Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: October 31, 2020
It’s difficult to think about Jeep without the image of a boxy CJ cresting over some desert dune in California. It’s an iconic shape, and rightfully so. Jeep has been deeply rooted in American culture since the 40s, and the iconic stature excuses the Wrangler of its infrequent redesigns. After all, it's maintained itself as the king of off-roading capability. However, the last decade has presented a significant increase in the amount of technology we interact with on a daily basis, and the majority of the mainstream automotive market has updated their product line to integrate and infuse those technologies into them. Jeep is no exception, and the latest generation Wrangler dubbed the JL, sees a vast injection of the technologies that pervade our lives. But make no mistake. This doesn’t mean the Wrangler Rubicon has become any softer or traded its hiking boots for a pair of dress shoes.
At first glance, the new Wrangler’s angular, 2-box design still retains all of the outgoing model’s rough and tumble exterior. The Rubicon comes from the factory with 33-inch BF Goodrich All-Terrain KO2s, an excellent tire balancing both off-road and on-road capabilities. What’s more is the new fender design provides generous clearance for tires up to 35-inches in diameter. Jeep has also made a host of adjustments to maximize capability and ease of use. Starting with the epochal Keystone grille and windshield for example. Both now sit at a slightly more raked angle, a tweak that makes the JL more aerodynamic and quieter than its predecessor. The windshield has been reworked to make folding it down an easier task - simply detach four bolts and the windshield is free to move on its hinge. The side windows have been enlarged too for improved cabin visibility.
A newly designed roof system dubbed the Freedom Top (P.S. there are no bald eagles that fly by when you say it aloud) transforms the hardtop into something akin to a targa top. Removing it is a breeze, requiring only a few latches to be undone before each section above the driver and passenger can be individually lifted. The larger box can slip off the back with a series of bolts and a quick unplug of a wiring harness. Jeep has adopted the use of aluminum in the doors, hood, and fenders making them lighter for owners to handle and to reduce the overall curb weight.
The Wrangler Rubicon represents the most badass and capable out-of-the-box Jeep experience you can get from the outfit, something that hasn’t changed with the new JL. But Jeep has gone and updated it with a bunch of new off-roading goodies to maintain that lead - especially with the looming threat of the upcoming Ford Bronco. To start, the front and rear axles have been upgraded to beefier Dana 44 units. An electronic sway-bar disconnect is present for improved articulation over obstacles, as well as fully locking differentials via FCA’s Rock-Trac 4x4 system. All told, the new Rubicon has some impressive off-roading chops including an approach angle of 44 degrees, departure angle of 37 degrees, and up to 30-inches of water fording. With numbers like that, it’ll make any Range Rover scamper for the nearest parking lot.
If the exterior is an evolution from the outgoing model, then the interior is a revolution. Jeep has spent considerable time making the cabin a more livable place as a daily driver. That means an influx of amenities and creature comforts. A new, flat dashboard harkens back to the original CJ, but the retro design cue also serves a functional purpose, opening up more cabin for occupants up front. Sitting prominently in the middle of the flat dash is the 8-inch UConnect infotainment. A new addition for the JL, and it works wonders to bring a modern motoring experience to the Wrangler. Finally, owners are able to take advantage of services such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The addition of UConnect also means a number of safety features can be expected in the Wrangler, and it doesn’t disappoint. A backup camera mounted on the spare tire assembly comes standard and the Rubicon also gets adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross path detection.
Under the hood sits either a 3.6L Pentastar V6 or a 2.0L turbo four. A 3.0L EcoDiesel is available only on four-door Wranglers. Opting for the gasoline V6, owners will get a choice of rowing their own via a 6-speed manual or a TorqueFlite 8-speed auto (a $2,495 extra). The Bikini blue two-door I tested came equipped with the Pentastar mated to the 8-speed. While the new technology, comfort, and interior appointments have provided a generational leap forward in improving the Wrangler’s civility, the general formula for the Rubicon hasn’t changed. It’s still a body-on-frame, lifted bruiser of an SUV. Thus, commandeering it is an exercise that requires your full undivided attention, with inputs that are exacting, purposeful and deliberate. An action as simple as switching from 4HI to 4LO requires a fair amount of effort - the Jeep doesn’t expect you to quibble about.
Heavy Dana 44 axles fore and aft, paired with lifted, off-road optimized suspension means the body is always on the move. Simple things like expansion joints or potholes will absolutely knacker any semblance of directional stability. Even with the revised steering damper (designed specifically to combat the aforementioned symptom), the Wrangler still has a tendency to wander, and maintaining a straight line is a constant negotiation with the wheel - except the wheel has the emotional stability of Dominic Toretto. Further exacerbating its teetering ride qualities is the short wheelbase of the two-door Ruby.
Yes, it’s quite the handful to drive, but all of it adds to the character of the Jeep. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent the better part of three years driving in a lowered, stiffly damped coupe in the downtown core. There’s a feeling of invincibility when you boldly bomb through the absolute worst pavement (seriously, can we still call Adelaide paved anymore?) Toronto can throw at you without even batting an eye. And that’s the magic ingredient to the Rubicon’s recipe for success. It’s a rockstar at one thing, and everything else it does is either coincidental, or comes with a trade-off in order for it to excel in its element. It’ll get you to the grocery store when the world has ended, but it won’t hold anything in its sorry excuse for a trunk. Afterall, a longer wheelbase would only affect its turning radius. As of right now, the Wrangler Rubicon is without a doubt, the most incapable capable car in the world - and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Model: 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Paint Type: Bikini Pearl
Base Price: $48,845
Price as Tested: $63,630
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,237 / 1,875 / 1,868
Curb weight (kg): 1,915
Engine: 3.6-litre Pentastar V6
Horsepower: 285 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.0 / 10.0 / 11.7
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.7
Tires: 285/70R17; BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2