5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Unrivalled off-road ability; Improved on-road driving character; Eight-speed auto refinement
Poor safety rating; Price increase over previous model; Australian Rubicon doesn’t have all the features of US model
The Wheels Verdict: The JL Wrangler brings improvements in on-road manners, fuel consumption, interior trim and standard features, but it comes at a cost that is up to $15K higher than the previous model. The Wrangler maintains its unique style and in Rubicon specification it is the best off-road vehicle you can drive off the showroom floor.
WHAT IS THE JEEP JL WRANGLER RUBICON?
Key to the Rubicon’s ability are its mud terrain tyres, low gearing and locking differentials; features that no other vehicle manufacturer is prepared to include in a production car. They are just part of the Rubicon’s off-road arsenal, which also includes a disconnecting front sway bar to allow more suspension travel and high ground clearance.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
The JL is the fourth generation of the Jeep Wrangler since the nameplate debuted in 1986, but it draws its DNA from the WW2 Jeep from 1948. The JL has just arrived in Australia after being available in the USA for more than a year and it’s here to defend its title as the most off-road capable four-wheel drive vehicle available.
JEEP JL WRANGLER RUBICON REVIEW
The Jeep Wrangler is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it has a unique style that honours its long heritage and appeals to many buyers wanting to at least look like they are ready to take on the world’s toughest off-road trails. They’d be giving themselves the best chance of conquering those trails if they took them on in the 2019 Wrangler Rubicon.
The name Rubicon itself, is taken from the legendary trail in Northern California where Jeep puts its 4x4 vehicles to the test on the boulders and slopes. The moniker is applied to the top-of-the-range Jeep Wrangler; the one with the most off-road features and ability.
But the Wrangler is not all about off-road driving. In fact Jeep Australia admits that its own research tells them that only 12-per cent of buyers choose Wrangler for its off-road ability while more than 25-per cent buy it on its style. The company has stayed true to its design heritage in the evolution of the model, comparing the Wrangler to Porsche’s 911 sports car, which also has more than 70 years of tradition, yet is instantly recognisable regardless of the era each one came from.
One thing buyers won’t be drawn to the Wrangler for its safety rating, as it has been awarded a poor 1-star ANCAP score based on its Euro NCAP tests. That’s not totally fair on the Jeep as the European test was on a 2018 model car that was not fitted with electronic safety tech such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts in addition to the ABS, ESC, airbags and electronic roll mitigations systems. While these electronic systems will aid accident avoidance, they fail to address the poor occupant protection noted in the Euro NCAP testing where deformation of the A-pillar and driver-side (LHD) footwell were criticised. A 2019 model car with the full suite of electronics is yet to be crash tested and rated.
For the remainder of 2019, only the mid-spec Wrangler Overland and top-spec Rubicon variants come with the full gamut of safety electronics. The entry level Sport S models will have to wait until 2020 to join them with life-saving tech such as AEB and rear cross traffic alerts.
If you can ignore the safety rating and put yourself behind the wheel of a Wrangler Rubicon you will be rewarded with a more refined driving experience that any Wrangler before it. Yes those mud terrain tyres which are exclusive to the Rubicon variant, rumble and holler on the highway and the lofty suspension leans heavily through corners. However, these are compromises that enthusiasts are prepared to accept to get the superior off-road performance.
The Wrangler steers and handles better than in the past and the new diesel engine and eight-speed auto combination provides swift if not fast performance. The engine delivers its 450Nm of torque from low revs, and is smooth and relatively quiet for a diesel. This in a new 2.2-litre engine that shares nothing with the old 2.8 from the previous Wrangler where is wasn’t offered in the Rubicon spec. It has been seen previously in the Jeep Cherokee and Alfa Romeo passenger cars.
This engine works well both on- and off-road, with the new eight-speed ZF auto to keep the engine in its happy place and deliver drive to the wheels in technical terrain. The auto is also the transmission offered behind the petrol engine – a 3.6-liter V6 carried over from the previous model.
The cabin of the 2019 Rubicon is also more appealing than in the past. More use of soft-touch surfaces, stitched dash coverings, rubberised dials on HVAC and audio controls give the interior a more upscale feel, especially when equipped with the optional (in Rubicon) leather seats.
Jeep’s launch program on Tasmania’s wild west coast took us over an off-road track that no other production 4x4 vehicle would conquer without risk of serious damage or getting stuck. Even the mighty Rubicons needed recovering a couple of time to get through.
With front swaybars disconnected the convoy of Jeeps crawled their way through the ruts and holes where lesser 4x4 would have been lifting wheels and losing traction. When the track got slipperier, front- and rear-locking differentials were employed to ease the way forward, but leaving the diffs open and allowing the electronic traction control to do its thing, equally impressed. Jeep has obviously done a lot of work on the calibration of its ETC and it is now faster reacting and more capable of driving the vehicle forward without resorting to the lockers.
Ground clearance was tested on the long wheelbase Jeeps with the underside often scraping over rocks and ruts. Luckily it is well protected with metal underbody plates so drivers could feel confident of not doing damage.
While we’re yet to drive the Sport S and Overland variants of the new Wrangler, this drive was enough to convince us that the Rubicon is still the off road king. Add in the improved refinement and extra features and the JL is a better vehicle than its predecessor but whether that’s enough to have buyers look past the safety rating and the price hike remains to be seen.
JEEP JL WRANGLER RUBICON VS RIVALS
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon really has no direct rivals as there is nothing like it available today. The two vehicles closest to it are the Toyota Land Cruiser 76 Series and the Suzuki Jimny as they are body-on frame, off road vehicles, yet both of them are very different to the Jeep.
The Land Cruiser is more of an outback workhorse than the relatively plush Wrangler. It has a basic interior, leaf spring rear suspension and available withV8 diesel engine a 5-speed manual gearbox only. Priced from $63,740 to $ 67,740 it is close to the Rubicon.
The $23,990 Suzuki Jimny on the other hand is a two-door compact 4x4 wagon that comes with a four-cylinder petrol engine and a choice of manual or auto transmissions. It’s more of an urban adventure vehicle yet one that can hold its own when the going gets rough.
JEEP JL WRANGLER RUBICON PRICE AND SPECS AUSTRALIA
Model: Jeep JL Wrangler Rubicon diesel
Engine: 2.2L I4 turbodiesel
Max power: 147kW @ 3,500rpm
Max torque: 450NM @ 2,000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 9.6 sec (claimed)
Economy: 7.5L/100km combined
Price: $68,950 +ORC
On sale: Now