The new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is arguably one of the best factory-prepped off-roaders on the market. It's a real 4WD with a proud hard-core heritage, and the assumption is that the new version, the JL, is a very capable terrain tourer, straight out of the showroom.
We took a Rubicon out bush to see if its Trail Rated status, earned in the US, actually means anything on tough Aussie terrain.
We took a Rubicon out bush to see if its Trail Rated status, earned in the US, actually means anything on tough Aussie terrain. (image: Brendan Batty)
As standard, the Rubicon's off-road-suited equipment includes BF Goodrich Mud Terrain tyres, rock-crawling 77.2:1 low-range gearing, front and rear locking differentials and a swaybar disconnect system to give this Jeep even more wheel travel than usual.
Other standard features include cloth seats, 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment system with sat nav (including off-road mapping) and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, nine-speaker sound system, LED lights, 230V inverter, 17-inch alloys and more.
It comes with 17-inch alloys as standard. (image: Brendan Batty)
Driver-assist tech includes AEB, blind-spot monitoring, full-speed forward collision warning plus , active cruise control, tyre-pressure-monitoring, hill-start assist, hill descent control and more.
As tested, our Rubicon had a stack of extras, including exterior paint (Punk'N, $975), as well as the Rubicon Luxury Package ($1950), Trail Rail Management System (sliding tie-down points in the cargo area, $450) and 17” black wheel w/ polished lip ($950) taking the price to $73,275.
The Rubicon Luxury Package comprises black leather seats, gear-knob and handbrake handle, heated front seats and steering wheel, as well as colour-coded wheel-arches.
Is there anything interesting about its design?
Our mob has already written about the Rubicon's looks so I'll avoid waxing lyrical about its appearance, but I will say this: it looks pretty bloody good. It has that very distinctive Rubicon look – squared off, a bit straight up and down and with blocky wheel arches – but it manages also to be a seamless, successful blend of the traditional gnarliness of Rubicons past with some new subtle touches – slightly softer edges and contemporary styling – that actually work well.
It has that very distinctive Rubicon look – squared off, a bit straight up and down and with blocky wheel arches. (image: Brendan Batty)
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The engine replaces the previous generation's 2.8-litre, so it's smaller but quite refined, even when pushed hard, and yields that handy 450Nm, right from the 2000rpm mark.
How practical is the space inside?
The interior is a cocoon-type space, but it feels welcoming and durable at the same time.
Those who designed it must spend a chunk of time outdoors because they know what's important: solid grab handles, substantial dials, knobs and switches (that can be swiftly located and used while driving over bumpy terrain), tensioned net pockets on the doors and in the seat-backs, and deep, grippy small-storage spaces.
For rear-seat passengers, there are air vents in the back of the centre console, as well as twin USB and USB-C connections, and an 230V inverter plug. (image: Brendan Batty)
Upfront there are USB ports, air vents and a cool forward view to enjoy.
For rear-seat passengers, there are air vents in the back of the centre console, as well as twin USB and USB-C connections, and an 230V inverter plug.
Rear cargo space is listed as 2050 litres with the seats folded down almost flat; and 897 litres with the rear seats in use. (image: Brendan Batty)
There are two ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat anchor points on the back seat.
Rear cargo space is listed as 2050 litres with the seats folded down almost flat; and 897 litres with the rear seats in use.
What's it like as a daily driver?
The Rubicon is surprisingly good on-road – well, it's better than you'd expect it to be.
Steering still feels a bit wishy-washy on bitumen and at speed, and there is pronounced body roll around even gentle corners, but otherwise it does sit quite nicely on the road due in part to its weight (listed as 2160kg), as well as its 3008mm wheelbase and 1894mm stance.
Shallow glass all-round cuts into driver visibility, making it a sometimes tricky drive in the city, and its 12.4m turning circle doesn't help for quick turnarounds either.
The interior is a cocoon-type space, but it feels welcoming and durable at the same time. (image: Brendan Batty)
In its favour though is a nicely combined diesel and clever eight-speed auto – it works smoothly in stop-start traffic and is punchy enough for fast, safe overtaking, and the Rubicon rapidly finds its footing on the highway and country back-roads, ticking along nicely.
Another surprise for such a chunky unit is the fact that it doesn't generate as much noise as you'd assume it would – most of it comes from the Rubicon's big wing mirrors and mud terrain tyres and most of that is reduced to a low-level thrum.
Seats all-round are generally a bit upright but they are supportive.
Upfront there are USB ports, air vents and a cool forward view to enjoy. (image: Brendan Batty)
What's it like for touring?
Well, not quite, but it's pretty bloody close. It's one of the few stock-standard 4WDs I'd drive out of the showroom and straight into the scrub and be confident of its ability to get me to anywhere I wanted to go with few, if any, alterations. All you need is fuel and a sense of adventure. (Oh, and food. And water. A swag. Some cooking utensils. Yes, and spares. But you get my drift.)
The Rubicon is a genuine 4WD with a dual-range transfer case, a ladder chassis, solid axles and proven 4WD heritage. Turns out, the new Rubicon simply improves on its predecessor and that it's still great off-road.
No matter how extreme the terrain becomes, steering retains a nice heft about it at lower speeds. (image: Brendan Batty)
On the way to our 4WD testing ground, over even small irregularities in the chopped-up bitumen country roads and then corrugated tracks, the Rubicon's steering suffered a bad and sustained case of the jitters. A bit annoying but nowhere near as unsettling as the Overland's jitters had been.
The little diesel donk ticks the Jeep along nicely at high speeds on dirt and finds the sweet spot easily when you drop the pace, and switch to 4WD, ready to tap into that low low-range gearing.
The Rubicon tackled the deep wheel ruts and mud holes that we pitched it into without strife. (image: Brendan Batty)
Rest assured, traditionalists: switching to 4WD High or Low range is still accomplished via a stubby shifter to the left of the main culprit.
And its low-range gearing is second to none, always getting maximum torque to the tyres as is possible.
The Rubicon has coil springs at all corners and those more than adequately absorb the bumps at any speeds, making for a generally high level of driver and passenger comfort.
The Rubicon is a genuine 4WD with a dual-range transfer case, a ladder chassis, solid axles and proven 4WD heritage. (image: Brendan Batty)
It has a listed 252mm running clearance (that's what Jeep calls it) and a standard wading depth of 760mm, so the Rubicon tackled the deep wheel ruts and mud holes that we pitched it into without strife – although the Jeep's belly did scrape on submerged rocks several times on water crossings as we bounced our way across them.
The Rubicon has approach, departure and ramp-over angles of 41, 31 and 21 degrees, and with the long wheelbase 'eating' into that ramp-over angle, this Jeep has to be driven with care on sharp and steep sections of rocky hill-climbs.
But no matter how extreme the terrain becomes, steering retains a nice heft about it at lower speeds.
It has a listed 252mm running clearance (that’s what Jeep calls it). (image: Brendan Batty)
When its Selec-Trac 4x4 system is ever in need of back-up, the Rubicon has those front and rear diff locks to use, and even though it has decent wheel travel as is, the Rubicon also has a sway-bar disconnect system, which sounds a bit over the top but comes in very handy when you want to gain even more articulation so you can get your tyres grabbing ground, rather than spinning in the air.
It has a standard wading depth of 760mm. (image: Brendan Batty)
How much fuel does it consume?
Fuel consumption is listed as 7.5L/100km (combined) for the diesel. It has a 81-litre fuel tank. We recorded 9.5L/100km, but our time in the Rubicon included a lot of low-range 4WDing.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The Rubicon has a one-star ANCAP safety rating but that's based on Euro NCAP testing, and up-to-date Australia-specific testing is expected to be undertaken soon.
The Rubicon has AEB, dual front and side airbags, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, active cruise control, parking sensors, reversing camera, tyre-pressure-monitoring system and more.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
It has a five-year/100,000 km warranty, including unlimited kilometres, five-year capped-price servicing and lifetime roadside assistance as long as you get serviced by a Jeep dealer. Capped price servicing is $499 per service for diesel Wranglers and service intervals are scheduled at 12 months/20,000km for the diesel.
Turns out, the new Rubicon simply improves on its predecessor and that it’s still great off-road. (image: Brendan Batty)
Capability is a fine yardstick for a 4WD but that needs to be balanced with how comfortably a vehicle gets the job done.
The Rubicon gets the job done – any job – with a breathtaking simplicity that is tons of fun to experience.
If it's pure real-world 4WD capability you're after, you can't go past it.
The Rubicon – with front and rear diff locks, BF Goodrich mud terrain tyres, that deep low-range gearing, and swaybar-disconnect – is the best rough and ready 4WD weapon on the tracks today and the most complete factory-prepped off-roader available.