By and large, the modern-day car has become a tool or a fashion accessory, taking us to the grocery store, or the bank, or hauling our family to and from soccer practice. But in this pursuit of functional design, one key element has been neglected: fun. OK, also character. Fortunately, not every vehicle that leaves the production line has suffered this fate, and the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is a perfect example. It’s a lively vehicle with capability and character that doesn’t suffer from the curse of the mundane.
To be fair, I should qualify my statement about modern cars and fun. For instance, if your idea of a good time is stepping on the accelerator and feeling your body pressed into the seat as you hit 60 mph in 5 seconds (although the Jeep does it in 6.5), there are indeed plenty of “fun” vehicles out there. But my version involves a lot more than just speed. Fun is about the mission or journey, and the entirety of your experience along the way. Fun is making a statement, turning heads, and smiling at your friends with the wind in your hair. Fun is your favorite song, synching up perfectly with the turns in the road. Fun is going just about wherever you want, easily. And fun is definitely looking up above your head and seeing blue sky and the sun.
I recently took a trip from Denver down to Overland International headquarters in Prescott, Arizona, for some proper 4WD training with CEO Scott Brady. For those of you that don’t know, Scott has a bit of a history when it comes to motor vehicles. He’s raced and driven overland routes all over the globe. As a new team member working on ExPo and OJ, I had been looking forward to proper off-road driving instruction, if for no other reason, then to find out if I even had a clue what I was doing behind the wheel of a 4WD.
The Premium Trim Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Driving Experience
Upon beginning our two days of instruction, I was handed the keys to a vivid green Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and I must admit, I chuckled a bit at the bold color and Rubicon decals. But at the same time, I was extremely excited. One of my good friends owns a Willys edition Wrangler, and having been a passenger in his Jeep, I was well aware of the capability once these vehicles hit the dirt, my friend is always shopping for jeep accessories so his car has all the extras. And the Rubicon takes from-the-factory capability up a few notches.
During the first few miles of driving on the pavement, I was immediately impressed with the vehicle’s “not-basic trim.” I generally think of Jeeps as being function-first, with very little in the way of luxury materials or fancy features. But the premium Rubicon package did offer an elevated driving experience, with its black leather upholstery, touchscreen navigation, and crisp HD stereo. Driving on the highway was a familiar and authentically Jeep experience. The generously-sized V6 combined with the tiny two-door chassis delivered a very responsive throttle that has ample power for cruising and passing. Handling was as expected on a vehicle with 33-inch tires; the Rubicon tracked fairly straight but needed a little bit of driver input from time to time. Hard braking did introduce a very slight heading change, but again, for a high-clearance, large-wheeled vehicle, this wasn’t a big surprise.
Taking the Rubicon Off-Highway
Let’s be honest, most people who are considering purchasing a Jeep have dirt-road dreams, and it’s on the dirt that the Wrangler really shines. As far as off-highway features go, the Rubicon comes prepared with a front and rear locker, an electronically controlled disconnectable sway bar, and 33-inch BFG KO2’s on 17×7.5-inch machined wheels.
Our first off-highway test was lovingly referred to as the “ditch of death,” but don’t worry, no editors were harmed during the testing of this vehicle. Initially, there was plenty of traction in 4-High, but when things began to get quite off-camber, 4-Low and the Rubicon’s traction control made navigating the obstacles much easier. In fact, with the sway bar disconnected in 4-Low, we didn’t even need to engage either of the lockers, as the Jeep got plenty of axle articulation to maintain tire contact with the ground. Compared to the mid-sized, fully built pickup that we were also driving, we all agreed that the Jeep did a better job of keeping the driver and hood closer to level, inspiring better driver confidence and comfort. The Rubicon’s smaller size and overall design provided the driver with less visual obstructions and easy-to-identify vehicle reference points, making negotiating obstacles easier without a spotter (compared to the pickup).
The next part of our driving experience saw us climbing up a steep section of trail on loose, decomposing granite. But again, the Rubicon impressed us, with no need to engage either locker to make the climb. And thanks to its short wheel-base, negotiating the trail as it got tighter and making sharp turns through trees and around rocks posed no difficulties.
Jeep Brings the Fun
If the driving experience were simply about performance, I would give the Rubicon high marks, especially as a driver with limited OHV experience. But as I mentioned previously, the element of fun is also an integral part of the driving experience, and Jeep also delivers on this front.
I was able to put the top down and remove the soft windows and rear windscreen in about 15 minutes without looking at the user manual, a testament to the engineering team that designed the system. As with all Wranglers, you can also remove the doors (we opted to leave them on), and on the Rubicon, the front windscreen even folds down for that truly authentic Jeep experience. It was a snug fit, but we fit all four of us into the vehicle and began the journey back to town. With the open roof and sides, driving the Rubicon felt less like a commute and more like a thrill ride. It was reminiscent of riding a motorcycle—I felt much more immersed in my environment, smelling the pine trees, feeling the sun on my face, and generally experiencing joy.
It may be true that you can own a faster car, or a truck with more cargo capacity, but I’m not sure that the vehicle ownership experience gets much more fun than the Jeep. Now excuse me while I browse the Expedition Portal Classifieds to see if I can find one for sale.
Check out the 2020 Rubicon and customize it to your heart’s content, here.