Unstoppable. Unbreakable. Tough. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. It’s everything this reviewer dreamed about as a 1980s kid playing in the dirt with a Tonka Truck, and later, in the teenage years, praying for a Tamiya Wild Willy for Xmas.
The Wild Willy never eventuated but thanks to the older brother of a really good friend, I got to watch him rip up the local back laneways with one, while Steve Best (that mate) had a more basic but really cool silver open top Radio Shack Jeep Renegade.
That Jeep Renegade is very clearly burned into my memory. It set me on a pathway of always wanting a Jeep. In 2001, my wife and I bought a new 2.0-litre 3-door Suzuki Vitara and got pretty serious with it. Another Vitara later. But the Jeep? Nope.
I had a stint working freelance for 4×4 Overlander magazine when it existed (we shared an office, I was at Two Wheels, LTR and Streetbike), and I learned a fair bit as a spare driver for those guys. I also gained an appreciation for off-roading but, alas, no Jeep.
Thanks to our editor here at Exhaust Notes Australia though, my Jeep dream has been fulfilled. You can read my road test, but what I really wanted to experience was the feeling of being a human sized version of the driver in Wild Willy.
Burning through the bush in a full sized Wrangler is awesome. While we don’t have the budget to hit the Rubicon trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, there are plenty of tough trails on the NSW Central Coast.
After a lot of heavy rain, we were able to find some rutted out, eroded, hard-core places to tackle in the big Jeep, putting its suite of off road kit to the test. Officially Trail Rated, it’s been tested for traction, water fording, manoeuvrability, articulation and ground clearance.
The 206kW/347Nm 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar drives via an 8-Speed auto and features Rock-Trac active on-demand 4×4, a 4:1 transfer case, 77.2:1 crawl ratio, Tru-Lok front and rear diff locks, electronic front sway bar disconnect, and front and rear Dana axles.
There’s an Off-Road+ mode, HD rock slider with step assist, and 32-inch BF Goodrich tyres. With everything turned on, we hit the trails, hard, and had a blast. The first 10km consisted of slightly corrugated dirt road.
We dropped the rubber to 20psi and on this surface, averaging 40-60km/h, the Rubicon is planted, and there’s no chatter. Switching from 2H to 4H halfway along the road as it got a little slippery, the Wrangler claws into the loose dry surface with intensity.
We were surprised at the plushness of the ride, expecting to be shaken off line over the corrugations, but we can barely feel them. It’s a long vehicle, with a big turning circle had us a little nervous as we headed up a fire trail to test U-turns (without scratching paint).
Unfortunately, we found ourselves reversing out, and thankful for just how good the front and rear cameras are. Now for the mud. In full fantasy mode, I’m that driver I always wanted to be as a kid and I go straight for 4L Off-Road+.
Deeply rutted and full of water and mud, the track I take on was one I avoided just a month earlier in the Everest. The Rubicon laughs off the challenge, and goes straight through, with minimal bottoming out, and outstanding traction.
The engine didn’t miss a beat either as we crawl though the mush at 10km/h. The all-terrain tyres help, big time, but I get the feeling we would have made it on much lesser off-road hoops.
After an hour of playing in the mud and with complete confidence, the snotty, loose, rocky hill climb comes next. Staying in 4L Off-Road+ mode, with the front sway bar disconnected, up we go at a crawl.
At walking speed, the Rubicon is unstoppable. In anything less than a serious 4×4, you would have to pick your lines carefully, but for the Wrangler, it all seems so effortless, until we reach the crest of the hill, and see the track. Well, where the track used to be.
With no chance of backing out, my only option is to move forward. After getting out and having a look, I choose a line and as the adrenaline kicks in, go for it. We get through. Most 4x4s wouldn’t.
A combo of decent clearance and ramp over (just enough for a long vehicle), the tyres, the disconnected sway bar and the incredible torque and traction due to the crawl ratio has us up and over what looks like the result of a dynamite blast gone wrong. It was a fun drive.
The trail, which I am familiar with from dirt bike riding, loops around with a pretty steep, slippery descent on the other side. We push on through and around an hour or so later we emerge safely back on the main dirt road. All of this, mind you, in air-conditioned comfort.
I pop Ruby, as the big Jeep has affectionately been christened, back in 2H, get some deep house pumping on the Alpine sound system, and head off for the suburbs. An hour later I’m at the carwash, blasting off a day of fun and thrills.
It’s a hard vehicle to clean, the mud gets in every crack, but there’s not a scratch. As an average 4×4 driver who relies way more on the vehicle’s ability than my own, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon takes away your worry and anxiety of getting stuck.
It replaces it with confidence and therefore a great experience. Hardcore off-roaders will take full advantage of the hardware and software, find the limit, and go on to further customise and enhance what is one of the mast capable vehicles of its kind.
Was my childhood Jeep dream everything I expected it to be? It sure was. I had so much fun and found the Wrangler had bucket loads of personality. It’s seriously expensive, out of place on the road, has a 3-star ANCAP, and none of that matters.
Where the Jeep wins is in fun factor. If you can afford to even consider this vehicle, then you are after it for its good looks and personality more than its reliability, economy, safety and general sensible nature. Boring, it certainly is not. It’s crazy.
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon comes with a 5-year 100,000km warranty and capped price servicing. Check it out Jeep Australia’s website. If you’re interested in buying one and need finance, talk to CreditOne.
Our test vehicle was provided by Jeep Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, contact your local Jeep dealer.