Don’t look now, but superheroes have infiltrated our cars. But this Jeep Wrangler doesn’t have the gadgets to be considered Batman or Iron Man, and I’m not sure it could be considered Superman or Thor. Instead, it’s easier to see it as Spider-Man.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Output: 285 hp, 260 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (MPG): 18 city, 23 highway, 20 combined
Fuel Economy (l/100 kms): 12.9 city, 10.2 highway,11.7 combined
Price (USD): $39,540 (2-Door) $43,040 (4-Door)
Price (CAD): $49,340 (2-Door) $51,740 (4-Door)
Well, maybe that description needs to be clarified a bit. No, the Jeep doesn’t sling webs or have a complicated relationship with Mary Jane. And no, it doesn’t remind you that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Rather, it’s the experience of crawling the Wrangler up and down an intense rock face in the Valley of Fire state park just outside of Las Vegas.
A stock model you can get right from the factory, the Wrangler Rubicon is perfectly matched to such an environment. The rugged SUV has been completely redesigned recently, with a focus on being more modern and comfortable during the everyday commute, but don’t think that meant that the off-road capability has been minimized even one bit. That’s like walking into each Spidey movie reboot thinking they’re going to re-invent the character. It’s just not going to happen.
It may sound a bit old-fashioned under the hood, but don’t let that fool you. The 3.6-liter V6 engine makes 285 horsepower and a helpful 260 lb-ft of torque. You don’t need much more than that to push this 4,400-pound (2,000-kg) truck up a hill. No, it won’t blast up the rocks, but that’s good because this is reality (and not a comic book) and going up a rock face at full throttle will probably break something in the vehicle and disrupt the landscape (we’re not environmental supervillains after all!). So the engine is plentiful for this application, as rock crawling means you have to go slow, barely touching the gas pedal in some cases.
Instead, letting the first or second gear pull the car along the path works well. That may seem like a waste of the eight-speed automatic, but this is the way rock crawling goes. The Rubicon features a number of features and components that promote this activity of traversing rocky terrain. For example, there’s a specific Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case, which features a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio, which is integral during this excursion. The front and rear axles can be locked easily with a flip of a switch, and there are also disconnecting front sway bar which leads to more suspension articulation, a necessity when it comes to climbing all over these jagged rocks. This too, is enabled with the push of a button, an unexpected twist when typically, SUVs are regarded as archaic.
Adding to all that are special BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tires that do things normal tires just don’t do. In particular, it manages to find traction on the rocks and allows the Wrangler to really take advantage of its proportions.
Thanks to the tires, disconnecting sway bars, locking diffs and design of the Wrangler Rubicon, we can take advantage of the 44-degree approach angle, the 22.6 degrees of breakover and the 37 degrees of departure angles.
Now, I’ve never experienced this kind of motor activity before. My off-roading comforts are limited to going out in trails and dune bashing, as well as the simple gravel, mud, and snow covered roads. Rocks are incredibly different than those conditions — they’re hard, harsh and can hurt both you and the car.
Fortunately, rock crawling is usually a group activity. There are spotters whose main job is to look at your vehicle and tell you which way to point your tires during every obstacle and tight spot. It’s not quite Spidey-sense, but its close enough. And even though you can improve the visibility by easily removing the Wranglers doors and roof, the extra set of eyes was much appreciated.
It’s impressive how much your perspective changes when you take the Wrangler off-road. While it’s common to complain about the trucks loose steering and loud tires on pavement, these aren’t even concerns when its time to hit the trail. In fact, the loose steering was a positive, as the rough conditions won’t bully the wheel around. The loud tires also have excellent grip as the tread actually connects and grips to things other than flat pavement.
As we start to take on the first bits of rock, I get worried that the sharp rocks will hit the tires in the wrong place, causing a puncture and ending the adventure before it begins, but my spotters tell me that nothing of the sort will happen.
The crawling is slow, but it’s sure-footed. The Wrangler doesn’t have lower spoilers or anything to damage when it comes to mounting rocks, but it’s important to not pivot the vehicle and cause it to land on anything hard. However, the Rubicon features a bunch of skidplates and protective panels to make sure if any mishaps occur the core components of the truck are safe. That’s more of an Iron Man thing than a Spider-Man deal, but you couldn’t reasonably think I’d make a Spider-Man reference in every paragraph, right?
It’s incredible how the Wrangler crawls up the rock face, and it’s quite impressive how much maneuverability can be found. In places where I wouldn’t be able to find footing myself, the Rubicon sticks in place and can roll confidently up or down. Sometimes I’m looking straight up at the sky, pushing forward with the front and rear lockers engaged, and the Wrangler pulls itself up over a rock. Other times I’m looking straight at the ground, with the seatbelts locked in place so I don’t fall face-first on the dash, and the Wrangler is composed and walks itself down. It’s not slipping or sliding, but actually rolling like it’s on perfectly level ground.
Yes, it can be a bit stiff sometimes, especially since you can’t see all the little craters and divots in the ground, but the fact that the wrangler can get itself in and out of these situations is pretty impressive.
While the Wrangler is a very popular vehicle, and one of the top products in the Jeep lineup, I can’t help but think that buyers love to boast about the vehicle’s capabilities without ever testing them in this way. While all Jeep Wranglers are trail ready, only the Rubicon seems set up to handle extreme terrain we encountered.
The Verdict: 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Review
Its the combination of special tires, the transfer case, the sway bar disconnect and other elements that make the Rubicon command a $39,540 price tag or a $10,000 premium over the base Sport. That’s just for two-door models. The four-door Wrangler Rubicon costs $43,040.
If you’re going to actually get a vehicle to tackle any conditions and crawl up rock faces like Spider-Man does buildings, then this is the way to do it. But for everyone else, maybe choosing one of the more affordable models will provide enough the street credit.