First Report: 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Long-Term Test

The yearlong test of our 2019 SUV of the Year winner begins

The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon won the 2019 Four Wheeler SUV of the Year (SUVOTY) title after a week of testing in a variety of terrain and climate situations. It received rave reviews from a team of experienced off-roaders and scored highest overall in the Trail Performance category. As momentous as this achievement is, we thought you deserved a deeper dive (over a longer period of time) into the 4x4 SUV that took top honors. This is the first report in a yearlong test of the SUV of the Year-winning '19 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.

Power comes from the all-new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine coupled to a 48V eTorque generator. The 16-valve, direct-injection, turbocharged engine is rated at 270 hp at 5,250 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. By comparison, the fuel-injected 3.6L V-6 runs 285 hp at 6,400 rpm and 260 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm. Both are about the same in power output; the 2.0L has a little less peak horsepower, but it has a little more peak torque at a lower and more useable rpm range.

During track testing, the peppy 270hp turbocharged 2.0L four-banger helped the Wrangler generate an impressive 8.1-second 0-60 time and a 16.5-second/87.4-mph quarter-mile run. Engine power combines with a 22hp electric-motor off-idle kick, an 850RE eight-speed transmission, and 4.10 axle gears to help this JLU haul ass on- or off-road. The electric motor is also the starter for the automatic start-stop system when it's engaged. We've only turned off the start-stop feature (the system defaults to on when restarted) during off-road forays, and it seems to have had a big part in the generous fuel mileage seen during our street and highway driving.

A curated collection of off-road-savvy features in the new Wrangler delivers class-leading trail performance. It offers a superbly compliant suspension system built using a four-link control arm setup; high-pressure, gas-charged monotube shocks; coil springs; hydraulic rebound stops; track bars; and stabilizer bars. The Rubicon option package also gives the Wrangler the Rock-Trac 4:1 transfer case, third-gen Dana 44 AdvanTEK HD front and rear axles with electrically actuated Tru-Lok differentials, a remote (switch on the dash) disconnecting front sway bar, big steel bumpers, larger fender openings, and LT285/70R17 (about 33 inches in diameter) BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires. Factory rock rails that actually work and skidplates under the transmission, transfer case, and fuel tank also helped to make our off-road adventures during these first few months a success.

Our Wrangler's first real assignment after a post-SUVOTY checkup and cleanup was to pre-run and cover the 2019 King of the Hammers event. We ran multiple trails and roads leading into, across, and out of the race course (of course, not on race day)—from one end of Johnson Valley to the other—to find great photo spots. Then during the three days of racing, it handily returned us to those remote locations so we could get images that no one else was getting. The 2.0L turbocharged eTorque Wrangler climbed steep hard-scrabble hills, tip-toed over rocks of many sizes and shapes, and plowed through deep sand and silt. We ground the rock rails and dragged the skidplates more than once on this trip, but they all held up to the pressure.

In general, the Wrangler was more than capable of handling whatever we (or the terrain) dished out. Only deep sand or silt taken with little or no momentum seemed to sap power, and if we weren't careful, the tires turned into entrenching tools. During the SUVOTY competition in December of 2018, we encountered sand that had been somewhat packed down by recent rains and had no trouble navigating the dunes. In later off-road excursions, we found dry, loose sand. Less air (we went down to 15 psi) in the tires did help the Wrangler's overall off-road performance, especially in loose sand.

Second on the agenda was the 57th annual Tierra Del Sol (TDS) event in the Anza-Borrego area of Southern California. TDS is a recreational off-roading get-together put on by the San Diego-based Tierra Del Sol Jeep club. The event provided a playpen of sandy wash trails, tight canyons, and dried-mud moguls (known as the "Badlands") to stretch the legs of our Wrangler. We found the outer limits of the Jeep's turning radius and the very edges of the fenders while navigating the Gorge Trail. The twisting and turning snakelike canyon-bottom trail got a bit claustrophobic at one point, where the walls were about 50 feet high—all you could see above was a thin strip of blue sky—and so close together that from the front seats you could lean out either way and touch stone. If the JLU had been any wider or longer, or any less maneuverable, it would have never made it through without receiving lots of rock-rash tattoos on its shiny new skin.

We have, as of this report, spent a little more than three months driving the Wrangler on nearly a daily basis. This much time behind the wheel has allowed us to focus on some of the other aspects of the vehicle. Our positive first impressions of the controls, instrumentation, seating, visibility, and overall creature comforts has not faded during the first quarter-year living with it. It's a fun commuter vehicle and it's made getting to and from the office a joy rather than a chore, and it has enough space in the rear cargo area to handle a two-week grocery buy or a major home-store bargain run (although you won't be bringing that Viking stove home in it). We're looking forward to putting even more miles on our 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, so stay tuned and we'll let you know what happens along the way.

Report: 1 of 4

Base price: $41,545

Price as tested: $55,760

Four-wheel-drive system: Part-time, manual shift lever, two-speed

Long-Term Numbers

Miles to date: 3,469

Miles since last report: First report

Average mpg (this report): 22.7

Test best tank (mpg): 23.5 (almost all highway)

Test worst tank (mpg): 16.0 (almost all off-road)

Maintenance

This period: None

Problem areas: None

What's Hot, What's Not

HOT: Excellent maneuverability, control systems are easy to reach and use, spunky engine, fuel mileage is pretty darn good

NOT: Prefer that the engine start-stop feature would default to off, automatic transmission shifts backward (at least in our opinion) in "manual" mode—shifting down gears when the lever is moved forward and shifting up gears when moved backward

Logbook Quotes

"Easy to pick through a tight trail."

"Really takes off."

Options as Tested

Leather-Trimmed Bucket Seats ($1,495), Customer Preferred Package 28R ($795), LED Lighting Group ($995), Electronic Infotainment System Group ($1,595), Jeep Active Safety Group ($895), Adaptive Cruise Control/Forward Collision Warning ($795), Steel Bumper Group ($1,295), Trail Rail Management Group ($195), Soft Top Window Storage Bag ($75), 8-Speed Automatic Transmission ($2,000), 2.0L I-4 DOHC DI Turbo eTorque Engine ($1,000), Remote Proximity Keyless Entry ($495), Body-Color Fender Flares ($495), Premium Black Sunrider Soft Top ($595), Destination Charge ($1,495)

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