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Jeep Wrangler Rubicon JK Long-Term Wrapup

Posted in Project Vehicles on August 1, 2008
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The Staff At 4-Wheel & Off-Road Has Had A spunky, two-door, flame-red, six-speed manual transmission Jeep Wrangler Rubicon JK for more than a year. Chrysler dropped the Jeep off for our long-term evaluation and testing after it handily won our 2007 4x4 of the Year competition. But the long-term test is where a vehicle's true colors shine, and since we are 4x4 professionals and enthusiasts at heart, we look forward to a yearlong review. Each of us on staff has a little dirt, sand, mud, and rock flowing through our veins, and we all have different lifestyles, driving habits, and quirks, which seem to spice up our vehicle evaluations.

We have driven the Jeep with well-mannered intentions, and we have pushed the JK to its limits in our own special ways. What we have determined about the two-door Wrangler is that we all like its street performance; we have varying opinions about its styling, ergonomics, and interior appointments; but we all think this little Jeep is an extremely capable off-highway vehicle. A vehicle truly befitting the title "4x4 of the Year."

Quick Specs
Engine 3.8L V-8
Transmission Six-speed manual transfer case rock-Trac NV241 4.0:1
Horsepower 205 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque (LB-FT) 240 @ 4,000 rpm
Mileage (MPG) 14 to 18

Kevin Mcnulty Executive Editor
I had driven a built-up, four-door, hardtop JK with an automatic transmission for over a year, and after driving this lighter two-door Wrangler, I was finally able to find the power of the 3.8L V-6. The fuel efficiency of this unmodified JK averaged about 16 mpg around town and on the highway. This is far better than my old project four-door which averaged only 11.1 mpg. Keep in mind, the four-door had 35-inch-tall tires and heavy steel bumpers and body armor, and mainly ran California blended fuel, which always decreases mileage ratings.

The JK may not be what the true hard-core, grassroots Jeep fanatic might look for, but many of these old guys are still upset the 8-track tape player went away! I like the JK's interior appointments and creature comforts. I see nothing wrong with four-wheeling comfortably. If I wanted to experience a harsh leaf-sprung, uncomfortable ride, I'd jump in my old Commando. The seating is comfortable, even on long trips, and the visibility is good with minimal blind spots. This makes driving on the highway much safer, and wheeling on the trail much easier. The only issues I have with this Jeep are the sunvisors which don't offer much protection, and the rubber of the soft top's rear window doesn't seal to the tailgate or stay put.

Fred Williams Tech Editor
Driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, I took a detour through Death Valley. All the on-road driving was great, the soft top was quiet, and the engine had no problems pulling enough rpm that we could catch up to our friends who were a few miles ahead of us, but I'd love even more power. Once we hit the dirt the JK was a real trooper. Rockcrawling with modified vehicles was no problem on the entry- to mid-level trails, dirt-road rallying was a blast, and one elusive ditch that jumped out in front of us didn't leave a scratch. All considered, it could easily be the most comfortable and capable stock soft-top Jeep ever made.

Alan Huber Art Director
I ran the JK with the top down (leaving the rear window and sail panels at home in the garage due to a lack of room in the Jeep with camping gear). We got rained on for three hours on the highway and then sandblasted with 50-mph gusts in the desert that night. This may be whining, but I wish the entire top could be folded down, keeping all the pieces intact just in case you decide to put the top up for protection.

Off-road I alternated hitting my funny bone on the too-hard plastic armrest and console lid. Not at all funny. The JK is surprisingly good at speed over whoop-dee-dos and fast fire roads for a short-wheelbase vehicle. No, it's not a prerunner, mind you, but still fun to blast around in. It has plenty of room for cargo if you don't need the rear seat (also left behind in the garage). The low gearing and two lockers make for a surprisingly nimble, capable 4x4. An experienced driver could show up a lot of expensively built, "extreme" rigs!

Rick Pw Editor-In-Chief
Simply put, this is the best 4x4 vehicle available from any manufacturer in this country at this time. Period. That's not to say it's perfect, as the JK Rubicon is far from that, but that's a good thing as well. Sure, the door panels are too thick, the sunvisors are horrendous, the soft top seals in the back like a sloppy kiss, and the minivan engine is atrocious. But I still love the Rubicon JK and would take it on any trail in and out of the country, because it gives me the confidence that it will make the grade or die trying, and even then bring me safely back home. That's what sets it apart from all the other rides with floppy front ends and electronic traction control.

The Rubicon has gears, lockers, and a suspension built for wheeling. Most rigs can't even get to the trailheads that the Rubicon can. Are we happy with things like curved windshields, curved body panels, curved bumpers, and the fact that the JK is lower, wider, and generally fatter than the TJ it replaced? No, but it is still quite a bit more competent than its contemporaries in the outback, where the JK shines. Even on the road the Jeep is more comfortable, quiet, and luxurious than previous Wranglers. Driving cross-country in comfort, then conquering a tough trail and driving back home is a real treat to us hard-core types. But load down the beast with a hardtop, two or three extra bodies, and all the gear that won't fit inside, and you have a serious power-to-weight ratio problem. The anemic V-6 is just adequate for an unloaded ride, and dismal at best when fully loaded. Thank someone for low range, low gears, and a manual tranny to make up for this torqueless minivan motor. But still, I'd buy one and take it home, as it is by far the best production 4x4 available-bar none.

Ali Mansour Feature Editor
Driving the new Jeep JK Wrangler is like cruising in a more mature version of the much-loved TJ model. It certainly has all the right cues to remind you that you're driving a Jeep, but there is an air of distinction that takes the JK and drops it into what I would consider a slightly more luxurious category. Although I like the new-found width and comfort, I miss the torque of the inline-six and certainly could live without all the new electronic nannies. Overall I think Jeep has developed a more well-rounded Wrangler that I believe fits more comfortably into mainstream America's life. So as long as the Jeeps keep rolling off the showroom floors with half doors, soft tops, and solid front axles, the Jeep Wrangler will keep getting a thumbs up from me.

We all seemed to agree on one thing: We can definitely feel the performance of the 3.8L V-6 in the lighter soft-top JK. The manual transmission gives it the performance edge over the automatic Unlimited. Pw even catches rubber in Second gear, which is impressive for a vehicle fitted with a traction control system. The JK was also fun to drive around town while shifting through the six-speed manual transmission; keeping up with traffic on the Southern California freeways and desert highways wasn't an issue with the JK's freed-up horsepower and torque from a manual transmission. The staff tested the JK under every driving condition and standard it was designed and built for, and more. Some may have been a little harder on it than others, and maybe one of us beat it up a little more than we should have, but the JK never let us down and we never experienced any mechanical issues or problems. Our final point is that no matter what we did to the little flame-red JK, it always seemed to bring us back home.

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