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First Look: 2003 Wrangler Rubicon

Rear Left View
Jon Thompson | Writer
Posted August 1, 2002

What We Know, What We Can Tell You

Step By Step

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  • The Wrangler Rubicon doesn’t look significantly different from other Wranglers. The tip-offs to its identity include the 31-inch Goodyear MT/R tires and the rock rails.

  • Here’s a look inside the Rubicon’s rear diff. Built by Tochigi Fuji Sanjyo, it’s an air locker as well as a limited-slip unit.

  • One of the more interesting obstacles on Hell’s Revenge is this little beauty, called Hell’s Gate. We’re not supposed to tell you how the Rubicon worked on this obstacle but we think you can see for yourself.

  • You saw it here first: a cutaway of the new NVG 241OR transfer case.

  • The Rubicon’s bare chassis reveals the new NVG 241OR transfer case, but also seen on the crossmember right behind the T-case are the two pumps that supply air to the lockers.

  • Mickey’s Hot Tub in a stock vehicle? Sure, why not, as long as it’s a Wrangler Rubicon.

  • That switch on the far right is the one that activates the lockers. Poke it once, and it locks the rear. Poke it again and the front diff is locked. Repeated poking toggles the front locker on and off. To unlock both diffs, you lift the switch up.

Back in the February issue of Four Wheeler we told you that Jeep engineers were working on a significantly upgraded version of the Wrangler TJ, a model known as the Wrangler Rubicon. We knew quite a bit about this new vehicle, including the fact that it would be equipped with enough hardcore equipment to make it the most serious new Jeep vehicle ever built. What we didn’t learn were the answers to the questions everybody was most curious about: Would it be as good as it sounds, and when will it go on sale?

Now we know. The Wrangler Rubicon is every bit as good as you’d expect it to be. We proved that for ourselves by spending a day behind the wheel of a new Rubicon, driving it over a trail known as Hell’s Revenge during the Moab Easter Jeep Safari. What’s it like? We can’t tell you. Jeep executives have told us that we can show you photos from that ride, but they’ve forbidden us to talk about Rubicon driving impressions until August 1. By that time we will have conducted a full road test of this vehicle over the Rubicon Trail, so you’ll have to wait awhile to get the full scoop on the Rubicon. What we can tell you is that the Rubicon will be available late this summer.

To recap: The Rubicon’s upgrades include front and rear Dana 44 axles in place of the Dana 30/35 front/rear axles used in other versions of the Wrangler, except when the optional Dana 44 rear is specified. Inside these Dana 44s, you’ll find front and rear locking 4.10:1 differentials built by Tochigi Fuji Sanjyo, chosen, according to Jeep engineer Jim Repp, “because they were the only ones we couldn’t break.” These lockers, which can be actuated at speeds up to 10 mph, require 5 psi to make them work. A dash-mounted switch locks the rear axle and toggles the front axle locker on and off. About that rear diff: When it isn’t locked, it’s limited-slip. Also on board are a pair of heavy-duty driveshafts with 1330 U-joints. Because slower is better when you’re out on the trail, the Rubicon will be equipped with the new, Jeep-only NVG 241OR transfer case with a low-range ratio of 4:1. So with the manual transmission and its 4.02:1 first- gear ratio, the Wrangler Rubicon has a crawl ratio of 65.92, among the lowest of any new vehicle currently on the market. Putting all that crawlability to the ground will be a set of 31-inch Goodyear MT/R tires.

Four-wheel disc brakes also are part of the Rubicon package, replacing the front disc/rear drum system used on other models in the line. Finally, to minimize body damage on difficult trails, a pair of steel rock rails completes the package. Note that all ’03 Wranglers get interiors that have been significantly upgraded, making them far more comfortable and civilized than ever before.

That’s all we can tell you for now. What we have to do is wait until we get a Rubicon to test. Then we’ll spill the beans. Trust us, it’ll be worth the wait.