Part 4: Graduation Day
It's been a year since we took delivery of our '07 Wrangler Rubicon, and it's been a genuine learning experience for us. The JK had already won our admiration as our 2007 Four Wheeler of the Year, but that test only takes place over a few days. What would happen if we subjected the Wrangler to a grueling year-long curriculum of dirt, rocks, sand, dry wash, and miles of treacherous freeway driving?
This month, we hand out our final exam. And after a year under our tutelage at Wheeler University, this student passes with flying colors-eye-catching Rescue Green, to be precise.
The only underachiever in this class, then as now, has been the Jeep's 3.8L V-6, a C-student sourced from the Chrysler minivan line which underwhelms both at the flywheel and at the gas pump. Observed mileage over the year has been what we'd expect from a V-8, and off-line performance has been about what we'd expect from a minivan motor. When we see Ford producing V-6 gas engines of similar displacement for its crossover vehicle lineup that make more power and get substantially better mileage, we know that Jeep can do better in the engine department-and hopefully will, in the next redesign. Likewise the 42RE four-speed, which has been in use, in one form or another, in Jeep vehicles since 1993 and which shifts like-well, like a 15-year-old slushbox. Then again, it could've been a CVT like the Patriot's got, so we'll count our blessings for now, give it a C-plus, and go with the NSG 370 six-speed next time.
After that, remedial lessons have been few and far between. Its stubborn floor shifter aside, the NVG Rock-Trac transfer case and its 4:1 low-range gear rate an "A" in our book, and the Dana 44 solid axles, electronic locking diffs, and flexy multilink/coil suspension confer the newest Wrangler with valedictory status on just about any trail. We've said it before, and we'll say it again-you won't find a better out-of-the-box OE trail machine anywhere, in any class, than a JK Wrangler in Rubicon trim. On pavement, the Jeep's basic architecture-tall stance, boxy profile, big knobby BFG tires-makes it a little wobbly at higher speeds, but we'll take the trade-off in trailability and keep to the posted speed limits on the Interstate. And in congested city driving, the Jeep's minimal overhangs and tight turning circle make driving a less-stressful urban experience. If the JK were ours, we'd definitely spring for the Sirius radio and the current-gen Nav system, which is ridiculously easy to use (even we could figure it out without a manual) and handy in operation-two more candidates for the Dean's List here.
Another "A" grade goes out to our tester's build quality. Chrysler has experienced some frequently discussed QC problems in recent years, but our test JK, while exhibiting some typical injection-mold interior squeaks, has performed reliably and without incident throughout the year. Tire wear has been minimal, and seats and floor mats are still in very good condition despite our best efforts to trash them up with oil-smudged fingers and gallons of spilled lattes. Total maintenance costs over the 15,000-mile test period: Zero. Now that's an A-plus in anyone's book.
Normally, when we return a long-termer to a manufacturer after a year's worth of driving, we're happy to hop into another new rig and start our testing experience anew. But we really miss our JK, and wish we could keep her in class for another year.
Report: 4 of 4
Previous reports: Apr. '08, Aug. '08, Dec. '08
Base price: $26,695
Price as tested: $32,420
Four-wheel-drive system: NVG241 Rock-Trac part-time two-speed
Miles to date: 15,777
Miles since last report: 3,252
Average mpg (this report): 15.03
Test best tank (mpg): 18.78
Test worst tank (mpg): 12.26
This period: 15,000-mile service. Fluid and filter changes covered under warranty.
Problem areas: None
What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Trail prowess, urban-friendliness, reliability
Not: Engine performance, mileage
* "No easier vehicle to parallel-park."
* "Throttle response is pedal-to-the-muddle."
* "Even newbies can rockcrawl with running gear like this."
* "Rear seats a snap to fold down."
* "Rescue Green: Better than Viagra."