2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Click image to enlarge
Competitors
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Hummer H3
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Xterra
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Manufacturer’s web site
Jeep Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2008 Jeep Wrangler

Ottawa, Ontario – I wonder if they’d still wave if they knew it wasn’t my Jeep?

I’m talking, of course, about the Jeep owners who wave when they see another Wrangler (or TJ or YJ) coming the other way. I’ve driven a couple of different Wranglers now, but it still takes me by surprise when the first fellow Jeep driver salutes.

Jeepers are a loyal bunch, apparently. I think you’d have to be, to drive a Wrangler day in and day out: this isn’t exactly the most commuting-friendly vehicle, after all. It isn’t so much that it’s noisy – Jeep has done wonders to quell the worst of the road, engine and wind noise in this latest version of its off-roader – it’s more the rough ride and rather thirsty fuel consumption.

2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Click image to enlarge

I though it odd that Jeep sent us another Wrangler tester so soon; I’d driven a 2007 just a few months ago. But the differences (other than the model year) soon became obvious. The 2007 model was a basic Sahara model, where this 2008 is a top-end Rubicon, cloaked in a new-for-2008 paint colour called Detonator Yellow.

No wonder Jeep owners waved when they saw this one – how could you miss the hazmat suit on wheels?

The Rubicon – ostensibly named for the Rubicon Trail – gets a number of features not found in lesser Wrangler models that add to its already impressive off-road credibility. There are locking differentials front and rear (heavy-duty next-generation Dana 44 units, apparently), and an electronic disconnect for the front sway – all of which can be operated via dashboard buttons – plus knobby 17-inch off-road tires. The Rubicon also gets Jeep’s Rock-Trac four-wheel drive system, in place of the Sahara’s Command-Trac setup and a shorter final drive ratio.

Let’s get this out of the way early: my week of testing involved little of anything you could call off-roading. I left that to my colleague James Bergeron who had the opportunity to explore the Wrangler’s limits with the help of a few members of the Ottawa Valley Off-Roaders (OVO).

2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Click image to enlarge

What I did discover, one January day after an impressive snowfall, is that the Wrangler isn’t as capable in deep snow as you’d think. This realization occurred, unfortunately, in a downtown right-turn lane, in plain view of more than a few car drivers who, no doubt, had a good laugh at my expense. To its credit, the Wrangler did manage to get free under its own power. My brother-in-law, who was with me at the time, said my mistake was not having enough momentum going into the snow. He should know: he spent several years of his youth piloting Toyota Land Cruisers through deep sand in rural Africa (despite the temperature differences, he assures me that it’s a very similar driving technique that will get you through either one in an off-roader).

Yeah, well, next time, I’ll probably just stick to clear roads.

When I wasn’t embarrassing myself, the Wrangler served as a willing commuter vehicle. If I thought last year’s Sahara tester was overkill for paved surfaces, this Rubicon was far more so. The heavier-duty suspension was punishing over rough patches and the improved sound deadening applied to this latest-generation Wrangler was not enough to keep the whine of the knobby tires out of the cabin.

2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Click image to enlarge

The 3.8-litre V6 is a flexible powerplant, generating useful torque at low revs, so that a downshift isn’t always needed to gain speed. The tall shifter falls easily to the right hand, but it certainly doesn’t encourage quick driving, which matters little as the engine isn’t a willing revver. Better to accept that you won’t be the fastest car off the line and drive gently. This will help keep fuel consumption under control too: the Wrangler’s EnerGuide ratings are 14.4 L/100 km (city) and 11.1 L/100 km (highway), but it’s very easy to average 16 L/100 km in snowy city driving.

The Wrangler’s cabin is comfortable enough, but the lack of a telescopic function for the steering column means you wind up sitting closer to the wheel than you might like. Running boards are helpful when you want to get in and out of a jacked-up vehicle like this, but they get in the way in the rough stuff. The rough-and-ready Rubicon deletes the tubular side steps that my previous Sahara tester had, so getting up and into this one was a feat, to say the least.

Getting into the back seat is not for the weak-willed at the best of times; without a step-up, getting back there means leaving your dignity behind as you grunt, grasp and groan your way up and in. Oh, and then you have to figure out a way to get back out. My advice: carry a step-stool. Your passengers will thank you.

The Freedom Top removable hard roof is cool, but plan ahead: there’s no easy way to stash the panels in the car, so you’re best to leave them at home and hope you don’t get rained on.

Cargo space is limited with the rear seats in place, but they do flip forward to open up a useful hold. The cabin’s ergonomics are terrible by family car standards, but everything is easy to use. The removable doors are located by straps and won’t stay open on their own when you park on an incline, so watch your hands and legs as you get out.

2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Click image to enlarge

Options on my tester included the Freedom Top, a towing package and a power convenience group that added power windows and doors, keyless entry and satellite radio.

Including freight, the as-tested price came to $32,495. You can spend a lot more money on a truck and wind up with less off-road capability. And for the Wrangler’s base price of just under $20,000, you get the benefit of the camaraderie that this truck engenders among owners, and that’s almost as appealing as anything else the Wrangler offers, on or off the road.

Pricing: 2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Base price: $28,595
Options: $2,500 (Three-piece Freedom Top, $875; Trailer tow group, $425; power convenience group, $950; Sirius satellite radio, $250)

A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,300
Price as tested: $32,495
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Jeep Wrangler

    Related articles on Autos

    First Drives

  • 2007 Jeep Wrangler, by Paul Williams
    Test Drives

  • 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, by Jil McIntosh
  • 2007 Jeep Wrangler, by Chris Chase
  • 2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, by James Bergeron
    Day-by-Day Reviews

  • 2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara, by James Bergeron

    Competitors
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Hummer H3
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Xterra
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Jeep Canada

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
  • Connect with Autos.ca