2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Off-Road Review

We test Jeep’s most capable Wrangler Unlimited off the street and in the snow

2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Off-Road Review

When it comes to four-wheeling; there are a handful of vehicles that have garnered a reputation above the rest. In modern times, one of them is the Jeep Wrangler. So, presented with an opportunity to take the latest version off-road not only in mud, but snow and ice too, how could we resist?

FAST FACTS

1. The 3.8L V6 is currently the only engine available in the Wrangler with 202-hp and 237 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Top-level Rubicon models get special 32-inch tires, electrically lockable front and rear differentials, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar and a special crawler ratio on the two-speed transfer case.

3. Wranglers range in price from $21,915 to $29,525, while 4-door Wrangler Unlimiteds start at $25,335 and go to $32,800.

4. For 2010 two limited edition Wrangler models are offered, Mountain and Islander, with specific hood decals and paint.

5. Minor changes on all Wranglers for 2010 include a more easily stowable soft-top and larger sunvisors with built-in vanity mirrors.

Although it’s a modern vehicle, the current Wrangler still maintains a strong lineage to past Jeeps, even the old American Motors built CJs, still popular with 4×4 enthusiasts today. For our test, we saddled up a four-door Rubicon Unlimited and went playing. Since the current truck was introduced, as a 2007 model, it’s been the recipient of both praise and criticism. One of the most controversial aspects concerns the engine. In place of the gruff, old 4.0-liter straight six, the current truck is powered by a 3.8-liter V6, a variation of that found in Chrysler Minivans, rated at 202-hp and 237 ft-lbs of torque. It’s actually more than the old I-6 made (190-hp, 230 ft-lbs), but because it has a much greater rev range, it generally doesn’t feel as punchy at low rpm.

The V6 is offered with either a six-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic. In our opinion, the six-speed manual gets the nod – long throws and woolly linkage it may have, but in first or second gear, it allows you to better exploit the engine’s power band, particularly on trail driving.

PROGRESSIVE POWER DELIVERY

No Wrangler is going to win awards in the fuel economy department – about 16/20 mpg (city/highway) is what you can expect, but then again, few people buy one of these for gas mileage.

All Wranglers now come with standard electronic throttle control. On the open road, it’s linear and progressive, but where it really comes into its own is on the trail. Selecting low range via the floor mounted lever (Wrangler continues to use a part time 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case), the throttle feels impressively smooth over the rough stuff – gone is the instant punch and jerky nature prevalent on the old straight-six-powered Wrangler.

Although three basic models are offered, X, Sahara and Rubicon, when it comes to the rough stuff, the latter is where it’s really going on. Rubicon models feature special 32-inch trail tires, electrically lockable front and rear differentials, plus a special crawler ratio on the two-speed transfer case and a front sway bar that can be electronically disconnected for greater suspension movement on really rough stuff.

OFF-ROAD, IT’S GOT ALL THE TRICKS

The word “impressive” probably isn’t enough to describe this rig on the trail. Even the Unlimited model, with its extended wheelbase, just gets on with the job. Superb ground clearance allows for almost 45 inches of approach and over 40 degrees in departure angles. What that means, essentially, is no matter the size of rock, ditch or rut in front of you, it’s easy to maneuver around it or even over it, where many other SUVs will get stuck.

The Wrangler’s very tight turning circle is another boon on the trail, allowing superb agility while that crawler ratio and locking front diff, mean the steepest inclines and slipperiest surfaces are child’s play. The truck’s gearing allows the engine torque to really work to your advantage in these situations, so even when you come to a complete stop, on a mud or ice laden incline and engage the Hill Start Assist, the Wrangler comes on like a CAT bulldozer – progressively apply the throttle, and off you go – the traction is always there.

Brakes are quite responsive on the trail too and seem more at home here than on other more road biased Jeeps, notably the Compass and Patriot, even with the standard ABS.

As for aid when going down steep hills, the HDC system on the Wrangler is quite the marvel, working almost in harmony with the V6’s throttle mapping to nicely regulate speed and allowing for superb engine braking.

THE VERDICT

Given its incredible capability off-road, perhaps it isn’t surprising that the current Wrangler Rubicon has been garnering awards since its introduction.. However, it isn’t particularly cheap – base price on the Rubicon Unlimited is $32,050 and by the time you’re out the door you’re looking at sticker north of $35,000.

Still for a highly specialized machine, it really isn’t that bad considering, plus, given this Jeep’s legendary off-road capability, iconic status and surprising practicality, years down the road, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank, especially when other so-called 4x4s have hit rock bottom in the residual stakes and Jeeps such as this, still command decent coin on the used market.

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2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited 4X4 2010 Jeep Compass: Off Road Review