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Jeep Wrangler 2023 review: Rubicon Unlimited

The Wrangler Unlimited has a tough, old-school look with a classical wide-track stance.

You want a full-size, five-seat family SUV, but you want one with genuine off-road ability up its sleeve. More than occasional all-wheel drive, you’re after a real deal 4x4.

Enter the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited. Big and roomy, it wears its four-wheel-drive heart on its sleeve.

But what does that mean when it comes to the everyday tasks that constitute so much of typical family life. The work commute, grocery shopping, the school run, visits to the rellies.

How does the holiday adventure dream measure up in the face of day-to-day reality? Read on to find out.

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Design – Is there anything interesting about its design?

The Jeep design team has a lot of fun. Not confined to the studio, they regularly get out and dive into all the outdoorsy things Jeep owners do (or dream of doing). And you’ll find whimsical ‘Easter eggs’ paying tribute to the brand’s history and purpose all over the vehicle.

Silhouettes of the classic Willys Jeep here and there, relief maps of notorious off-road trails in the floor mats, Morse code messages... the list goes on.

The Wrangler has a tough and old-school look. (image credit: James Cleary) The Wrangler has a tough and old-school look. (image credit: James Cleary)

But some things, while open to creative interpretation, are not to be mucked around with. Specifically, the seven-slot grille, round headlights, upright windscreen and trapezoidal wheel arches.

They are in no small part what makes a Jeep instantly recognisable, and the Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is no exception.

It has a tough, old-school look with pronounced bumpers, big fender flares and a classical wide-track stance.

Details like the pronounced exterior door hinges, fold-over latches to hold the bonnet down, aggressive red tow hooks and the spare wheel mounted proudly on the tailgate door ooze off-road cred.

The Jeep design team has added a lot of ‘Easter eggs’ paying tribute to the brand’s history. (image credit: James Cleary) The Jeep design team has added a lot of ‘Easter eggs’ paying tribute to the brand’s history. (image credit: James Cleary)

If something needs to be attached its fixing bolts are proudly on display, which carries over to the interior, too.

Need a front passenger grab handle just above the glove box? Simply bolt it on, make sure to leave the heads of the Allen key bolts exposed, and why not stamp Wrangler on it for good measure?

But somewhere along the line form intersects with function and aesthetics get in the way of ergonomic efficiency.

I’m a fan of the red dash inserts, but the mix of buttons, dials and switches in the centre stack is fussy. For example, centre-mounted window controls are trickier to use than the more conventional ‘switches in the armrest’ approach.

The leather trim looks and feels good. (image credit: James Cleary) The leather trim looks and feels good. (image credit: James Cleary)

The central media screen is small, too. Something that’s been addressed in the recently announced 2024 Wrangler, the current 8.4-inch display swapped out for a 12.3-inch touchscreen running next-gen ‘Uconnect 5’ software and adding wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

On the upside, leather trim (with contrast stitching) looks and feels good, while hard-wearing plastics work well in high-use storage areas. 

Practicality – How practical is its space and tech inside?

The Wrangler is offered in three- and five-door versions, the latter picking up the ‘Unlimited’ tag. And at close to 4.9m long, a fraction under 1.9m wide and 1.85m tall, the Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is a substantial beast, with a wheelbase exceeding 3.0m.

You find yourself climbing up into the driver’s seat rather than sliding behind the wheel, and smaller kids will definitely need a hand to gain entry.

Once inside, there’s plenty of room up front, although the upright dash design brings it closer to passengers than in other, similarly-sized SUVs.

With such a long distance between the axles, and the Wrangler’s generous width, it’s no surprise there’s also copious amounts of space in the back.

You find yourself climbing up into the driver’s seat rather than sliding behind the wheel. (image credit: James Cleary) You find yourself climbing up into the driver’s seat rather than sliding behind the wheel. (image credit: James Cleary)

Sitting behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position I had plenty of head, leg and shoulder room. In fact, three grown ups across the rear bench (not to mention a trio of kids’ car seats) would be do-able, even for longer trips, especially given the low transmission tunnel making the centre position more liveable.

Storage up front runs to a modest glove box, a deep lidded storage box between the seats (which doubles as a centre armrest), two big cupholders in the centre console (with a handy slot for the key in between), and a small recess beside it, under the (manual) handbrake.

No hard bins in the doors. Rather elasticised netted pockets, which means you can stuff in anything you want, including large bottles. Just not sure how well they’ll stand up to the rigours of family life over time.

Back seaters are well taken care of with directional air vents at the rear of the front centre console as well as netted pockets in the doors and on the front seat backs.

There are two large cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, incorporating thoughtful slots for phones or other devices.

There's plenty of head, leg and shoulder room in the back. (image credit: James Cleary) There's plenty of head, leg and shoulder room in the back. (image credit: James Cleary)

Speaking of devices, there are heaps of connectivity and charging options with primary USB-A, USB-C and ‘aux-in’ sockets for media in the dash, as well as a second USB-C in the centre storage box.

What’s more commonly referred to these days as a ‘12-volt socket’ is, in this case, a good old-fashioned cigarette lighter (complete with smoking ciggie icon). Naughty.

Two more USBs in the back, as well as a three-pin 230-volt outlet, so no shortage of road trip power options.

And arguably the ultimate in practicality is ‘Wash-Out’ flooring, complete with drain plugs!   

Things become a little complicated when it comes to boot space because one of the Wrangler’s most impressive party tricks is roof removal. In fact, all it takes is undoing a few extra Torx-head bolts (tool kit provided) to get rid of the doors and fold the windscreen down, as well.

The Wrangler’s most impressive party tricks is roof removal. (image credit: James Cleary) The Wrangler’s most impressive party tricks is roof removal. (image credit: James Cleary)

The legality of performing this automotive strip down and driving on a public road is dubious at best. And you’d be mad to anyway, because anything above 50km/h would be decidedly uncomfortable. Not to mention the fact that removing the doors does away with the exterior mirrors and seriously compromises side-impact safety.

The Wrangler’s skeletal form is best assumed for proper off-road work where clear vision can mean the difference between safely making that steep incline or rocky descent, and not. 

However, the upshot of this transformational ability is there are roll-over hoops and bars along the rear of the interior, which means you may need to be creative with larger items to avoid these internal structures.

That said, storage volume with the 60/40 split-folding rear seat upright is a healthy 898 litres, and we were able to load in the large CarsGuide pram, with lots of room to spare, and our three-piece luggage set (36L, 95L and 124L) was also swallowed easily. Fold the rear seat flat and you’re playing with no less than 2050 litres.

  • Boot space is rated 898 litres. (image credit: James Cleary) Boot space is rated 898 litres. (image credit: James Cleary)
  • Even with our three piece luggage set, there's plenty of room to spare. (image credit: James Cleary) Even with our three piece luggage set, there's plenty of room to spare. (image credit: James Cleary)
  • The Wrangler's boot swallowed our pram with ease. (image credit: James Cleary) The Wrangler's boot swallowed our pram with ease. (image credit: James Cleary)

Happily, the side-opening cargo door swings the ‘right’ way for our ‘park on the left’ market. That is, handle on the left, opening to the right. It’s a two-piece arrangement with the rear windscreen swinging up before the tailgate can open. Just remember to leave room for its arc when you park.

There’s a small tub under the rear floor, handy for wet or muddy clothes and shoes, a 12V outlet and rails to accept tie-down anchors to keep loose loads under control.

The Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is rated to tow a 2.5-tonne braked trailer (750kg unbraked) with trailer sway control standard.

The spare is a full-size alloy (hurrah!) matching those on the car, and it’s mounted proudly on the rear door.

Under the bonnet – What are the key stats for its engine and transmission?

The Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is powered by a 3.6-litre version of Chrysler’s long-serving, naturally aspirated ‘Pentastar’ petrol V6.

The all-alloy unit features variable valve timing and variable valve lift, and produces 209kW at 6400rpm and 347Nm at 4100rpm.

It sends drive to an eight-speed automatic transmission (with manual mode), and on to Jeep’s ‘Rock-Trac’ on-demand 4WD system which uses a central, two-speed transfer case to automatically switch between rear-wheel drive and high-range four-wheel drive as required.

The 3.6-litre V6 produces 209kW/347Nm. (image credit: James Cleary) The 3.6-litre V6 produces 209kW/347Nm. (image credit: James Cleary)

The default front-to-rear drive split in 4WD mode is 42/58, although 100 per cent of drive can go to the front or rear axle if needed.

It’s possible to manually shift into full-time high- or low-range 4WD, specifically for off-road use, and in either of those modes a dash-mounted button allows you to remotely decouple the front stabiliser bar for better axle articulation.

And for the really tough stuff there are front and rear electronic locking differentials on the heavy-duty Dana axles (engaged via the push of a rocker switch on the dash).

Efficiency – What is its fuel consumption? What is its driving range?

Jeep’s official fuel economy number for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 10.3L/100km, the 3.6-litre petrol V6 emitting 239g/km of CO2 in the process.

Stop-start is standard, and over a week of city, suburban, and some freeway running we averaged 14.3L/100km, which is at the high end of acceptable for a 2.0-tonne, five-seat 4x4.

Minimum fuel requirement is 91 RON ‘standard’ unleaded and you’ll need 81 litres of it to fill the tank.

Using the official economy number, that translates to a range of around 790km, which drops to just under 570km using our real-world figure.

Price and features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

At $83,950, before on-road costs, the Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited lines up against similarly sized off-highway capable SUVs like the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado Kakadu ($86,998), Land Rover Defender 110 D300 SE ($104,000) and Nissan Patrol Ti-L ($95,115). 

When you’re giving six figures a nudge it’s fair to expect a lengthy list of included features, and besides the performance and safety tech covered separately in this review, this top-spec Wrangler features dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise, leather trim on the seats, steering wheel, shift levers and parking brake, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, nine-speaker Alpine audio (including subwoofer and digital radio), Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, an 8.4-inch multimedia touchscreen, a 7.0-inch multi-function instrument display and satellite navigation.

  • The Wrangler wears 17-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: James Cleary) The Wrangler wears 17-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: James Cleary)
  • The tail-lights are LEDs. (image credit: James Cleary) The tail-lights are LEDs. (image credit: James Cleary)
  • Inside is a 8.4-inch multimedia touchscreen. (image credit: James Cleary) Inside is a 8.4-inch multimedia touchscreen. (image credit: James Cleary)
  • There is a nine-speaker Alpine audio system. (image credit: James Cleary) There is a nine-speaker Alpine audio system. (image credit: James Cleary)

There’s also keyless entry and start (plus remote start), LED illumination for the (auto) headlights, tail-lights, fog lights and DRLs and 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 32-inch BFGoodrich ‘Mud-Terrain’ off-road tyres. 

Not bad, but not spectacular relative to the competition, although our test example was fitted with some big ticket options, namely its ‘Firecracker Red’ paint ($1175), the ‘Sky-One-Touch Premium Package’ comprising a full-length power top and body-colour fender flares ($7735) and the 'Trail-Ready Package' - 17-inch black alloy wheels, steel front bumper, forward facing 'TrailCam' ($3835). Price as tested - $96,665 BOC.

Driving – What's it like to drive?

The first thing you notice once you’ve climbed up behind the wheel of the Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is its elevated driving position.

Sure, that’s an SUV norm and one of the key reasons many people enjoy driving them. But this genuinely high-riding 4WD dramatically increases your line-of-sight.

Then, there’s the familiar sound of the Pentastar petrol V6. Not exactly coarse, but not super-refined, either. Let’s just say you notice its presence.

And as soon as you start moving you can feel the chunky tread blocks from the 32-inch BFGoodrich ‘Mud-Terrain’ off-road tyres vibrating their contact with the bitumen into the cabin.

All reminders that this is a close to 2.0-tonne, body-on-frame 4x4, underpinned by a heavy-duty suspension with solid axles, and you should be ready for some on-road compromises to accommodate its off-road capabilities.

That said, when it comes to straight line performance, rather than a lumbering hauler, this five-seater gets up and goes.

Jeep says it will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 7.9 seconds, which is pretty darn quick, and thanks to maximum torque arriving at a reasonably useful 4100rpm, pulling power is strong. 

The eight-speed auto transmission is agreeably smooth and a sequential manual mode is handy when you want to dictate terms. 

The chunky off-road tyres send vibrations into the cabin. The chunky off-road tyres send vibrations into the cabin.

Despite the big rubber donuts on each corner steering feel is good and body roll in corners is relatively modest.

And the professional grade chassis hardware is supported by gas shock absorbers and coil springs, so ride comfort is on the right side of satisfactory.

Braking is by big discs all around (ventilated at the front). Stopping power is strong and the pedal feels nice and progressive.

The front seats remain comfy after long stints behind the wheel, but two words of warning.

Think ahead when you’re planning to park or make a three-point turn because a 12.4-metre turning circle is sizeable and this is a pretty big beast.

And beware the reversing camera. Perfectly acceptable resolution during the day, but fuzzy and indistinct after dark.

While we didn’t venture off-road for this FamilyGuide test, some more adventurous types may want to know this machine’s vital off-road statistics.

For the record, ground clearance is 252mm, approach angle is 36.5 degrees, breakover is 21.2 degrees, departure angle is 31.9 degrees and wading depth is 760mm. If push comes to shove there are protective skid plates under the fuel tank, transfer case and transmission.

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What is its safety rating?

Safety is something of a sore point for the Jeep Wrangler, the car scoring only three from a possible five stars in a 2019 ANCAP assessment.

A relatively low 60 per cent score for ‘Adult Occupant Protection’ related primarily to the car’s passenger compartment “not retain(ing) its structural integrity in the frontal offset test”.

‘Child Occupant Protection’ was a much better result at 80 per cent, but the ‘Vulnerable Road User Protection’ and ‘Safety Assist’ categories were just below, and just above, the 50 per cent mark, respectively.

In terms of those active safety assist features, the Wrangler’s AEB system (operating from 30-130km/h) scored well, but the lack of lane departure warning and lane keeping assist held it back.

Other crash avoidance features include a reversing camera (grainy at night), park assist (front and rear), adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, electronic roll mitigation (front brake vectoring to reduce the potential for wheel lift in an emergency swerve) and tyre pressure monitoring.   

And if an impact is unavoidable there are only four airbags on board, front and side for the driver and front passenger. No side curtains, no knee bags, or front centre bag. Way off the pace. 

Worth noting side curtain airbags are included in the just-announced 2024 Wrangler.

There are, however, three top tether points for baby capsules/child seats across the back row, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.  

Ownership – What warranty is offered? What are its service intervals? What are its running costs?

The Wrangler Rubicon is covered by Jeep’s five year/100,000km warranty, which is behind the current industry standard of five years/unlimited km.

On the bright side, you’ll receive lifetime roadside assistance, as long as your car is serviced by an authorised Jeep dealer.

Recommended service interval is 12 months/12,000km, which trails the more common 15 or even 20,000km stretch.

Jeep offers capped-price servicing for the first five visits to the workshop at $399 a throw, which is pretty sharp. 


The Wrap

The Cleary family enjoyed its week with the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited. It’s a charismatic, tough-looking stand-out in a sea of large SUV sameness.

But there were no tears when it came time to return it. It’s a fun place to visit, but you’ve got to be ready if you want to live there.

This is a Jeep Wrangler not a Range Rover, best suited to families that take outdoor fun seriously (and often). Those looking for that extra polish, may be better off with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but that’s another story.

Likes

Practicality
Performance
Stand-out looks

Dislikes

Sub-par safety
Big turning circle
Fuzzy reversing camera at night

Scores

James:

3.5

The Kids:

3.5

$61,888 - $102,950

Based on 94 car listings in the last 6 months

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