Awesome. That was the first word we could think of as we took the wheel of the new '03 Rubicon Wrangler and hit the trail. Of course, we were a bit blas considering we knew what it should be able to do and taking into account its heritage and underpinnings. A standard Wrangler is a no-nonsense trail rig, capable of outdoing nearly any other production rig on the right trail. No, it can't haul 60,000 pounds and hold five adults and a dog in comfort, but it's not designed to. It's made to be an all-around rig with enough comfort on and off the trail, and the supple coil suspension and good articulation make it a wonderful wheeler.
As we showed you in our Feb. '02 issue, the new Rubicon edition has the extra goodies to blow away the competition on the trail--and that's in stock form. Consider this: torquey six-popper with fairly good fuel economy, a reliable auto or manual transmission, and a beefy NVG241OR transfer case with a factory short-shaft and a killer 4:1 low range ratio, coupled by big 1330 U-joints to the axles. And what axles? Let's talk Dana 44 30-spline units filled with 4.10 gears and selectable low-pressure pneumatic lockers. Oh yeah, four-wheel disc brakes, special 16-inch rims, and 31-inch Goodyear MT/R tires don't hurt either. In fact, this is a combo of tech and stoutness we thrive on, and it's finally available in a factory package.
Luckily for us, we were able to take a few Rubicon Wranglers out on the trail at Easter Jeep Safari in Moab. Jeep engineers, PR people, and even some top execs were on hand to have some fun as we zipped and crawled around the town and trails. Much to the delight of onlookers hungry for a sneak peak at the Rubicon, we even amazed ourselves on some of the obstacles. Not only were we in comfort with the new seats, styling colors, and speaker pods and lights, but the lockers are easy to engage and disengage, and the low gearing, tall tires, and great suspension had us crawling up sheer walls, and out of hot tubs.
As of press time, we still haven't heard the official pricing, but it is supposed to cost less for the factory-equipped and warranted goodies it packs than if you sent a regular Wrangler off to a shop for similar upgrades. Stay tuned for a complete review as soon as we score one, and some real-world testing in our upcoming 4x4 of the Year test for all of the new '03 models.