The jeep named for the off-roading heaven known as the rubicon trail is getting ready to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Back in 2003, it seemed impossible that a company would be willing to take the chance on building a special edition for rock-crawling with a 4.0:1 low-range transfer case and locking axles. Jeep took that leap of faith, and it's been a success ever since.
To celebrate a decade of fulfilling factory-built fun, Jeep is building a special 10th Anniversary Edition of its Rubicon models. In addition to all the standard features that made it a hit, such as the ultra low-range gearbox, electronic locking front and rear solid axles, and electronic front anti-roll bar disconnect, the special edition comes with additional items that are both functional and fashionable.
Special-edition wheels are clad with new BF Goodrich KM2 Mud Terrain tires that perform well on-road and have no trouble dealing with the dangers of sharp rocks, slippery slopes, and shifting terrain that make up the Rubicon Trail. The all-steel front bumper has end caps that can be removed for better clearance on narrow trails, comes with bright-red tow hooks, and is built to integrate a winch perfectly. The rear bumper is also full steel with red tow hooks and plastic end caps, and is designed to accept an aftermarket American Expedition Vehicles tire carrier that can hold rubber up to 40 inches in diameter. It also has mounts for accessories such as a spare fuel tank, Hi-Lift jack, Pull-Pal, large reverse lamp, shovel, and even a CB antenna. Rounding out the special exterior looks is an aggressive Power Dome hood that's manufactured by AEV's sister company, Quality MetalCraft. The hood incorporates dual ventilation intakes to aid engine cooling, and has large Rubicon graphics on the side and chrome 10th Anniversary badges affixed to the front fenders. Unique paint colors include Billet Silver, a bright White, and Anvil, which was actually based on the color of a trash can in the Jeep design shop. While its genesis may sound unsophisticated, Anvil became a quick favorite of drivers on the trip because it looks great in every light and keeps looking good even when the truck gets dirty.
Inside the cab, which rides a half-inch higher than the 2012 model's, bold red leather seats are embroidered with "Rubicon 10th Anniversary" on the front seatbacks with matching red stitching on the black steering wheel and center console. There are also a 10th Anniversary badge on the passenger grab handle and a special metal plaque in the dash storage bin that lists the manufacturing location, axle types, axle ratios, tire size, and transfer case ratio. Buttons for the axle lockers and anti-roll bar disconnect are found to the left of the steering wheel, and easy-to-read displays in the gauge cluster let the driver know when these features are engaged, along with tire pressure readouts. Steering wheel buttons control the audio and navigation, the Bluetooth phone system, and access to information such as real-time fuel economy to keep the driver informed on the fly.
Jeep brought a dozen reporters from as far away as Mexico City and Canada to experience the special JK on its namesake trail -- which was once a footpath -- high in the mountains near South Lake Tahoe, California. We were informed the 10th Anniversary Rubicon vehicles we'd be driving were "pre-pre-production" models, but they all seemed ready for prime time. Jeep provided numerous configurations of the Rubicon, with two- and four-doors, hardtops, soft tops, automatics, manuals, and some JKs without doors and side mirrors.
We spent the first half of our two-day adventure hopping in and out of the various configurations while shooting photos along the trail and observing the performance of the special edition Wrangler Rubicons with expert off-roaders and first-timers behind the steering wheel. The constant obstacles of the Rubicon Trail are no joke, but thanks to spotting help from trail guides associated with Jeep Jamboree USA, and the capability inherent in the low-geared Jeeps, the drama was limited to the scraping of skidplates and rock sliders with some clunks -- not surprising -- as the trucks dropped off rocks while we plodded along the trail. We ended the first day at the campsite at Rubicon Springs, where a stead feast was waiting along with a musician and, of all things, a grand piano flown in by helicopter for dinner entertainment, all thanks to the hospitality of Jeep.
An air horn woke everyone early the next morning, then we were treated to breakfast and broke camp. We hopped into a two-door (actually, doorless) short-wheelbase JK with the five-speed automatic for a full day of driving. Ali Mansour, technical editor from sister magazine Four Wheeler, was kind enough to provide tips and spotting from inside the vehicle; he's owned numerous Jeeps and has extensive familiarity with their handling characteristics in intense off-road situations. He pointed out the advantage of our smaller vehicle as we wound through switchbacks filled with boulders, exposed tree roots, and the off-camber challenges of the Cadillac Hill section of the Rubicon. The small Jeep was often able to use full steering and torque pushing through the locked differentials to pivot in places where the four-doors ahead of us had to take more difficult paths to avoid bashing their axle housings or upsetting their balance.
The four-doors may have had a more challenging time than our short Jeep, but no one got stuck, broke parts, or caused damage to body panels. The expected scratches on some of the trucks' plastic fender flares were about the only changes other than a coating of trail dust at the end of the day. The relatively new Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 engine with 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of twist, provided ample and predictable power as we made our way up to Observation Point. Here, everyone took in 360 degrees of incredible scenery: giant pine trees, exposed rock mountainsides, and natural bodies of water deep in the valley below. After enjoying the vista, we got a chance to take the Jeeps out of 4-Lo for the first time in more than 24 hours. It was fun, as we were able to drive at faster speeds on the long and fairly smooth dirt and gravel road ride to finish off the Rubicon, occasionally interrupted by some rocky and twisty sections that reminded us the trail wasn't quite over.
Once we finally got to the end of the trail, our trip back to the hotel allowed for highway speed driving evaluation, which included some construction related traffic jams. It was a lot smoother than one might expect from a dual solid-axle truck that performed off-road acrobatics earlier that same day. You might assume a truck with live axles front and rear and large chunky tires would be a handful at highway speeds, but Jeep has done a great job of tuning the suspension. The Jeep Rubicon's powerful engine and predictable handling make it a comfortable daily driver that can get you to the trail and back -- and the 10th Anniversary Rubicon lets you do it in a unique style you can't get with any other model.