The Rubicon may just end up fitting the niche of the buyer who’s looking for the best performance.
When looking for an off-road capable vehicle that makes no compromises, the Jeep nameplate has been ubiquitous with rugged, durable trucks that can handle just about anything that life throws at it. Over the years, the brand has produced iconic vehicles such as the Cherokee (reviewed here) and Wagoneer, but none have quite been as well known as the Wrangler model line. More recently, four door variants and a more powerful engine were added, along with a full set of creature comforts that today’s car buyers expect. Recently, Fiat Chrysler Canada sent over a 2017 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon over for a week on test.
Finished in Bright White, the stubby version of the Wrangler has a very short 2,423 millimetre (95.4 inch) wheelbase, and an overall length of only 4,173 millimetres (164.3 inches). These short dimensions and overhangs help with approach, departure, and break-over angles when going off-road. For those who are enthused by the Jeep notion but aren’t very well ingrained about driving anywhere other than pavement: you can more easily climb and descend steep inclines, as well as reduce the risk of high-centring, when these angles are favourable. Compared to any small sport utility on the market – which are all crossovers nowadays – the Jeep is in a league of its own.
With 254 millimetres (10.0 inches) of ground clearance, the Wrangler Rubicon’s suspension is another area where Jeep didn’t skimp on the hardware. Beefy solid front and rear Dana 44 axles are a plus, complete with electronically locking (“Tru-Lok”) differentials. Like the diff locking and unlocking, the front sway bar can be electronically disconnected from a button within the driver’s reach; this allows for extra suspension articulation when the going gets really tough. The Rock-Trac four-wheel drive transfer case is also unique to the Rubicon, and offers a 4:1 reduction ratio, which contrasts to the base Command-Trac’s 2.72:1. With Rock-Trac, the Rubi can crawl at a consistent 0.8 km/h, which is useful for finer control and added confidence over some really nasty rocks.
Of course, having all this off-road capable suspension implies that there will be some compromises when driving on pavement. While this is true, the latest Wranglers are still much more refined and well-behaved on the highway compared to the Jeeps of old. Every undulation will have secondary motions as the body on frame chassis configuration needs a few extra moments to gain composure between the two halves. The headlights are very dim and poor performers at night when street lighting isn’t present, and there’s also still plenty of wind noise through the soft top – even with the better insulated Premium Sunrider Soft Top option.
Road noise is better than expected, but owners should anticipate the LT 235/75R17 BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tires to begin howling significantly as the tread wears down. Compared to anything else available new today, the whole Wrangler range (reviewed here) is among the roughest riding and loudest of trucks – but hey, that’s not really the point! Especially with the Rubicon, it’s a vehicle that can kick the ass of just about any other stock vehicle off road, and by a long shot, no less.
When it comes to powering all this off-road prowess, Fiat Chrysler’s versatile Pentastar V6 answers the call. As with other vehicles that use this engine, power output favours the top end, and the revs will have to be pushed well past 4,000 rpm in order to get brisk acceleration. Peak power output is 285 horsepower, along with 260 lb-ft of torque. While the soundtrack of the Pentastar is a bit coarse, vibration and harshness are otherwise well controlled. It’s paired with either a six-speed manual or, in the case of the test vehicle, a five-speed automatic.
Typically, a 3.73 rear axle ratio is standard equipment, but an optional 4.10 rear end that matches the ratio of the manual versions is also available. Especially compared to the base 3.21 gears of the lower models, the shorter final drives are an absolute godsend. The torque deficit of the Pentastar is amplified when you’re stuck at low revs, and the 4.10s manages to fix that problem. It’s not a particularly fast car, but drivers generally won’t have problems merging or passing on the highway.
With the extra off-road equipment and other goodies, the Wrangler Rubicon comes in at a curb weight of 1,873 kilograms (4,129 pounds) for the automatic. It’s a 156 kilogram (344 pound) penalty over the base Sport trim, and when combined with the shorter gears, will serve to hurt fuel economy. Jeep rates city mileage at 14.1 L/100km, in contrast with 11.1 L/100km on the highway. Even with a significant amount of highway driving to and from Southern Ontario cottage country, observed fuel economy was no better than 13.2 L/100km. The nominal numbers are likely an average or different trim level tested, so beware of real-world results if you decide to tick off more option boxes.
On the inside, the Jeep’s interior is strictly business. Durable black plastic is the name of the game here, which also combines for a bit of water resistance, should drivers wish to drive with the top, doors, or windshield in the open-air position. Rubicon models get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming rear view mirror, 115-volt power outlet, as well as the Premium Sunrider soft top, fog lamps, and rock rails. The 6.5-inch touch screen infotainment suite is much simpler and not as good as the industry-leading UConnect 8.4 system seen in other cars; Bluetooth smartphone pairing is quite a pain, as each new phone has to be done painstakingly through the Jeep’s voice command function.
With the Rubicon starting at a base price of $40,295, major options include the $1,495 five-speed automatic transmission, $225 for automatic climate control, $1,225 for the 6.5-inch touch screen multimedia system (including navigation), and $400 for heated front seats. Thankfully, the millions of Jeep logos and insignia were standard equipment, and serve to remind drivers just what it is that they’re driving. The as-tested price came out to $45,035, which is a pretty penny when compared to the $27,695 base price of the Sport model, but when digging deeper, the Sport pretty much only includes a bare chassis and engine. When looking at the specifications, aesthetics, and extra off-road capability thanks to the extra hardware, the Rubicon may just end up fitting the niche of the buyer who’s looking for the best performance, money no object.