When Jeep decided to build a four-door Wrangler, we were excited about its potential. This was, after all, the first time the legendary Jeep was given two more doors; also, its stretched wheelbase made the interior more people- and cargo-friendly. Then the company announced it was going to build a Rubicon version of the Unlimited, and we knew we'd have to try one out for long-term testing.
The Rubicon package provides enough off-road gear to make it the most capable Wrangler you can buy from the factory: Dana 44 axles front and rear, Tru-Lok remote locking differentials, swaybar disconnects, Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case with 4.00:1 low range, 4.10:1 rearend (available only on the Rubicon), and BFG Mud-Terrains.
It quickly became clear that despite the extra interior volume, Jeep hadn't gone mad and turned the Wrangler into a dolled-up kid hauler. The price you pay for a Rubicon is for its extreme off-road ability, not leather seats (our tester's were cloth) or comfy, cushy headrests (one editor noted they were "hard as rocks"). After ordering a few more items, the bottom line came to $34,730. The MyGIG system also added a slot for a memory stick, which allows you to download music to the 20GB hard drive and use your own images as wallpaper on the screen. However, on two separate occasions, the nav system froze up and, when it started working again, took some time to display the correct location (at one point, our Wrangler's was shown to be in the Pacific Ocean--we weren't). Of course, it never acted up for the dealer, so nothing was done. We hope Jeep has worked out some of the bugs since then.
In the city, the Wrangler fared better than many expected it to. Art director Thomas Voehringer was "surprised and delighted by the versatility of this seemingly narrow-focused off-roader--the Unlimited can easily find its way beyond legal cruising speed on the freeway." Copy chief Jackie Manfredi chauffeured friends to a performance of "Wicked." She explained, "The ladies enjoyed the seats and there was a lot of room," and with the windows up, no noise intruded while the four of them chatted. It isn't the perfect city-dweller, though, and editors noted significant road and tire noise when the windows were down, a nervous attitude on the freeway--if you don't pay attention, it can drift into the next lane. It also tends to get blown around by high winds and it's slow to get to speed: Zero to 60 takes 10 seconds flat.
It also had several opportunities to run off-road. Within a month of its arrival at our office, editor Mark Williams took the Jeep on trails in a 4x4 area just outside Las Vegas. He didn't need to air down for the Rubicon to conquer obstacles with ease and, no surprise, it never got stuck.
Photographer Brian Vance used the Wrangler for a few different adventures. The first, a drive from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, made the shortcomings of the V-6 and the old-school automatic stand out. But once there, he removed the hard top and converted the hard-core off-roader into the ideal summertime cruiser. On another trip, he drove to hot springs near Minden, Nevada, and while only 10 miles off paved road, discovered he'd need to navigate an icy trail and ford a river to get where he needed to be. The next day, the Wrangler was just as confident in a sudden snowstorm. Back in town, he used the Rubicon to shuttle around friends whose vehicles were stranded. After returning to Southern California, he and some buddies used the Jeep for a long weekend of off-roading in Death Valley--again, with no problems.
While it was in our fleet, we took the long-termer to the dealer twice. The first trip was for its 6000-mile service (at 5951 miles), when it received the gold package: lube, oil, and filter change, 55-point inspection, and tire rotation, for a total cost of $71.16. Its second service, at 13,029 miles, was its 12,000-mile checkup, when the dealer performed a lube service and oil and filter change, inspected belts and hoses, topped off fluid levels, set tire pressures, and rotated the tires, for $60.74. While there, techs also replaced the trail-damaged license-plate bracket and the bracket's lamp assembly, at a cost of $97.14--a minor price to pay for the fun off-road. Besides, dents and dings add character to a Jeep.
The Wrangler Rubicon did everything it was supposed to, and it performed surprisingly well in areas where it isn't as strong. It takes the go-anywhere philosophy of the Jeep line and goes a step further, adding much of the equipment off-road enthusiasts crave. However, Jeep didn't go too far to the extreme, making sure this remains a decent vehicle for a daily commute--as long as you're willing to accept the compromises that come with a machine this capable.