4XFORWARD

4 Wheel & Off Road - - CONTENTS -

IJUST GOT BACK FROM WHEEL­ING JL Wran­glers over the Ru­bi­con with Jp magazine’s editor, Rick Péwé. While Rick was able to go drive the JL in New Zealand be­fore its of­fi­cial launch, with the ex­cep­tion of a quick five-minute drive dur­ing Moab Easter Jeep Sa­fari 2018 this was ac­tu­ally the first real seat time I’ve had in the new­est Wran­gler. So, how do I think the lat­est evo­lu­tion of the Ru­bi­con han­dles the Ru­bi­con? You’ll have to wait un­til next month for the ac­tual story, but for now I’ll ad­mit that the JL in many ways fixes stuff I didn’t like about the JK in the same way the JK fixed many things I didn’t like about the TJ. But that’s not to say I like the JK bet­ter than the TJ. But I do like al­most ev­ery­thing about the JL bet­ter than the JK. It’s not that JKs are in­her­ently poor ve­hi­cles, but per­son­ally I just never gelled with them.

Here’s where I would nor­mally go into a spinoff about how, un­like me, some JK own- ers love them so much they feel the need to tart up their Jeeps with van­ity li­cense plates like “RKHOUND” and cus­tom hood de­cals like “Rag­naRock.” Why don’t they just air­brush a mu­ral of Thor strad­dling the Jeep upon which the mu­ral is painted while rais­ing a light­bar hammer emit­ting thun­der­bolts and pranc­ing uni­corns and—oh, I’m spin­ning off. Fo­cus, Hazel, fo­cus.

Any­way, my point is that JKs, while def­i­nitely ca­pa­ble, some­times be­come the be­daz­zled jean jacket of the au­to­mo­tive realm. But de­spite some own­ers’ propen­sity to go over­board, the JK served as the plat­form upon which an en­tire af­ter­mar­ket in­dus­try thrived for over a decade. It’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion that for­tunes were lit­er­ally made by peo­ple savvy enough to re­al­ize the JK’s short­com­ings and bring to mar­ket off-road-friendly so­lu­tions.

As Rick and I en­joyed a week­end on the ’Con hop­ping be­tween vari­ants of Jeep’s new JL Ru­bi­con, in the back of my mind I won­dered to what de­gree the JL would be ex­ces­sorized. But then it dawned on me that un­like the JK, which sort of re­quires af­ter­mar­ket so­lu­tions to counter its in­her­ent short­com­ings, the JL Ru­bi­con was de­signed with more off-road-en­thu­si­ast DNA, which could po­ten­tially make some of those mod­i­fi­ca­tions op­tional. For one, the flares come with a nice scribed line right where it seems a 40-inch tire would need it to be cut with­out look­ing homely like JK flares when they re­ceive an ex­treme cut. The Ru­bi­con has an avail­able front bumper fea­tur­ing re­mov­able ends and has the abil­ity to be made winch­ca­pable, and the rear is avail­able in steel with a gen­er­ous cutout that should take a 35-inch spare eas­ily. The JL Ru­bi­con can be checked with high-power LED light­ing pack­age, un­like the JK’s stan­dard beams. The JL Ru­bi­con axles are new Dana 44s, which are stronger and wider than JK Dana

44s, so you should be able to fit 37s on fac­tory wheels with­out re­quir­ing wheel spac­ers and run with less worry of break­age. The tow pack­age in­cludes four in-dash aux­il­iary ac­ces­sory switches, so would you need an af­ter­mar­ket dis­tri­bu­tion box? The fac­tory rollcage em­ploys a com­plete front hoop in­de­pen­dent of the wind­shield frame, so the wind­shield can eas­ily be folded or re­moved with­out leav­ing the soft (or hard) top dan­gling un­latched. I could go on, but like I said…next month.

So should the af­ter­mar­ket be wor­ried? Is the JL go­ing to punch a hole in the lu­cra­tive ac­ces­sory mar­ket the way stream­ing video punched a hole in ca­ble TV? I hon­estly think not. Off-road­ers will al­ways have a burn­ing de­sire to tai­lor their ve­hi­cles to their ex­act us­age. What if you sim­ply don’t like the look or ma­te­rial the fac­tory flares are made of, or you in­sist on alu­minum bumpers and ar­mor? What if you need am­ber fogs for your misty moun­tain com­mute, or you out­run the fac­tory LEDs? How warm and fuzzy are you gonna feel with Dana 44s if you’re run­ning a sticky 40-inch tire with a high-power

V-8 swap? Sure, the JL of­fers four aux­il­iary switches, but what if you have six com­po­nents to con­trol? And so on and so on.

In short, I don’t think the JL shuts the door on any sin­gle af­ter­mar­ket man­u­fac­turer. If any­thing, it just cre­ates open­ings, al­beit at a higher level that will push the off-road en­ve­lope in new and ex­cit­ing ar­eas. Now’s a good time to be a wheeler. I can’t wait to see what the JL shakes out of the af­ter­mar­ket tree.

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