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First Drive: 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

Is it the best Jeep ever?

Bruce W. Smith
Jul 18, 2005
Those who've had a taste of Moab's infamous Hell's Revenge trail know that the ultimate test of one's driving skills (and one's 4x4) is making it out of the southern end of Hell's Gate--a steep, narrow V-shaped ravine carved into the sandstone escarpments that make this area of eastern Utah the ultimate playground for off-roaders.
Many a vehicle has suffered extensive damage as drivers try to climb the steep, technically challenging terrain out of Hell's Gate. A misplaced tire, a little too much power, a momentary loss of traction, or any combination thereof can result in rollovers, broken axles, or crushed body panels.
If you want a fighting chance of getting through, come with a vehicle that has thousands of dollars invested in a trick aftermarket suspension, deeply geared drivetrain, and locking differentials at both ends. Or ease your way through Hell's Gate in the 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon without spending a dime on aftermarket upgrades.
Photo 2/3   |   2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Front Passenger Side View Driving Down A Hill
This newest offering from the Jeep brand is the serious off-roader's dream ride, one that takes four-wheeling to a level never before offered by a vehicle manufacturer. As Jeep says, the Unlimited Rubicon is where "extreme out-of-the-box off-roader meets ultimate 4x4 versatility." A day on the trails around Moab proves there's no hype in that statement.
To the casual observer, the Unlimited edition of the Wrangler Rubicon looks like any other Wrangler. But put the two side by side, and the differences are glaring. The Unlimited is 15 inches longer; 13 added to the cargo area and the other two behind the front seats. This frame-stretching more than doubles the Unlimited's cargo capacity and greatly improves rear-passenger legroom and comfort. The Unlimited stands taller, too, thanks to the 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler LT245/75R16s mounted on five-spoke aluminum wheels.
The Unlimited Rubicon's longer wheelbase settles the ride on- and off-road--a trait that should attract buyers who didn't care for the standard Wrangler's choppy demeanor. But what really sets the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon apart from the typical factory offering is hard-core off-roading hardware that isn't so obvious. The Unlimited is equipped with heavy-duty Dana 44 axles front and rear, both of which have 4.11:1 gears and air-actuated Tru-Lok locking differentials.
The Tru-Lok air lockers are cool: In 2WD or 4WD High, they operate like conventional limited-slips. But in 4WD Low, the driver can push a button on the dash that engages the differential's air-locking mechanism, mechanically locking the axle shafts together so all four wheels are driven at the same speed. The air-locking diffs set the Unlimited apart from every other TJ.
Jeep's Tru-Lok differentials, built by Tochigi Fuji Sangyo, require just five pounds of pressure to operate, making their operation silent. With such stealth, it's easy to impress even the most diehard off-roaders when the "stock" Unlimited Rubicon suddenly appears unstoppable.
Photo 3/3   |   2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Front Drivers Side View Front Wheels In Air
Another great advantage the Unlimited Rubicon has over all other Wranglers is the ultra-low-geared NV241 Rock-Trac transfer case. The standard Jeep Rubicon transfer case has a ratio of 2.27:1, while the Unlimited's gearing is 4.0:1. The deeper low-range gearing allows you to literally crawl up and down steep terrain, as we saw during our test drive over Moab's slickrock.
Whether driving the manual six-speed or the four-speed automatic, the gearing and wide torque band of the 190-horsepower, 4.0-liter Power Tech inline-six makes the 2005 Unlimited Rubicon a hard-core outdoorsman's dream ride. If it can't make it through or over the terrain, nothing else short of a tank will.
And most tanks don't come with a standard package that includes a Sunrider soft-top, seven-speaker sound system, four-wheel disc brakes, or a child-seat anchor system to keep the young ones secure so they can enjoy the Jeep experience.
"Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon's unique factory off-road system is another chapter in the Wrangler value story," says Jeff Bell, vice president, Jeep Marketing. "It offers extreme off-road capability at approximately half the price of modifying the vehicle with aftermarket hardware.
"Combine that with Jeep engineering, testing on the world's most demanding trails, Jeep's seven-year/70,000-mile powertrain limited warranty, and significantly more space, and it's clear the all-new 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon delivers the ultimate combination of capability, versatility, and value."
After spending time behind the wheel, we couldn't agree more; the Unlimited Rubicon, with an MSRP of $28,825, is a lot of Jeep for the money.

{{{2005 Jeep Wrangler}}} Unlimited Rubicon

Location of final assembly Toledo, Ohio
Body style 2-door
EPA size class Compact SUV
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Driver, pass
Engine type I-6, cast-iron block and head
Bore x stroke, in 3.88 x 3.41
Displacement, ci/L 242/4.0
Compression ratio 8.8:1
Valve gear OHV, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Electronic sequential multiportv
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 190 @ 4600 rpm
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 235 @ 3200 rpm
Standard transmission 6-speed manualv
1st 4.46:1
2nd 2.61:1
3rd 1.72:1
4th 1.25:1
5th 1.00:1
6th 0.84:1
Reverse 4.06:1
Optional transmission 4-speed auto
1st 2.84:1
2nd 1.{{{57}}}:1
3rd 1.00:1
4th 0.69:1
Reverse 2.21:1
Axle ratio 4.11:1
Final-drive ratio 2.84:1 (auto)/3.44:1 (manual)
Transfer-case model NV241 Rock-Trac
Low-range ratio 4.0:1
Crawl ratio 46.7:1(auto)/73.3:1 (manual)
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
Wheelbase, in 103.4
Length, in 165.1
Width, in 68.3
Height, in 71.8
Track, f/r, in 59.5/60.5
Headroom, f/r, in 41.5/40.2
Legroom, f/r, in 40.9/36.0
Shoulder room, f/r, in 50.7/57.7
Total interior volume, cu ft 65.7
Total cargo area volume, cu ft 28.5
Ground clearance, in 8.6 (rear axle)
App/dep angle, deg 43.6/22.0
Base curb weight, lb 3721
Payload capacity, lb 800
GVWR, lb 4600
GCWR, lb 8000
Towing capacity, lb 3500
Fuel capacity, gal 19.0
Suspension, f/r Live axle, coil springs, gas shocks/ live axle, coil springs, gas shocks
Steering type Power recirc ball
Ratio 16.8:1v
Turns, lock to lock 3.4
Turning circle, ft 35.0
Brakes, f/r 11.0-in vented disc single caliper/ 11.2-in vented disc single caliper
Wheels 16x8.0-in cast aluminum
Tires LT245/75R16 Goodyear {{{Wrangler}}} MT/R
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 16/20
Base price $28,{{{825}}}
Price as tested $28,825
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