You may remember I scoffed at the ’13 JK Wrangler’s “improvements,” such as two windshield washer nozzles and seating that didn’t feel firm enough. After driving Lucky ’13, Currie Enterprises’ ’13 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon project vehicle that we’re covering, I had to eat my words. The new seats were comfortable. Lucky 13 ran great, too, delivering fuel efficiency that rivaled the original ’12 Wrangler Unlimited Chrysler press mule loaner we had.
When I drove the 2012 loaner, the driveability and fuel economy it returned was impressive. On a full-day loop that included on- and off-road driving, the test mule achieved an average of 20.8 mpg.
I was so impressed I purchased a ’12 of my very own. You might remember our 2012 project. That ’12 Wrangler Unlimited didn’t return the same fuel economy as the press mule JK. Completely stock, it would eke out 14 mpg. After the project was complete with 37-inch tires, 4.88 gears, new frontend, 3.5-inch suspension, bumpers, and winch, the Jeep didn’t get better than 11.7 mpg and usually returned about 10 mpg.
Manufacturers have been known to “massage” press fleet vehicles so they run better than any you’ll find on the dealer lot. I figured that was what happened here and that all 3.6L VVT V-6/WA580 transmission Jeeps were the same as our ’12. Lucky 13 proved that theory wrong. In fact, on one tank of gas that was all on-pavement driving, the ’13 managed 23.7 average mpg. The worst it ever did, before heading to Currie, was 17 mpg.
The 2012 mule’s WA580 automatic transmission worked stunningly well. Upshifts and downshifts were crisp and quick. The bump shift allowed instant access to gears and the transmission would start in Second gear when Second was selected. With the speed control activated and the Jeep descending a steep grade, the transmission would downshift to keep vehicle speed where it was set. It worked so well that I suspected the transmission was a bigger star than the 3.6L VVT V-6 mill. Lucky 13’s transmission worked just as well, further allaying my suspicion that the 2012 mule had been massaged.
Project TrailRunner was complete and working well, so it was time for a new project of our own. I decided to order a ’14 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon through Dakota Customs in Rapid City, South Dakota. Dan McKeag, owner of Burnsville Offroad, along with Don Patnoe of the Liberty Jeep Superstore group, created Dakota Customs so their customers would have a one-stop solution to buying and modifying a Jeep.
Some thought went into how to equip the ’14 Rubicon. As mentioned, Lucky 13’s leather seats were comfortable. They looked great and were easy to clean. Black leather seats will be in our 2014. Lucky 13’s paint is Bright White, so another color had to be considered as we didn’t want our ’14 to be a twin of Currie’s project vehicle. The 2014 model year brings a new dark gray/charcoal color called Granite, but it wasn’t available to order yet, so I chose Billet Silver. It’s darker than Bright Silver and lighter than Granite. Black flares and top have a traditional look and the black flares will be easier to keep looking fresh after they’re dragged through bushes and rocks.
Lucky 13 was purchased from Classic Motors in Richfield, Utah, and they had ordered it with 3.73 gears. Surprisingly, the 3.73s worked well and may be one of the reasons the Jeep returned such good fuel economy. As the plan is to run 35-inch tires on the 2014, 4.10 gears were picked. I’m leaving the 4.10s in the front and rear ends, even after upgrading to 35-inch tires. Want to bet they’ll be low enough?
The 730N navigation radio got the nod, even though the cheaper Garmin-sourced 430N navigation unit has a better user interface. The 730N has more memory for the breadcrumb (backtrack) feature. Neither system sounds as well as the TrailRunner’s ’08 OE system does. Jeep has cheaped out on the new speakers.
Hopefully, our new ’14 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon runs as well as the ’12 test mule and Currie’s Lucky 13. I’m looking forward to getting it built and into the backcountry. You’ll be getting all the details here in 4Wheel Drive & Sport Utility Magazine.