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Long-Term Test Second Report: 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

Posted in News: Features on September 17, 2019
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Contributors: Stuart A. Bourdon

Last time we peppered you with a lot of facts and figures about our 2.0L turbocharged Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited that won the 2019 Four Wheeler SUV of the Year (SUVOTY), so this time rather than reiterate a bunch of figures, we'll dive straight into what it's like to live with this vehicle on a daily basis. And despite the fact that some consumers out there may purchase a Wrangler as nothing more than a weekend toy, we understand the majority will be driving the tires off their Wranglers every day.

As for the off-road stuff, let's be frank. We don't think there's a better off-road vehicle built today than the Rubicon Wrangler. It feels light and airy on the trail, sucks up bumps and washboard dips without punishing the occupants, has enough high-range juice to tackle sand and mud, and obviously has the low-range gearing and locker capability to out-rockcrawl anything on the market. Factor in the ground clearance, stability, approach and departure angles, steel bumpers, and armor, and we'd be completely at ease driving our '19 Rubicon up to and through the Rubicon trail any weekend of the year. So, let's get to some of the more commonly asked questions we get from potential Wrangler buyers.

Engine: 2.0L vs. 3.6L
Most uninformed people just assume the 2.0L doesn't deliver low-end torque as well as the 3.6L. "Yeah, my cousin's uncle's brother's roommate test-drove a 2.0L and said it sucked." We strongly disagree. In simplistic terms of straight-line acceleration from a stop, the eTorque system, which gives the turbocharged four-cylinder a slight electric assist off the line and between gearshifts, allows the 2.0L to pull away from stoplights and row through the gears with a meaty, full bag of squishy torque. It's not until the higher registers of the rpm range that you actually feel the 15hp difference between the 270hp 2.0L and 285hp 3.6L. And if you care to check the numbers, the 2.0L makes more torque over a wider rpm range beginning lower on the scale than the 3.6L. It's that lower, flatter torque curve of the 2.0L that's so nice in daily driving—simply giving a little more squirt of throttle helps the 2.0L Wrangler keep up with traffic through hills and grades without needing to downshift. In reality, the 2.0L and 3.6L are two very different powertrains that behave differently, but we wouldn't call one head and shoulders better than the other.

Transmission: Auto vs. Manual
As noted, our test model is equipped with the mild-hybrid eTorque system that necessitates the 850RE eight-speed automatic transmission. While our more serious off-road vehicles all run a manual transmission, we honestly don't miss the ability to row our own gears, especially given how nicely the 850RE's programming is dialed. The eight-speed shifting is seamless and keeps the engine in the meaty part of the powerband. Perhaps it's a bit different in the peakier 3.6L V-6 engine, but there's no hunting and pecking through gears on steep grades. Off-road the eTorque system is invisible, allowing the turbo four to crawl with tractive control.

Top: Hard vs. Soft
Many people we speak to about our long-term test vehicle seem surprised that we eschewed the Freedom Top hardtop system for the Sunrider soft top. We aren't NASA-level slide-rule geeks, but we're betting that mpg-wise what we're gaining in terms of lighter weight is negated by the slightly poorer aero of a soft top. But that said, it's just so nice to be able to flip two latches behind the sunvisors and peel back the Sunrider portion of the soft top, exposing the front and partially exposing the rear passengers to direct sunlight. We have noticed that in some wind conditions there is an annoying audible buzzing that emits from the sleeves the bows ride in, especially the center ones behind the front and rear passengers' heads, but it's not something that happens with great frequency. Also, the rear soft window makes it a hassle to load bulky objects into the cargo area, requiring the window to be unzipped and the lower window brace to be pulled from its track. In these instances, a hardtop with its solid construction and flip-up rear glass would be welcome. But overall, we find the soft top comes with few drawbacks and we think it's the quietest soft top ever on a Wrangler. Our only other day-to-day gripe now that the weather has been heating up here in SoCal is that the A/C system struggles to keep the black soft top-equipped interior cool. The black soft top fabric really sucks up the sun's rays and radiates that heat down onto the passengers, even after 10-15 minutes of driving. In short-hop commuting, running to the store, or picking up the kids, unless you're staying behind the wheel for more than 20 minutes or so, the interior always feels like it's an oven. However, once the A/C system has a chance to catch up it is able to adequately cool the interior adequately.

Tires: All-Terrain vs. Mud-Terrain
We have to admit, we were a tad taken aback when we learned the JL would be the first Rubicon package to come from the factory without a mud-terrain tire. We get why this is the case with the JL, but we did go into our test vehicle with something of a chip on our shoulder against the 285/70R17 A-Ts. But that said, if you have to do an all-terrain, it's really hard to do better than the BFG All-Terrain T/A KO2 that Jeep selected for the JL Rubicon. On the street they're invisible. You can't hear a peep from them. And unlike most conventional mud-terrains, the A-Ts have enough voids and siping in the outer tread blocks that when they're run on a solid axle, feathering of the edges isn't a huge issue like with most mud tires. They offer exceptional grip in soft sand, rock, and soil, but honestly—they're no mud-terrain. Do we feel limited by the tires that come with the JL Rubicon? Truthfully, no. But there's still that nagging voice in the back of our minds that says, "When these wear out, go buy some KM3s."

Bumpers: Optional Steel Bumper Group or Regular
At a glance the untrained eye isn't going to immediately notice something like bumper material. Especially when the design of the $1,295 optional Steel Bumper Group looks so similar to the pedestrian Jeep Wrangler bumper design. In these days of highly accessorized Wranglers that are bedazzled with catalogs full of magpie trinkets, some Rubicon buyers may think the Steel Bumper Group is a waste of money that could be put toward much beefier, gaudier bumper systems for their Jeeps to help them stand out. We disagree. In our use we've found the optional Steel Bumper Group to be a good-looking, very strong, well-engineered system that complements the Wrangler's lines without going overboard in terms of weight or gaudiness. We've bashed the bumper ends on rocks and trail obstacles with the only damage being scraped paint. We appreciate the fact that the front bumper features removable ends, so if you wanted to run it as a stubby front bumper for severe off-roading you've got that option, and it's also ready to accept most aftermarket winch mount plates and winches. Out back, the rear bumper affords great departure angles and (like most aftermarket rear JL bumpers) retains the factory hitch. Your opinions may differ, but for us, rolling the Steel Bumper Group into the payment plan is a no-brainer.

For this report we've focused more on the daily driving aspect, hitting the pavement quite a bit more than the dirt. We've been loving the just-right steering feel, maneuverability, visibility, and seat comfort. Hand-calculating the fuel usage shows the trip computer gauge to be about 1-2 mpg optimistic, but even with that we're getting over 20 mph on long highway trips and a solid 16-18 mpg in town. Given that the styling that comes with the classic Wrangler lines is still somewhat brick-like, you can't beat that with a stick. Next time we'll have some long-range freeway trips and some dirt trail work under our tires to talk about.

Report: 2 of 4
Previous report: Sep '19
Base price: $41,545
Price as tested: $55,760
Four-wheel-drive system: Part-time, manual shift lever, two-speed

Long-Term Numbers
Miles to date: 10,091
Miles since last report: 6,622
Average mpg (this report): 17.78
Test best tank (mpg): 20.12 (almost all highway)
Test worst tank (mpg): 15.04 (almost all off-road)

Maintenance
This period: None
Problem areas: None

What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Meaty torque band and excellent mpg
Not: Soft top rattle in some wind conditions

Logbook Quotes
"After 13 years of center stack Wrangler window switches, it still feels wrong. "
"Feeling of off-road invincibility in 4-Lo."

Options as Tested
Leather-Trimmed Bucket Seats ($1,495), Customer Preferred Package 28R ($795), LED Lighting Group ($995), Electronic Infotainment System Group ($1,595), Jeep Active Safety Group ($895), Adaptive Cruise Control/Forward Collision Warning ($795), Steel Bumper Group ($1,295), Trail Rail Management Group ($195), Soft Top Window Storage Bag ($75), 8-Speed Automatic Transmission ($2,000), 2.0L I-4 DOHC DI Turbo eTorque Engine ($1,000), Remote Proximity Keyless Entry ($495), Body-Color Fender Flares ($495), Premium Black Sunrider Soft Top ($595), Destination Charge ($1,495)

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