THE BEST GETS BETTER
BY Rick Pewe
PHOTOGRAPHY RICK PeWe
JEEP HAS BEEN PRODUCING THE famed Wrangler Rubicon for 10 years now, so it is only fitting to have a special anniversary edition to celebrate the best Wrangler ever. While initiated back in the TJ days, the new JK Rubicon has taken the serious trail rig to new heights, and now some special features have been added in both looks and functionality. We took a test drive over the Rubicon Trail in Northern California to get some driving impressions on the new model and to share our findings with you.
It’s pretty difficult to improve on the near-perfection of a dedicated factory-produced trail rig, but the Jeep engineers and designers did a great job. The basics of the Rubicon remain unchanged. Those items are of course lockers front and rear, a 4:1 low range transfer case, an improved suspension, true off-road tires, a disconnecting sway bar, and rock sliders. This basic package is a potent combination that has garnered the Rubicon many awards. But for the 10th anniversary edition, a few improvements made their way into the mix.
First, and most noticeable, are the front and rear bumpers made of steel. Gone are the boxing glove plastic baby bumpers, which were often the first item replaced on a Rubicon. But more importantly, they are winch-ready and can be ordered with a custom designed Warn winch should you desire (and why wouldn’t you?).
The next visual design change would be the bulbous Power Bulge hood with vents and curves and all sorts of strange designs. While not our favorite mod, it should make stuffing a Hemi engine under it a bit easier, and is why we call it the Hemi Hood. Is this a promise of things to come?
True functionality comes with the rubber on the trail, and the Rubicon has been upgraded to the BFGoodrich KM2 tires on a new wheel designed specifically for the Rubicon. Sitting on a ½-inch-higher suspension, the 265/70R17 tires are about 32 inches tall and work well with the 4.10 gears of the manual tranny and 3.73 gears of the slushbox version. But sadly, after 10 years, ergonomic switch placement still eludes the brightest minds at Chrysler. The most important axle locker switches remain hidden down low and left of the steering wheel, out of eyesight, touch, and light, and even operate backwards (Up is usually On in most mechanical designs). But the least important switches (for the power windows) are prominently located in prime real estate at the center of the dash, instead of the door like any other conscientiously designed 4x4. One can only hope for continued improvement.
Inside, the seats get the Anniversary Red leather, which isn’t nearly as hideous as it sounds; in fact, it looks pretty good. Outside, even the towhooks are red for some nefarious reason, which we think a rattle can of black paint could easily fix. But for real improvements, newly designed rock sliders stick out farther for more body protection, and the redesigned soft top is quite durable and quieter than previous versions. Finally, all sorts of silver trim and badges adorn the Jeep, just in case you need some bling to remind you or your neighbors what you drive.
Overall the changes to the Rubicon on this 10th Anniversary are right on the money. We can’t wait to give it a good going over on our 4x4 of the Year test in October. These are a limited edition model however, so if you have the chance to buy one we suggest doing it before then. Most other Wrangler special editions sell out quickly, and the factory plants can’t even keep up with basic JK demand. We like what Jeep has done for the Rubicon, and hope they keep true to the Jeep heritage when the replacement Rubicon come screaming down from on high.
1 The Rubicon 10th Anniversary has a plethora of new and improved features important for off-roading. The new BFG KM2 tires on stylin’ new Rubicon wheels are a welcome change. Overall the whole package nets around an inch more clearance than the previous design.
2 The new hood is very, um, interesting. It’s dubbed the Power Bulge hood. Since the same old V-6 resides underneath it, we don’t think a hood will make the Rubicon more powerful. However, we like to call it the Hemi Hood, as that is what belongs underneath the new bonnet.
3 The interior with the Anniversary Red leather seats and such is actually a lot better than you would think. It’s a great color combo with the available exterior colors of silver, white, and anvil. Yes, anvil is now a color — sort of a gray shade of dark. Custom badging, including a red Trail Rated medallion, is included to differentiate the 10th Anniversary from every other Rubicon on the trail.
4 While the Warn winch is an available option, the front bumper is winch-ready regardless of whether you check that box or not. The steel bumpers also have removable end caps so that trail obstacles won’t rip them off. Red towhooks, a special fairlead, and a red winch hook round out the package.
5 All the standard Rubicon features remain, such as the 4:1 transfer case, locking diffs, selectable sway bar, and rock sliders. Normal Jeep Wrangler touches, such as the removable soft top and removable doors, add to the true capability of this fine 4x4.