Car reviews - Jeep - Wrangler - Unlimited Rubicon
Big-engine feel from next-generation V6, classic two-box design, removeable roof adds to sense of adventure
Room for improvement
Poor ergonomics, tinny stereo for a lifestyle car, engine still likes a drink, no Rubicon diesel option, roof leaks in the rain
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11 Apr 2013
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
WE’RE driving the range-topping Unlimited Rubicon, a four-door version with some extra off-road ability and priced from $47,000 before adding on-road costs.
It included the satellite navigation option that replaces the radio head unit with a colour screen for a $2650 outlay.
For that you get a basic car steeped in Wrangler tradition. The body is boxy and utilitarian - apart from front guard-mounted repeater lamps that look ready to sacrifice themselves on the nearest tree - and the interior has acres of hard plastics.
Aside from that, the Wrangler is a very basic car. There’s 17-inch alloys, air conditioning, a six-speed manual gearbox with low-range transfer box, electric windows for all four doors, cloth seats, and that’s about it.
Rubicon specification adds bits including a leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic headlights, rock rails under the sills, and cooler-looking 17-inch alloys.
Most of the extra $8500 cost over the entry-level Wrangler is spent on bits that help it go places that few other cars, including competitors, dare to travel.
That includes extra underbody armour, a front sway bar that uncouples at the press of a button to help the wheels reach the ground at impossible-looking angles, a rear differential lock that helps it plough through soft sand, and a bigger fuel tank.
But you also buy into a lifestyle. The long-wheelbase Wrangler has a removeable “Freedom” top so you can immerse yourself in the elements. Just plan on spending a bit of time reading the instructions on how to deconstruct, and then rebuild the roof.
There’s even a handy online video that shows you how.
Sliding inside the Wrangler takes you to a whole new world. I used the word “slide”, because the off-roader’s cabin isn’t very tall, and there’s a big, padding-swathed roll bar eating into the small door aperture that induces an element of flexibility.
The interior of our test car is very black, extremely hard-wearing, and not so comfortable. Part of the reason is the very flat seating position, and the other is the lack of adjustability of the steering wheel, which only rakes up and down.
There’s the traditional cutesy Jeep touches, such as the º|||||||º representing the iconic grille at the top of the windscreen, and the motif of the Wrangler descending a hill in one corner.
Stare through the windscreen down the long, gently sloping bonnet, and to either side the guards drop away to help with sighting wheel placement.
There’s few places to stash the modern-day detritus such as wallets, purses and mobile phones, so they are just as likely to end up on the passenger seat.
The instrument cluster is devoid of any of the off-road trinkets you see in competitors including Toyota’s FJ Cruiser, which among other things even has an inclinometer.
Switches for the power windows are mounted centrally on the very upright console. Cast your eye around a bit further, and old-school cloth straps stop the removable doors from swinging out too far, and clip-on grab handles swing from the roll bar above your head.
Higher up, a series of clips allude to the two separate roof panels that lift out to open the front seats to the environment. Even clipped in place, they leaked like a sieve when it rained during our test drive.
For such a lifestyle car, the six-speaker stereo system with tweeters that pop up like a pair of pimples on the dash are inadequate.
The rear seats are very upright and not that comfortable for long-haul trips. You’re better off tumbling them forward via the 60:40 split fold and using the 425 litres of space it yields for all your travelling gear. Completely remove the rear seats, and that jumps to 714 litres.
Down the back, the boot space is accessed via a split tailgate that swings for the lower part, and lifts for the upper glass section - handy if you just want to dip in without spilling the contents all over the dirt road.
Like the doors, the boot’s lower tailgate appreciates a solid effort to help it close.
Engine and transmission
The upgrade to the Pentastar introduced last year also brings the Wrangler a step forward in transmissions, where it now gets a five-speed automatic unit instead of the old one’s four-speeder, at a $2000 cost.
But the bigger change is what has happened under the bonnet, where we welcome Pentastar, Chrysler’s updated 3.6-litre V6 powerplant.
The change to the new engine brings in a few savings at the pump, where fuel economy falls from the old model’s 12.1 litres per 100 kilometers combined average for the manual version to a slightly less wince-worthy 11.8, which we never dropped below on our time behind the wheel.
Carbon dioxide emissions are rated at 266 grams per kilometre.
The big gain, though, is performance. Output jumps from the old engine’s 146kW of power and 315Nm of torque to Pentastar’s 209kW and 347Nm.
That translates to what the almost two-tonne Wrangler has always lacked - a big-engine feel.
Acceleration is smooth, linear and quick, with much less clutch-riding on the six-speed manual gearbox fitted to our test car. It even sounds good, growling and purring as you work through the short low-numbered gears towards the tall overdrives.
The clutch action is meaty, the gear shift is long-throw and a just a bit notchy, and there’s the lever for the low-range transfer case close at hand.
Stop-start commuter-run work means a lot of gear changes.
Ride and handling
Throw the phrases “solid axle”, “body on frame” and “generous ground clearance” into the same sentence and you know you’re not talking high-performance sportscars.
Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is no sportscar. It wallows around corners, the steering is vague and needs constant attention, the suspension judders over sharper hits and there’s hints of lift-off understeer, but the cabin is very nicely insulated from road noise.
During the Pentastar engine’s launch on Fraser Island last year, the Wrangler easily ploughed through challenges that included deep beach sand and steeply inclined quarry walls.
We did get a chance to test the uncoupling sway bar and rear diff lock on our test car over a table drain. Where the lesser Wrangler Unlimited would get hung up as opposing wheels lifted off the ground, the Rubicon tractored through the test.
Around the shopping centre car park, though, the off-road talent takes a back seat. The most noticeable concession is a huge 13.1-metre turning circle that combines with some huge blind spots to make it a touch-parking nightmare.
Let’s move on, shall we?
Safety and servicing
There’s no crash rating for the Wrangler, but if you want an indication of how it may perform, there’s only two airbags covering the front seats. You get stability control, though, which will help settle the Wrangler on slippery surfaces.
The petrol engine has 12,000km service intervals, which is 2000km above the service interval for the torquey and frugal 2.8-litre diesel engine that can’t be wedged under the Rubicon’s bonnet for any money, despite being a jaw-dropping $6000 option on lesser Wranglers.
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is no city car. It’s made for the bush, and lives in the city only under sufferance.
As a lifestyle vehicle, though, it offers much, and a single trip off the black stuff will soon show it is money well spent.
The new V6 also gives the Wrangler a lift, providing the muscle the previous generation has so noticeably lacked.
However, you’re really going to have to want it.
1. Land Rover Defender 110
, From $47,500 before on-roads. As old as grandpa’s axe, no automatic, flawed ergonomics and even lacks potentially life-saving electronic stability control. But up a rough bush track, it will go toe-to-toe with Wrangler. Aluminium body won’t rust.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
, From $47,990 before on-roads. Made for US tastes, and looks like it with chunky construction-site interior, limited steering wheel adjustment and quirky suicide rear doors. Like Rubicon, there’s only a thirsty petrol V6, although a recent update and Prado underpinnings make it a serious, safe off-road choice.
3. Holden Colorado 7 LX
, From $43,490 before on-roads. Ute underpinnings boasting serious off-road talent sit below a boxy exterior. You dip into the top-spec variant for less money than anything else here, which gets you bits including leather-trimmed electric seats up front and a growly diesel engine mated to a six-speed auto under the bonnet.
MAKE/MODEL: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
, ENGINE: 3.6-litre V6 petrol
, LAYOUT: 4WD, in-line
, POWER: 209kW @ 6350rpm
, TORQUE: 347Nm @ 4300rpm
, TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
, 0-100km: N/A
, TOP SPEED: N/A
, FUEL: 11.8L/100km
, CO2: 275g/km
, L/W/H/W’BASE: 4223/1873/1840/2424mm
, WEIGHT: 1752kg
, SUSPENSION f/r: Five-link coil with electronic sway bar/five-link coil
, STEERING: Hydraulic rack and pinion
, BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
, PRICE: From $47,000 before on-roads
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