Road Test Follow-Up: 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Feb 5, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Staff Member

    Jul 6, 2001
    Likes Received:
    The Ultimate Crawling Machine


    By Ed Hellwig
    Date posted: 01-23-2003

    Jeep is to off-roading what Kleenex is to tissues or Xerox is to copiers. Tell people you have a Jeep and they automatically assume that you spend your weekends plowing through mud bogs or creeping over boulders in some mountainous ravine.

    The Wrangler still accommodates those willing to give up a little refinement for the rough-and-tumble image and performance that only an open-top Jeep can provide. The all-new limited-production Rubicon takes that idea one step further by outfitting the Wrangler with the kind of hard-core off-road equipment previously available only through the aftermarket. The result is a factory-built four-wheeler that can tackle even the most extreme off-road trails directly from the showroom floor.

    First on the upgrade list is an all-new "Rock-Trac" transfer case specially built for the Rubicon by New Venture gear. It features a 4-to-1 low-range ratio that allows for ultralow-speed climbing and brake-free descents. Since low-speed rock crawling typically stresses driveline components to their limit, the Rubicon also adds heavy-duty driveshafts and U-joints.

    More heavy-duty components reside further on down the line as the Rubicon comes standard with Dana 44 axles front and rear. Long revered as one of the strongest and most dependable axles available for off-road duty, the Rubicon's "44s" also feature standard 4.10 gears as well as a limited-slip differential in the rear. As if that wasn't enough, the Rubicon also provides driver-actuated "Tru-Lok" axle lockers front and rear. A simple dashboard-mounted switch activates the system that locks the axle shafts together assuring full power delivery to both sides at all times.

    The final piece of the Rubicon's traction puzzle is a set of specially designed 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler off-road tires fortified with three-ply side walls and a meaty wraparound tread pattern for traction at any angle. They're mounted on new 16-inch "Moab" cast-aluminum wheels with a special design that minimizes their exposure to hits from intruding rocks. The Rubicon also comes standard with high-pressure gas-charged shocks and diamond-plate body cladding to keep stray rocks from damaging the vulnerable rocker panels.


    It almost goes without saying, but the Rubicon is nearly unstoppable in the rough stuff. We picked our way up a black diamond trail so easily we thought maybe the sign had been mislabeled. With its ultralow gears, dropping the transfer case into low range holds the Rubicon to no more than one or two miles per hour without ever having to put your foot on the brake. A particularly tricky climb up a steep off-camber incline had us spinning the wheels for traction until we engaged the locking differentials at which point the Rubicon crawled up and over with little trouble at all.

    A 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine is the only power plant available. With 190 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque, it provides enough power for nearly any type of off- or on-road situation. A five-speed manual is standard, with a new four-speed overdrive automatic optional. The manual provides a substantially lower first gear, so if you want to stick with the Rubicon's theme of ultimate off-road capability, it's the way to go. Our test vehicle was manual-equipped and we found it well suited to off-road adventure. On the street, the long throws and vague gates can be a little troublesome, but such is the price you pay for a vehicle engineered to excel at going slow.


    We wish we could say that we spent the majority of the time climbing over seemingly impassable obstacles in the middle of the forest but, like most buyers, our time in the Rubicon involved considerable street time as well. To put it bluntly — pavement pounding is not the Wrangler's forte. It bounces and jerks on even the most level surfaces and the steering is numb and heavy around town. The standard four-wheel ABS-equipped brakes provide decent feel, but with a stopping distance of 164.7 feet from 60 mph, don't expect to stop on a dime in this vehicle.

    The seats were improved for 2003 by adding additional fore/aft travel as well as higher seat backs but they're still not very comfortable over long trips. The miniscule rear seat is barely big enough for two although it does fold easily to open up extra cargo space. Other improvements include a new steering wheel design, an extra power outlet, improved interior lighting and an optional auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and temperature readouts.

    These minor revisions make the Wrangler somewhat more practical as a daily driver, but it's still not a vehicle we would want to drive everyday. With that caveat aside, however, we would have no trouble recommending the Rubicon to any serious off-road enthusiast. Between the ultralow gearing, heavy-duty driveline components and dual-locking differentials, there's not another vehicle on the road that can match the Rubicon when it comes to tackling hard-core off-road trails.

    Ups: Unsurpassed off-road capabilities, strong six-cylinder engine, compact exterior dimensions.

    Downs: Bouncy ride on the highway, heavy steering, limited interior space.

    The Bottom Line: If you want the best in factory off-road performance the Wrangler Rubicon is it.

    MSRP of Test Vehicle: $27,760

  2. Ya know,. it really irritates me when people slam the Rubicons (or any Jeeps for that matter) road manners. ITS A FRIGGIN JEEP PEOPLE! despite popular beleif, Jeeps are not meant to be Mall crawlers. If you want something cute and cudly that will ride well on the road and clear the mall speed bumps, get a friggin car. Leave the Jeeps to those of us who use them for their intended purpose!
  3. Red Hunter

    Red Hunter Guest


    A little too expensive though =\
  4. AggieZR2

    AggieZR2 Now AggieZQ8

    Dec 8, 2001
    Likes Received:
    College Station/Houston
    and that is exactly the opinion of this article:slap:
  5. Ktulu

    Ktulu Guest

    I love those things....but I don't know if I could spend that much money on something I'm going to beat the living shit out of.

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