2017 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: Tough and smooth for town and the extreme

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Based on the nostalgic military Willys Jeep of 1941, the Jeep Wrangler has been an off-road enthusiasts’ pleaser since 1986. A compact four-wheel-drive multi-purpose vehicle, Wrangler debuted in 1986 as a revision of the Jeep CJ-7, was revised in 1996, and completely redesigned in 2006.

During that time, Wrangler has been presented in numerous trims, models and cosmetics with such badge names as: Islander 1988-’93; Renegade 1991-’94; Sahara 1997-2004 (and back again); Apex 2002-’03; and other variations including Columbia, Freedom, Golden Eagle, Rocky Mountain, TJ, Unlimited and the Rubicon Tomb Raider in 2003.

But one of the more popular end enduring treatments has been the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which debuted 14 years ago. In the 2003 model year, Jeep raised the bar in off-road capability with the introduction of the Wrangler Rubicon model. Named after one of the most grueling off-road trails in the world, the Rubicon models were the most extreme Wranglers produced.

New for 2017, Jeep® Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited models receive new LED headlights and fog lamps -- optional on Sport and Sport S and standard on Sahara and Rubicon models; the Cold Weather Group is now available on Sport S and Rubicon models and includes: 17-inch BF Goodrich KO2 tires, engine block heater and all-weather slush mats; and three new colors are available: Chief (Blue), Acid Yellow and Gobi (Beige).

The two-door sport utility vehicle is assembled at Jeep’s Toledo Supplier Park in Toledo, OH, with a longitudinal front engine four-wheel-drive layout. Jeep Wrangler’s signature features include: classic round headlamps, seven-slot grille, trapezoid wheel flares, removable doors, exposed hinges, a fold-down windshield and innovative removable tops and half doors that allow the Wrangler to retain the brand’s iconic appearance and function

Built on a ladder frame chassis, Wrangler is designed to be off-road tough and on-highway smooth, melding old-school looks and toughness with current-day hipness and technology. My test Rubicon model weighed in at a stout 4104 lbs. for the manual transmission and 4129 lbs. in automatic configuration. It was engineered for stability with a length of 164.3 inches, height of 72.5 inches and width of 73.7 inches on a wheelbase 95.4 inches.

Rubicon powers up with a Chrysler Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 engine with sequential multiport fuel injection. Rated at 285 horsepower and 260 lbs-ft of torque, and coupled with either a standard 6-speed overdrive NSG Manual transmission, or the 5-speed automatic that powered up my test Jeep, the system delivers when called upon for passing acceleration and off-road rock strength. Off the line, my test Jeep delivered an 8.9-second zero-to-60 sprint and a 16.9-second quarter-mile. EPA rated at 17/city and 21/highway, my week of tests, including some off-road travails yielded an average of 18.8mpg.

Off road, Rubicon successfully conquered any challenge I gave it. On macadam, its short wheelbase and big tires gave up bumps and bounces. It is as confident on gravel at low speed as it is timid at high-speed. Steering is responsive both on-road and off, for a pleasant driving experience minus some tire whine.

Rubicon seats four and offers 41.3 inches of front headroom and 40.3 in the rear. Legroom is 41.0 up front and 35.6 in row two, and shoulder room is 55.8 and 44.7. Included inside are such amenities as remote keyless entry, power windows with front one-touch-down feature, leather-wrapped steering wheel, deep tint sunscreen windows, power door locks, and up-level connectivity.

Paying attention to safety, Rubicon’s sport bar uses high-strength steel and is integrated into the B-Pillar that runs into the floor. This improves side-impact performance, vehicle stiffness, torsional rigidity and control at highway speeds. Additional features include advanced multistage front airbags and off-road tested emergency brake system.

Jeep Wranglers are available in 13 trims for 2017 – though Jeep likes to promote that they have four distinct, separate models. The Sport S bases at $26,995, Sport at $24,595, Sahara at $27,895, Willys Wheeler at $28,295, Big Bear at $28,695, and through 7 other trims, topping off with the Rubicon Recon at $39,145. My test Rubicon was eighth on the list, sandwiched between the Sahara and the Smoky Mountain, and based at $33,645 for a two-door and a manual engine. My test ride was a four-door, so it based at $37,445. The upgrade to the 5-speed automatic transmission added $1400; the Connectivity Group Package added $695 for an electronic vehicle information center, Uconnect® Voice Command with Bluetooth®, tire pressure monitoring display and remote USB port; the Cold Weather Group added $1095 for heated front seats, remote start, all-weather slush mats and an engine block heater; the soft top was replaced with a Freedom Top® Black 3-Piece Hard Top for $995; the Radio 430N interior option was added for $1195, and included a 6.5-Inch Touchscreen for Displaying Music Info and Uploaded Pictures, 40GB HDD and Garmin Navigation. A 9-speaker and subwoofer Alpine® Premium system was also added for $995. Also, air conditioning with automatic temperature control, air filtering and a humidity sensor were added for $395. For safety, supplemental front seat-mounted airbags that provide additional pelvic and thoracic protection for front seat occupants were added for $495 – my opinion is that this should have been standard and not an option.

With destination charges of $195, the sticker-as-tested was $45,755.

Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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