It rides rough, its fuel economy is far from miserly, its handling is on the truckish side, it’s noisy, it’s pricey and has been around for 75 years. But all these can be overlooked because it’s the ultimate off-road, go everywhere in any weather SUV that has gained cult status because …. it’s a Jeep. And in our test case, the Wrangler Rubicon Recon, the most capable trim model and the top choice among serious off-roaders.
Be it over the red rocks of Moab, Utah, the mining towns of Ouray, Colorado or the baddest of all, the treacherous Rubicon Trail in the high Sierras of California (and from whence the Wrangler Rubicon derives its name), the Jeep Wrangler can handle it. These are all “5” rated trails, the most difficult rating for off-road trails, which makes Wrangler the favored vehicle to tackle these hair raising, palm sweating, gut wrenching, high altitude off-roads. I did them all, and admit to all of the above.
Even if you don’t aspire to do these western trails, be assured the Wrangler Rubicon Recon Edition can easily handle deep snow, mucky mud, slippery sand, rocks, ruts and tree limbs.
Offered in Sport, Sport S, Sahara and hard-core Rubicon, the latter sports equipment that puts it above the other trim models. It’s also available in four-door form as the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. But having a shorter wheelbase, the two-door Wrangler is a bit more maneuverable.
While all Wrangler’s come with solid axles, generous ground clearance, short overhangs to avoid getting hung on either end, and a great 4WD system, the mild versions can still get the job done. But maybe not as problem free as the Rubicon. The latter features lower gearing, heavy-duty axles and transfer case, locking differentials, a disconnecting front sway bar so each front wheel can articulate independently of the other, and huge 17-inch BFGoodrich light truck tires. And if the Rubicon should get stuck, there are tow hooks front and rear.
Rubicon’s rugged exterior appearance reflects inside as well. There’s nothing posh or polished after a tall 21.5-inch (to the step rails) step-in into the cabin. From the tire tread design on the rugged floor mats to the non-electronic 4WD manual shifter, Rubicon is all Jeep. Probably the only modern conveniences are power windows and a 6.5-inch display for satellite radio, navigation, apps and Uconnect infotainment. There is no rearview camera as there’s no place to put it as the swing-out tailgate holds the large exterior spare tire and the rear window flips up.
All controls, including HVAC, are easy to use. The 4WD system is the basic 2H, 4H and 4L gearing with a manual shifter on the console. There are a pair of dash mounted switches one of which locks the axle while the other disengages the sway bar.
The heavily padded and nicely supportive front seats are accented with contrasting red stitching. The rear seat, which is a squeeze to get into, is nicely padded with marginal legroom, especially if the front seats are racked well rearward.
After a 30-inch load height, cargo space is at a premium. With the rear seat upright the area measures 15.5 inches deep and with them flipped forward, 31 inches. Sufficient for a few duffle bags or two medium rollie luggage’s.
Wrangler’s come with a wrench set to remove the roof while the doors also come off for a convertible type, warm weather, open air driving experience. There are a host of aftermarket enhancements like convertible half tops, LED headlights, and a myriad of other goodies that gives Jeep the distinction of having the most aftermarket products of any brand or vehicle.
As for the powertrain, Rubicon Recon gets its grunt from Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that puts out 285-hp and 260 lb/ft of torque. It’s the best engine Wrangler has ever had in it and it exhibited good low and high end power. It can couple to either a 6-speed manual transmission or 5-speed automatic, the latter of which was in the test Jeep. The combination garnered EPA mileage estimates of 17 city, 21-highway mpg. Not miserly, but not overly bad as the large knobby tires and Rubicon’s heavy weight help create these low numbers.
If you’re are going to do any serious off-roading, the automatic trans is the way to go. This brings up a story of a Jeep ride-and-drive I was on over Moab’s huge red rocks. A portion of the ride was down an extremely steep, red rock the length of three cars. A veteran automotive journalist, who wrote for Playboy magazine, was about to descend this almost vertical, slick, huge red rock. When he engaged the clutch too quickly, the Jeep lurched forward and the Jeep literally free fell. For all us standing at the bottom watching his turn down this rock, we scattered like flies thinking he was going to crash. Somehow he managed to find the brake and the Jeep came to a sliding stop at the bottom of the rock. Lesson learned: Forego the manual trans and opt for the automatic. Trekking with an automatic is easier over the rough and tough and fuel savings with the manual is miniscule in comparison.
As for price, this all-weather, go almost anywhere fun machine doesn’t come cheap. With a very long list of standard features such as 4:1 Rock Track, Tru-Loc front/rear differential, Dana heavy-duty front/rear axle, fuel tank/transfer case skid plates, electronic roll mitigation, trailer sway damping, hill start assist, trailer sway damping and many more, Wrangler’s base price began at $33,645. Add the Rubicon Recon package ($5,500) and you get a host of features including rock rails, heated front seats, Uconnect infotainment system, tire pressure monitoring, power dome hood and about 20 more. Add the automatic transmission ($1,400), 4:10 rear axle $695), three-piece hardtop ($595), Alpine audio with weather subwoofer ($945), satellite radio that included a 40GB hard drive, GPS nav, remote start, 6.5-inch touchscreen ($1,195), slip in delivery for $1,095 and that affordable base price escalated to a whopping $45,070.
It’s a lot of money, but it’s a lot of SUV that allows you to go where others fear to tread.