2013 JEEP WRANGLER RUBICON REVIEW
Vehicle style: Large heavy duty SUV
Engine/transmission: 209kW/347Nm 3.6 litre V6 petrol/6-speed manual
Price: $47,000 (plus on-roads)
Fuel consumption listed: 11.7 l/100km | tested: 12.2 l/100km
Dunk me brother, for I have seen the light.
This, Jeep’s eponymous Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, is a car you have to ‘get’. And if you don’t get it, if you’re not a ‘believer’, you’re never going to like it.
You’ll always find too many things to complain about – too heavy, too confined, too much like hard work at the wheel, just too friggin’ old-fashioned.
But in its name is the clue to what it is. If there’s a Rubicon to be crossed, no matter how rocky, steep, torturous or deep, this is the vehicle for crossing it.
The Wrangler Rubicon’s off-road crawling ability is an established fact; well-known across all four hemispheres. But less well-known is that it isn’t as hard to live with as you may have been led to believe.
I drove it for a week, everywhere: around the city, back and forth to the farm (two hours away), and a day off-road up some damp fire trails.
For the week I returned 12.2 l/100km – not bad for a two tonne ladder-framed off-road bus with a 209kW 3.6 litre 24-valve V6 petrol hooked up to a six-speed manual.
So, could you live with this capable but old-fashioned truck-ish kind of car?
Quality: This interior will not win any design awards: chic and stylish it ain’t. But utilitarian and tight as a drum it is. And it works.
There’s a nice feel to the leather-wrapped wheel; the rotary controls feel solid to the touch (with chromed edges and a rubberised ‘grip’) and the unusual dash has a robust Tonka-tough feel.
The doors need a bit more of a slam than in most modern cars, but it’s snug inside and rattle free – even on corrugations.
Comfort: Seat fabrics have a wash ‘n wear look. The seats don’t look quite the right shape (they’re rounded at the front of the squab) but proved surprisingly comfortable and have ample adjustment to get nicely set at the wheel.
Off road, I like to sit high – not a problem getting it just right in the Rubicon.
Rear seats are also ok, but it can feel a bit confined in there (the rear windows aren’t exactly panoramic) though there’s plenty of foot and legroom.
And you won’t need to worry too much about getting caked in mud when you’re out off-road. The floor mats front and back can be easily detached should you want to give things a bit of a hosing out.
Features: It’s a tad Spartan for conveniences, but among the key features are auto air-con, leather-wrapped multi-function wheel, keyless entry, power windows, 60/40 split-folding rear seat (with reclining bench), and deep tint windows.
There’s a good Alpine seven-speaker sound system (with subwoofer), CD/DVD/MP3 player and Bluetooth connectivity. The Rubicon also comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, heated exterior mirrors, three piece modular fibreglass hardtop, auto headlights and fog lamps.
Storage: The Wrangler is a box – it’s square, with square openings, and a slab-sided interior. With rear seats in place, you've got a useful 498 litres of stowage there (ample room for the annual family pilgrimage).
Lay the rear seats flat and you’ve got nearly 1000 litres opened up there (though the subwoofer gets in the way). The rear door, importantly, is well-weighted, and, despite carrying the rear wheel, isn’t too heavy.
It can tow 2300kg (braked) with a 230kg downball weight – enough to have it coping ok with most caravans.
ON THE ROAD
(OFF ROAD RATING: 4.5/5)
Driveability: How you feel about how it drives is going to be the ‘make or break’ of any relationship with the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.
At the wheel, the shallow upright windscreen gives it a really old-fashioned feel (kinda like the view from the wheel of a ’34 Ford).
The windscreen is a near flat rectangle sitting upright on top of the scuttle, and barely two handspans from your fingertips. It’s not the best for visibility on road or off, and is also prone to chips from the inevitable shower of stones from the quarry truck in front.
Visibility all round is pretty crook, but, being flat and square at all corners, there are no mysteries as to where the extremities of the Wrangler lie and rear-view mirrors are large and clear.
It’s a bit cumbersome around the city – it’s not its natural home – the gears take a bit of work (the auto is the choice here), the steering is a tad heavy, and you’ve got to muscle it around a tight carpark.
Point it out onto the highway though and things take a turn for the better. The Rubicon gets along quite well and is perfectly happy to sit at the legal limit, provided you’re prepared to work at the wheel a bit.
But there’s ample power from the potent V6 for safe overtaking; it’s also unfussed by hills and happy to provide a shower of revs when needed.
Over the week, it proved reasonably efficient – the 12.2 l/100km average we recorded was better than we’ve managed to get out of a Prado. The diesel, if you can find one, is the better bet.
Refinement: It’s pretty quiet on the highway; damping of mechanical harshness and vibrations is better than you’ll expect and tyre noise is not excessive.
But you can listen to the ratios at work in the gearbox, and engaging 4L needs a heavy hand on the notchy transfer-case lever.
The gearshift is not among the best; the throw is imprecise and made slightly worse because the ‘H’ pattern is out of whack – fifth to sixth is a slightly oblique pull of the long-throw shift (which puts you in danger of glancing reverse, which isn’t locked out).
But ‘refinement’ is not the name of the game with the Rubicon. It’s a car for adventure, muddy soles and Blundstone boots. If you’re going to be worrying about where to put the ballet pumps, this is not the car for you.
Suspension: Solid axles front and rear mean more work at the wheel to have the Rubicon tracking where you want it and bump-steer becomes your companion on rougher tarmac.
But, off road, it’s near unstoppable.
Those solid axles give tremendous wheel articulation for stepping over things and, when things are really challenging, the ace for the Rubicon is its super low axle ratio (4.10:1) on the Dana 44 front diff (heavy duty Dana 44 locking differentials front and rear).
It will have you effortlessly crawling over nearly anything.
The damp fire trails we put it over were simply a doddle… you have to get a long way into very serious off-road country to get anywhere near finding the Rubicon’s limits.
Braking: No problems with the brakes, they’re up to the hard work a heavy-duty 4WD has in store. With the hard-walled Wrangler tyres though, a wet road can have the ABS and ESC working harder than with a normal road car.
ANCAP rating: 4-Stars (Two-door tested only)
Safety features: Dual front airbags, seat-mounted side airbags, antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic stability control (ESC), hill-start assist, trailer sway control and driver seat belt reminder are standard.
ANCAP results show the Wrangler scored 10.51 out of 16 in the offset crash test, but scored of 16 out of 16 in the side-impact crash test.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km with three years standard roadside assistance.
Service costs: Service intervals are 12,000km, service costs vary, Jeep Australia does not currently have a fixed price servicing offer.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Land Rover Defender 110 wagon ($47,500) – As stylish as a brick, as tough as a chain-mail suit and a heritage straddling six decades.
The Landy’s diesel can’t match the Rubicon for on-road flexibility but it will go up anything, over anything and through anything. For decades, the choice of English royalty for charioting around the country estate. (See Land Rover reviews)
Toyota FJ Cruiser ($47,990) – There’s a curious appeal to the nutty styling, and the V6 petrol under the bonnet and off-road mechanicals are virtually a straight lift from the Prado.
It too can go almost anywhere, but its retro thing now seems a bit shallow: it’s nothing like an FJ40 Landcruiser. (See FJ Cruiser reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
I love the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, it’s my kind of car.
But I like ‘em old-fashioned and a bit truck-like. If you’ve read this far, you might also be over soft cars that isolate you from the world and don’t demand anything of the drive.
There is nothing soft or cosseting about the Rubicon. Everywhere you go, it engages you with the task.
Its verdict is recognition of what it is, and how well it does what it’s meant to do. The Jeep Rubicon and Land Rover Defender are in an eccentric class all of their own.
There’s a lot of capable 4X4 machinery at this price point, but, come on, only one other has the same old-fashioned charm and can claim to a heritage as long as the Wrangler’s. That’s the Landy.
For me, maybe for you, it’s a two horse race.
The Rubicon wins on price (just) and is a little more agreeable on road, but loses half-a-point because there’s no diesel option with this model. Land Rover though wins on retained values.
So, test them both and you split them. And long may each stay exactly as they are. Amen.