Jeep is a four letter word that’s synonymous with outdoor fun and off-road ability. Ownership of the brand name has changed hands many times since the original war-time Willys CJ rooted itself in society. After acquiring it more than three decades ago from AMC, Chrysler has been keeping the 64-year-old marque going strong since 1987 through a series of careful updates. Like the predecessor YJ and TJ models, the redesigned current JK version was released in 2007 and remains true to the iconic image and capabilities of the very first Civilian Jeep Willys (CJ-2) circa 1944.
Jeep offers a Wrangler for everyone with four different two-door packages and four different four-door packages.
The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 is a serious off-road machine, with the tires, transmission, gearing, skid-plates and 4WD system to prove it.
The Jeep Wrangler is still one of the most recognizable vehicles in the world today. With its characteristic round headlights, seven-slot vertical grille, jagged body and flared fenders still very much keeping the basic design intact, trim levels this year are X, Sahara and Rubicon. Special additions include power windows and remote door locks on the Wrangler at long last.
ONLY ONE ENGINE OFFERED ACROSS ENTIRE RANGE
A 3.8L SMPI V6 engine making 202 hp and 237 ft-lbs of torque is the basis for all Wranglers. Jeeps Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly 4WD system and six-speed manual transmission with overdrive (synchronized in all gears with a multi-rail shift system) are standard on the bulk of the lot. A convertible soft top, fog lights and integrated tow hooks in the front bumper are also standard on all models.
All of the short wheelbase (95.4 inches) two-door Wrangler models are 4X4s. The longer wheelbase (116 inches) four-door Wrangler Unlimiteds also benefit from this technology; though a 4X2 Unlimited Sahara model is available with a four-speed automatic. My tester was the line-topping 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 with all the bells and whistles. Reasonably priced, I might add at $32,590.
OFFROAD READY WITH HUGE TIRES AND PLENTY OF GROUND CLEARANCE
Rubicon models have massive 255/75 series off-road tires over 17-inch wheels that increase ruggedness and traction over harrowing terrain in conjunction with the Rock-Trac NV241 (4HI/4LO) part-time, shift-on-the-fly transfer case that’s shielded by a large skid plate.
With more than 10-inches of ground clearance and an adjustable five-link performance suspension with Dana live solid axles, Tru-Lock front and rear differentials, traction and stability control systems, plus a disconnecting front sway bar system, the Rubicon is a capable back-country explorer.
Similar to how the Subaru WRX STI is a road-legal version of a WRC rally car, the Rubicon is essentially a rock-crawling back-country machine built for the streets. That said, it is not for everyone and those knobby, mud-hungry tires are neither the quietest nor stickiest tires for paved roads, but they can get the job done if a second set of more tarmac-friendly tires is not an option.
Not that the 4.46 first gear ratio will let you tear away from any stop, but the Rubicon is definitely more truck than SUV. In fact, gearing is certainly tilted toward power and torque than it is speed and acceleration. I wouldn’t have it any other way in the Rubicon, extended wheelbase or otherwise.
MY QUEST FOR SOME OFFROAD FUN
During my week with Ruby, I found myself scouring the local countryside for mud pits or cottage trails to put this “Trail Rated” beast through its paces. There’s a restaurant in my neighborhood called the Rubicon Grill and the owner is quite a Jeep nut. During the warmer months the parking lot is often overflowing with mud-encrusted Renegades, Saharas and Rubicons back from a day of trail driving. It’s a meeting place where enthusiasts talk shop and swap stories over wings and beer.
I had hoped to get this vehicle as dirty as possible, take some pictures and then stop in for some après-driving festivities with the locals. Unfortunately, the spring melt in my region soaks the ground to the point where if you get stuck in a hole, you could be lost forever. Trail veterans call it the brown gold, but the thought of venturing out without a tow vehicle or a winch (an absolute necessity for any off-roading adventure) in a vehicle that I had to return in pristine condition in just a few days had me thinking twice.
Six-speed manual geared perfectly for off-roading Amazing ground clearance Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly 4WD system
Tires are loud on asphalt Poor fuel economy Lacking in power for the street
It wasn’t a total loss, however, and I ended up spending the afternoon driving some of the most challenging roads I know. Not only that, I managed to get 15.2 mpg, which is pretty decent fuel economy for a vehicle that weighs 4,200 lbs.
Now, like those Rubicon Grill regulars, I too yearn for those warmer, sunnier days to strip off the doors and go topless. Then and only then is it possible to experience the charisma and off-road prowess of the Rubicons legendary 4X4 performance.