Let’s just get this out of the way right now. The Jeep Wrangler is noisy, bouncy and – if you drive the two-door – hopelessly impractical. Fortunately, at least four out of five buyers choose the four-door Unlimited, so for them, the back seat is easy to reach, and it’s just noisy and bouncy.
It’s also very expensive. The two-door Wrangler I drove recently listed at more than $65,000 before tax, after adding $17,000 worth of mostly comfort and cosmetic options. The four-door Gladiator I also drove recently listed at more than $68,000, with almost the same optional extras.
They were expensive because they were both the Rubicon version of the trucks – the strongest, hairiest-chested Jeeps you can buy. When I told my kids I’d be driving a pair of Jeeps, they both asked if they’d be Rubicons – “they’re the good ones,” they said. When my cousin bought a new Jeep last year to drive around downtown Montreal, she made sure to order a white Rubicon. “That’s the one to get,” she said, ignoring my advice because she wanted that name on the hood.
There are actually four different trim editions of the Wrangler, starting with the cheapest two-door Sport at about $36,000 and going up to the stratospheric heights of my two testers. All are highly capable, but while the Sport and Sport S are fairly normal and the Sahara is the most comfortable, the Rubicon has the extra off-road chops. It has a two-speed transfer case, solid Dana rear axles, rock-protector rails, 33-inch three-ply tires, extra underside protection and all kinds of other tough stuff.
The problem is that all that off-road strength takes away from the comfort of the vehicle when it’s on the highway, which for most owners is most of the time (for my cousin, it’s all of the time). I live in the country, and I drove both Jeeps along some pretty rough rural access trails that they handled easily, but I rarely needed to even put them in 4WD. Their biggest advantage over other vehicles was their 277-mm clearance height for driving over rocks and ruts.
A couple of years ago, I drove the new Rubicon on the Rubicon Trail itself, a 19-kilometre route in California above Lake Tahoe that truly showed the remarkable capabilities of the Jeep. I took it over boulders and around rocks that I would never have attempted without others alongside to help if I got into trouble. Jeep clubs here in Canada also love driving on challenging trails, but you’ll have to earn your stripes to make new friends; the most appreciated Wranglers are put together carefully and thoughtfully with aftermarket accessories, not bought off-the-shelf from the local dealer.
So my point is you almost certainly don’t need the Rubicon edition of the Wrangler or the Gladiator, though the bragging rights are huge and their resale values are among the best in the country for any vehicle. It will be more relaxing to drive a Sahara or a nicely-appointed Sport S, and you won’t be looked on with derision if your Rubicon is clean and unscratched.
That said, there are many advantages to driving a Wrangler or a Gladiator on the road. (The Gladiator is basically a Wrangler with a pickup-truck bed at the back, but it’s not officially listed as a Wrangler.) The turning circle is very tight, allowing for worry-free U-turns in the city. The driving height is way up high, letting you see far down the highway. And the extreme approach and departure angles at front and back mean you’ll never scrape the underside on a concrete divider at the mall; you’ll just drive over with a self-congratulatory smirk. At least, you could if you wanted to.
Those are the positives, and of course there are negatives, too. It’s a tall climb up into the seat, so you can’t be too doddery. The drive on those 33-inch BF Goodrich trail tires is loud and squishy, and they’ll cost more than $300 each to replace. The quality of the sound system is rendered useless by the noise of the road, which will have you checking if the windows are closed, even though they are. (Is that the last external wire antenna available on a vehicle in Canada?)
Fuel consumption is much improved from previous generations but still awful. The manual transmission gives poorer economy than the automatic, officially rated as low as 12.2 L/100 km for average use on the manual four-door, but my own lead-footed consumption was worse than that. Now Jeep has announced a 6.4-litre V8 Rubicon concept vehicle for those who want 450 horsepower while climbing rocks.
And then there are the doors, the Wrangler’s tour-de-force. Until the Ford Bronco comes on sale, they’re the only doors on a production car that remove entirely, which is great for driving in the summer but not so good for driving in a summer rain storm. When opened, they have only a canvas strap to stop them from swinging right around on their hinges, which means they’ll shmuck into the car parked alongside at the mall in a windy moment of inattention.
Really though, who cares? You buy a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for its image and the feeling that image reflects back onto yourself. Its brand is one of the strongest in the industry and now its cost reflects that. Perhaps the new Bronco will finally give it some competition, but don’t expect its price to come down anytime soon. A new Rubicon is a wealthy driver’s toy. It’s just too bad so few of them will ever get to prove their worth.
- Base price/As tested: Wrangler Rubicon: $48,845 / $65,625 Gladiator Rubicon: $52,495 / $68,050
- Engine: 2.0-litre inline-4 / 3.6-litre V6 / 3.0-litre V6 Ecodiesel
- Transmission/Drive: 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual / 4WD
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 2-door 2.0-litre auto: 10.7 City, 9.8 Hwy, 10.3 Comb. 4-door 3.6-litre auto: 12.9 City, 10.7 Hwy., 11.9 Comb.
- Alternatives: Ford Bronco. Land Rover Defender. That’s about it.
Vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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