2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Click image to enlarge
On the road, the Wrangler Rubicon has a comfortable ride over smooth pavement and its tall sixth gear leaves the engine revving at just 2,200 rpm at a steady 100 km/h, making highway driving surprisingly comfortable and quiet (assuming the top is up). Even those knobby BF Goodrich mud terrain tires don’t make a lot of noise at highway speeds.
The venerable 3.8-litre pushrod V6 has lots of torque (237 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm) but doesn’t like to rev high. It sounds rough over 5,000 rpm, and I found myself shifting gears under 3,000 rpm. Official fuel consumption figures (L/100 km) are 14.5 city/10.0 hwy, but my onboard fuel economy gauge was showing an average of about 15 L/100 km.
The floor shifter has a long handle and it’s easy to shift gears, while the stubby shifter for four-wheel drive can be shifted from 2 High to 4 High at speeds up to 88 km/h. Shifting into Low Range requires the vehicle be stopped or slowly coasting and the transmission in Neutral – no electronic pushbuttons here. The optional automatic transmission is a four-speed unit which I haven’t tested.
When it comes to traversing back-country trails, rock crawling, fording streams, slogging through mud bogs, or traversing logs, the Rubicon model is almost unbeatable. Its Low Range gearing, which is really, really low, allows it to crawl at a snail’s pace up or down a steep hill; front and rear axle locks keep all the wheels turning when traction is needed in deep snow or mud; the disconnecting front sway bar allows additional wheel articulation to traverse boulders and ruts; short front and rear overhangs and a high 10-inch ground clearance under the axles allow the Wrangler to go over steep drop-offs and through gulleys without getting hung up; the Wrangler’s wide track adds stability and a feeling of security when traversing side inclines; skid plates under the fuel tank, engine, and transmission help mitigate potentially expensive rock damage; big plastic fenders reduce rock spray damage, reduce noise and eliminate the possibility of rust; and front and rear tow hooks provide a lifeline if the vehicle gets stuck.
A Toyota FJ Cruiser with the off-road package comes closest to the Wrangler Rubicon’s abilities, but it’s a more “civilized” 4X4 occupying a niche somewhere between the extreme Rubicon and regular SUVs.