Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
If you haven't heard about the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, you just haven't been paying attention. The folks at Jeep took the normally capable TJ and equipped it with an assortment of hard-core trail goodies to make it even better. Most notable of these are Dana 44 axles front and rear that are equipped with air lockers and 4.10 gears. Of course, there is also the 4:1 low range of the NV241OR transfer case, disc brakes at every corner, 31-inch Goodyear MT/R radials, and 1330 U-joints. Armed with this impressive list of equipment, the Rubicon is set to do battle.
What we liked
It came as no surprise to us that the Rubicon was awesome on technical trails. Put it in low range, first gear and engage the front and rear air lockers and the 'Con would go pretty much anywhere. It was only limited by its lack of under-chassis clearance, but could easily take lines that the other vehicles could only dream of taking.
We liked most of the mechanical aspects of the Rubicon. How can you not like a lever-operated transfer case with a low-range of 4.0:1? Or air lockers built by Tochigi Fuji Sanjyo front and rear that engage with the push of a button? Praise also went to the Goodyear MT/Rs, which provided good bite and traction in most situations.
What we didn't like
While the Rubicon did perform well while crawling over the rocks, it did not fare well in other types of terrain. On washboard dirt roads the Rubicon was way too stiffly sprung, and this, combined with its short wheelbase, made it a handful. In the sand the Goodyear MT/Rs were too aggressive and tended to dig rather than float.
Something everyone noticed and commented upon was the Rubicon's lack of power. For whatever reason this was the most underpowered TJ we had ever driven. Finally, the Rubicon was not a fun vehicle to be in on the pavement. Lots of engine and wind noise made its way into the interior. The stiff springs made for a busy and nervous ride. Our Rubicon also seemed to like to move around on its rear axle, which made for constant corrections at the steering wheel.
Check It Out If:
Rocks are your thing.
Avoid It If:
You have to commute in it.
The Short Version:
Note to Jeep: It's time for the 3.7L V-6. Brilliant at what it's built for, less than brilliant everywhere else. It has the T-case and differentials every 4x4 should have. Five-speed trans nice and shifty. Plenty of underbody protection.
The Final Verdict
The Rubicon is a specialized vehicle built for technical trail sections. That's it. We love the fact that it does not pretend to be something it is not, and our hats are off to Jeep for building it. However, it did not do well in this comparison test, in which many aspects beyond trail performance are considered and evaluated. To the hard-core enthusiast, however, this should mean nothing. If you are looking for the most capable Jeep ever built, we advise you to rush right out and buy one of these--as long as you're sure you won't mind living with its shortcomings on the pavement.