curb emissions and cited issues (unwanted wheelspin and sudden jolting among others) those few parts of a second can get you in trouble. Consider cases like overtaking or going up steep hills and nothing happening even if you have the gas floored. The disconnect between what you’re doing and how the car reacts is not only annoying, but can become a safety risk.
This is where throttle controllers come into the picture. They’re designed to manipulate the voltage the ECU reads from the sensors lining the gas pedal and throttle body, in effect supplying slightly higher voltage than the factory settings at any given pedal position. The result is you get immediate throttle response, better steering feel and of course faster acceleration. So feel free to cut a few hundredths off the quoted times above. You’ll be embarrassing a few full-fledged sportscars in the process.
What a Throttle Controller Brings to the JL Wrangler
Throttle controllers come with adjustable modes and each with its own settings. They go by different names in different makes of the device but essentially perform the same. There’s a performance mode, that gets the best throttle response when flooring the gas, an eco mode that cuts down the throttle, and usually, an auto mode that’s a set-and-forget option and gives the best results based on your driving history.
The performance mode is where all the fun is. Most controllers here have up to 10 incremental settings, ranging from a slight nudge to an outright smack in the face with the controller dialled to 10. This will get the Wrangler up to highway speeds in the blink of an eye. But besides better acceleration with the added push, this mode is what you’d want when overtaking, towing or getting a better feel for the engine in uphill climbs. There are faster reaction times from a standstill, say from the lights or when leaving the driveway, more traction through the big tires and more feedback from the steering. In short, your Jeep is faster and with no delay, handles better too.
Most drivers will be looking for the added performance a Jeep Wrangler electronic throttle control provides. But there will be times when even the factory throttle response is a bit too much. The eco mode tames the throttle to provide more control on loose and uneven surfaces, with tires biting more into the ground. Great for off-road uses, but also when using the Wrangler for towing. There’ll be no accidental wheel spin and getting the car in a tight spot as a result. Or damaging your Wrangler from sudden lunges into rocks or stumps. And risk decoupling a trailer on harsher ground. The model also has settings in easy-to-adjust increments, so you get just the right reaction from the car with the gas down. This is also the mode to be in when hitting rush hour traffic, as it will save some cash on fuel costs.
Lastly, if you can’t be bothered to change settings as the road or terrain changes, a useful auto mode does all the work for you. This changes the throttle based on your previous driving, a nice feature considering how convenient it is. Ideal for cruising speeds on highways. What’s more, you can jump between modes and settings at any time and at any speed and the throttle will change in an instant. Drivers can also revert to the factory settings if they feel they’ve had a bit too much fun.
While not new, throttle controllers are an interesting piece of tech. The small module placed in arm’s reach on the dash or centre console is unobtrusive and easy to use, has a clear and legible LCD screen and delivers tons of benefits to your Wrangler. You get a faster and more responsive Jeep, one that handles better in different types of terrain, sips less fuel and makes for a safer car. A JL throttle controller is easy to set up and wire, taking just a few minutes, and won’t impede on other car systems. It doesn’t add any power, contrary to what most people think, but it makes the best use of it. So, being completely legal and a fraction of the price of comparable performance upgrades, the only question that remains is: “Where do I get one?”