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

Third report: Dirt roads and freeway flying

We're well into our third quarter living with this '19 Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited powered by the 2.0L turbocharged 268hp, 295-lb-ft engine. In addition to some stunning mileage numbers, great suspension performance, and a high level of interior comfort, another compliment we will heap on the winner of our 2019 Four Wheeler SUV of the Year (SUVOTY) is a distinctly short list of gripes. And as you'll note, most of them will stem from the soft top we've chosen to live with in lieu of the optional hardtop. So let's go.

The JL Wrangler Rubicon comes with true 33-inch-diameter tires in the form of Load Range C BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A tires in the LT285/70R17 size. At first we questioned Jeep's "derated" tire selection from a good ol' mud-terrain that came on factory TJ and JK Rubicons, but we have zero gripes about the performance of the all-terrains so far. Styling-wise, the JL Rubicon hood leaves nothing to be desired. It's awesome.

For starters, we've been hearing rumors of JL Wrangler top material separating from the bows. Ours is not suffering this issue and remains solidly attached; however, during instances of high cross- or headwinds while traveling at speed on the highway, the buffeting is enough to cause a huge racket as the top material chatters against the bow. It's most prevalent in the bow that runs from the driver-to-passenger side behind the rollbar sound rail. So, in other words, right next to the front-seat occupants' heads. It's intermittent but overpowering when it happens. Another top-related gripe is one that's plagued soft top Wrangler owners since the beginning of time, and that's the lack of quick and easy access to the rear cargo area. You've got to undo the side tabs, unzip the vertical zippers on the side of the rear window, and then pull the lower channel out of its bore to angle the whole rear-window assembly up and out of the way to load anything bulkier than a carry-on bag. And finally, we feel like the fabric is starting to loosen up a tad on ours. What was once a taut and (relatively) quiet top at freeway speeds is starting to increase in noise after almost a year of car washes, being lowered and raised, and being exposed to heat and cold cycles. Our final gripe is regarding two paint-related issues. First, we're noticing a substantial amount of wear and tear on the driver-side lower doorsill. The paint has worn away down to the primer in a couple spots. Older Jeep Wranglers incorporated a simple layer of clear adhesive tape in this high-traffic area to prevent permanent paint damage. Second, we noticed the passenger-side hood latch has been rubbing the hood and has worn a gouge down into the hood. That seems to be a factory fit-and-finish issue.

The more pedestrian JL Wranglers we see, the more we've come to appreciate the Rubicon-specific styling that kicks the fender flares upward for increased tire clearance. We find the look as pleasant as it is functional. Behind the fuel door lies an old-school gas cap, and given the extremely dusty conditions in which we routinely operate our JL Wrangler, we find this to be much preferable to a capless fuel filler.

But outside of these things, the 2.0L-powered Wrangler just continues to impress us with its very consistent fuel consumption, light and airy in-town drivability, and sink-into-the-seat-and-go ability to soak up the highway miles. But what's most impressive is when you peel away from the blacktop and point the nose toward the mountain range. Let's be honest, with many of the vehicles that win our Four Wheeler of the Year competition there are usually some small trade-offs in off-road performance, be it rocker vulnerability due to breakover angles, low-profile tires, or low-hanging front or rear bumper valances. But that's exactly the opposite with the JL Wrangler Rubicon. The 33-inch BFG A/T tires give you a feeling of invincibility. The rockers are protected by steel rock rails, and the vulnerable areas of the undercarriage are fully skidplated. Additionally, the all-steel optional front and rear bumpers can (and have) take hits and rubs from off-road rocks and obstacles. The Wrangler Rubicon JL is perhaps our most deserving SUVOTY winner to date, and that's saying an awful lot. But then again, this Wrangler Rubicon delivers an awful lot.

To load or unload bulky items into the cargo area, you need to pull the side tabs out of their channels, unzip the rear windows, and then pull out the retaining bar. Then you can lift the rear window and bar assembly out of the way. It's pretty much the same process as on an '87 Wrangler, but it's one of our few gripes about living with this vehicle on a daily basis. However, it's worth the trade-off to be able to enjoy the open-air drop-top more easily than removing a bulky hardtop.
The Trail Rail Management Group is a $195 option that includes aluminum channels in the cargo area floor and tailgate with six sturdy hold-down brackets that can be moved between the three rail channels as needed. It's a very neat way to hold coolers, bags, air compressor boxes, and other trail gear down securely while off-roading.
The backup camera on the JL Wrangler is mounted in the center of the spare tire on the tailgate and offers an excellent view of trail or parking lot obstacles while backing up, especially with the $1,595 Electronic Infotainment System Group option that includes a large 8.4-inch in-dash screen.
We've really been enjoying the Rubicon's suspension both on-and off-road. There's no propensity to bottom out or hit bumpstops in the rough, but at the same time, it's anything but punishing. The suspension is tight without being harsh and gives the Jeep a light, airy feeling in just about every terrain.
We've been slowly wearing away the doorsill paint getting in and out of our Wrangler with dusty, dirty boots. A simple layer of protective clear tape or adhesive plastic like older Wranglers used in this vulnerable area of the tub would go a long way in saving the paint.
The turbo on the 2.0L sits up high on the driver side of the 2.0L in the Wrangler. Despite its proximity in front of the driver, you really don't get a ton of turbo noise. And thanks to the eTorque system, which provides an electric-assist to the vehicle when pulling away form a stop and between shifts, there's no perceived turbo lag.
We found a fit-and-finish flaw in the passenger-side hood latch. The plastic shell has been making contact with the hood and wore through the paint. We're no paint and bodywork experts, so outside of realigning panels, we think we'd just hit the plastic latch shell with a file to remove the offending material and call it good.

Report: 3 of 4
Previous report: Sep '19, Jan '20
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: 17,052
Miles since last report: 6,961
Average mpg (this report): 18.18
Test best tank (mpg): 19.03 (mostly highway)
Test worst tank (mpg): 16.88 (all off-road)

Maintenance
This period: Steering stabilizer recall, oil change
Problem areas: None

What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Consistently favorable fuel mileage
Not: Should've gone with the hardtop

Logbook Quotes
"It's nice to have a Wrangler that'll light the tires from a stoplight if you need it. "
"Feels like it can go anywhere off-road."

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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