Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Review

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman
jeep wrangler rubicon review

We’re sitting in Jeep’s newest Wrangler pointed up a steep hill. Freak December rain has turned the ground into goopy glop. The transmission is in 4-Low, both axles are locked and the front sway-bar has been disconnected. A light tap of the gas slowly but oh-so-steadily begins to motivate our Trail Rated off-roader up the treacherous path. And then… we’re at the top. Huh? Too easy. We circle back down, turn off the lockers, reattach the sway-bar and put the Jeep into two-wheel drive. A moment later we are once again atop the hill. I’m saying it right here: the Wrangler Rubicon is the most capable vehicle ever badged a Jeep.

Like the venerable Porsche 911, each new gen Wrangler is an evolution of an ideal automotive form. Even the lay-person understands that the “new” Wrangler is a direct descendant of the military transport Americans have loved since Patton was slapping soldiers. Also like Germany’s ass-engined coupe, each successive Wrangler is getting better and better looking, without compromising tradition.

The Wrangler’s doors and tailgate are still simple slabs of metal held in place by exposed hinges. The rest of the body panels are still excuses upon which to hang over-sized fenders. Only the seven slot grill has changed in any appreciable way; it’s raked slightly backwards to lower the drag coefficient from school house to church. The new Wrangler’s design continues to be a triumph of function dictating form. It’s a much-needed, much-appreciated distillation of Jeep brand DNA.

The Jeep’s interior is surprisingly comfortable, cozy even. While hardcore mud pluggers will condemn this 4X4’s newfound civility as a brand-betrayal, who wants to sit on cheap patio furniture while resting their elbow on cold tin? Anyway, the radio head unit is straight out of the horrifying Sebring, though it actually works in this lower-rent application. The door pulls, window/door switches and column stalks are all appropriately bulky and solid.

For the first time, the Wrangler’s windows and locks are electric. And yet you can still pull the doors off. The windshield still folds down, too. Even cooler, you can unfasten the T-top panels from the driver’s seat and simply chuck them in the back. However… while we didn’t wrestle with the Wrangler’s soft-top, a brief flip through the owner’s manual revealed a picture of a rubber mallet. Uh-oh.

Jeeps of old were road-going torture chambers; inflicting psychological damage on their drivers with ungodly amounts of noise, vibration and harshness. The 2007 update is quiet (enough), sort of soft riding and about as harsh as a Fisher Price product. Granted, getting the Rubicon to go much faster than 70mph is a waste of time and gas (count on 16.5mpg). But like Jeeps of old, driving this relic delivers an elemental exhilaration which no other vehicles can provide. I’m frankly shocked at how much fun the Wrangler is to wrangle around town. Despite the high chair seating arrangement, you are essentially hooning about in one of the shortest wheel-based rear-drivers on the market, complete with tail-out powerslides.

Of course, this little Jeep is defined by what it can do when the blacktop ends and the rock hopping begins. A friend and I took the Wrangler to the Azusa Canyon OHV park and beat it mercilessly over 150 acres of dirt, mud, fallen trees, sand, rocks and streams. Due to it’s proximity to Hollywood (and the camera equipment found therein), many of the SUV commercials you TIVO past are filmed at this park. No poseurs need apply; you’re forced to ford a foot-deep stream right at the entrance. Nothing we found– save for one 45-degree soggy sand dune– slowed the Jeep down.

Every other vehicle in the park was customized to some degree. Over-sized tires, lifts, trick suspension and so on. Our Wrangler was bone stock. Yet we were able to traverse obstacles that the other vehicles couldn’t surmount. The Wrangler’s modern, technology laden suspension (i.e. greater wheel-articulation) was like a laptop amongst abacuses. The most shocking discrepancy: a jacked-up, diamond plated CJ could simply not get traction on a hill that we had easily ascended. The elder Jeep only spun its tire. The owner climbed down, lit a cigarette and told me he had a four-door Wrangler on order. As he should. This new Wrangler is simply peerless (for the price) in the rough.

Like a leaky British roadster, a BMW 3-series, a 911 and (hopefully) a bright red Ferrari, the Jeep Wrangler is more than an automotive icon. It’s a stepping stone along the path to pistonhead nirvana. A rite of passage, if you will. The new Wrangler in Rubicon trim is more civilized on-road and better than ever off. Sure there are faster, more economical and more practical SUVs for sale today, but they all share a common flaw – I don’t want one.

[Jeep provided the vehicle, insurance and a tank of gas.]

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  • Spitfire - p.culligan Spitfire - p.culligan on Jan 23, 2009

    I'm sorry to sound a little cliche here but you either get it or you don't when it comes to Jeep Wranglers and especially the Rubicon. H3, FJ, Xterra, what else, a Rav4? LR3, are you kidding me? Come on people, straight axles, simple, dependable, incredible after market support, the Jeep wave, the shorter wheelbase, the only off-road convertible. With the Rubicon JK a 4.5 inch lift and suddenly you are clearing 37inch tires! You cant do that with anything IFS. Lockers front and rear, no LSD here folks. I'm sorry but for my money(low twenties these days) there isn't a vehicle on the planet I would rather own. The new model will easily do double duty as a daily driver and weekend toy. 3.5 inch lift and 35inch tires make it look the part of what the undercarriage is already sporting without voiding the warranty. As for the other off-roaders they really are nothing more then dressed up minivans, probably why there aren't dedicated magazine publications or accessory catalogs to them. And on another note, while driving a TJ back in HS and for most of college you could keep the sports car because when it comes to having a "hott" car(whatever that is) a wrangler cannot be beat. Icing on the cake if you ask me.

  • GnarlyGary GnarlyGary on May 07, 2009

    If anyone ever reads down this far, I would just like to tell everyone that a Jeep is the best car on the market. My family has had 3 and I have used mine as a daily driver throughout high school. Its perfect. It is a perfect summer and winter car, being a 4x4 and a convertible. And if anyone is worried about the power of the current minivan v6 engine, my '89 YJ has a 4.2 litre that pumps out 125 hp or something little like that. but it still has enough torque to do whatever i need it to. plus girls like to ride in it before any other kid's sportscars... its just a fun car. get one, now!!!! plus it's bulletproof and will last forever. My brother has bent pieces underneath his rig wheelin' it and has straightened them with a hammer and prying it with a giant wrench and still drives it hard, no problems and it has over 100k on it. best car ever, i will always keep mine.... so go support your economy and get one!!!!!!

  • FreedMike Always lusted after that first-gen 300 - particularly the "Heritage Edition," which had special 300 badging and a translucent plastic steering wheel (ala the '50s and '60s "letter cars").
  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
  • Cardave5150 I've had 2 different 300's - an '08 300SRT and an '18 300C. Loved them both a LOT, although, by the time I had the second one, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the image of 300's out on the street, as projected by the 3rd or 4th buyers of the cars.I always thought that the car looked a little stubby behind the rear wheels - something that an extra 3-4" in the trunk area would have greatly helped.When the 300 was first launched, there were invitation-only meet-and-greets at the dealerships, reminding me of the old days when new model-year launches were HUGE. At my local dealer, they were all in formalwear (tuxes and elegant dresses) with a nice spread of food. They gave out crystal medallions of the 300 in a sweet little velvet box (I've got mine around the house somewhere). I talked to a sales guy for about 5 minutes before I asked if we could take one of the cars out (a 300C with the 5.7 Hemi). He acted like he'd been waiting all evening for someone to ask that - we jumped in the car and went out - that thing, for the time, seemed to fly.Corey - when it comes time for it, don't forget to mention the slightly-stretched wheelbase 300 (I think it was the 300L??). I've never found one for sale (not that I've looked THAT hard), as they only built them for a couple of years.
  • Jkross22 "I’m doing more for the planet by continuing to drive my vehicle than buying a new one for strictly frivolous reasons."It's not possible to repeat this too much.