4 Wheel & Off Road - - CONTENTS - Chris­tian Hazel BY CHRIS­[email protected] PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CHRIS­TIAN HAZEL AND FCA

The con­clu­sions we drew af­ter wheel­ing both Jeeps on the Rubicon Trail.

SINCE YOU’RE READ­ING Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road you prize one thing above all else when it comes to new off-road ve­hi­cles: func­tion. Does it drive, per­form, sur­vive, and wheel bet­ter than what came be­fore it and what is of­fered against it? We re­cently had the chance to drive Jeep’s new­est JL Wran­gler over the Rubicon, not only to get in­ti­mately ac­quainted with all the re­vi­sions to Wran­gler’s flag­ship Rubicon plat­form but also to see if we thought any ar­eas were im­proved over the JK Wran­gler, a ve­hi­cle that has proven so wildly pop­u­lar since its in­tro­duc­tion in 2007. Here is our take on 10 things we loved about the Wran­gler Rubicon JL.


While there are no dras­tic dif­fer­ences in the sus­pen­sion ar­chi­tec­ture of the JL and JK Wran­glers, we found the off-road ride and han­dling of the JL Wran­gler Rubicon much im­proved. We’re bet­ting that the over­all ve­hi­cle weight re­duc­tion has a bit to do with it, but ir­re­spec­tive of that, the spring rate is bang on, and more im­por­tantly the shock valv­ing is very di­aled. The com­pres­sion is smooth and con­trolled. And most im­por­tantly, the re­bound valv­ing is in­creased so there’s no bounc­ing or pogo­ing af­ter you come down off a rock. Even with full street pres­sure (38-40 psi) in the tires, the ride was smooth and driver-fa­tigue-in­duc­ing head toss and harsh im­pacts were vastly min­i­mized.


Wran­gler in North Amer­ica is no longer limited to just the 3.6L Pen­tas­tar V-6. While the myth­i­cal diesel vari­ant of the JL has yet to show it­self here in the USA, we did have quite a few tur­bocharged

2.0L four-cylin­der vari­ants to test. Com­pared with the 3.6L’s 285 hp and 260 lb-ft, the 2.0L’s 270 hp and 295 lb-ft is very nice, es­pe­cially on the road with the Rubicon’s 4.10 axle gears. Granted, mod­u­lat­ing the throt­tle in the 2.0L dur­ing slow rock­crawl­ing takes some get­ting used to be­cause it has dif­fer­ent throt­tle tip-in char­ac­ter­is­tics than the old fa­mil­iar 3.6L, but the 2.0L Jeeps feel lighter and more nim­ble. When the throt­tle is goosed, the 2.0L ac­cel­er­ates with as much, if not more, fe­roc­ity than the 3.6L. We don’t have in-house mileage num­bers for you yet, but the torque de­liv­ery from the

2.0L is su­per-us­able on the street with low-end grunt down low that is rem­i­nis­cent of a small diesel.


The Rubicon JL mod­els fea­ture next-gen­er­a­tion Ad­van­tek Dana 44 axles front and rear that claim 11 per­cent stronger cen­ter­sec­tion forg­ings, a much stronger 23⁄4-inch-di­am­e­ter axle­tube, and im­proved sup­port for the ring gear. The Rubicon axles are wider than the pedes­trian JL Wran­gler axles by roughly 11⁄2 inches, which not only helps with sta­bil­ity but also pushes the tire/wheel com­bi­na­tion out far­ther away from sus­pen­sion com­po­nents. That should be a bonus when own­ers up the tire size to 35s or 37s.


For starters, the JK grille has al­ways been some­thing of a dis­ap­point­ment to most Jeep devo­tees. The JL grille by com­par­i­son is flatout gor­geous, evok­ing mem­o­ries of early CJ ve­hi­cles. The Rubicon hood is big and bulgy, and fea­tures dec­o­ra­tive vents on top, but what aren’t dec­o­ra­tive are the vents in the front fend­ers be­hind the flares. They draw out en­gine heat while the ve­hi­cle is run­ning and al­low hot air to exit even dur­ing slow rock­crawl­ing.


There was much ado in the Jeep com­pany when it came to re­tain­ing the fold­down windshield that flat­ties, CJs, and Wran­glers have his­tor­i­cally fea­tured. The easy so­lu­tion would be to omit the fold-down fea­ture, but then it re­ally wouldn’t be a Jeep to most true devo­tees. Not only is the JL windshield frame fold­able, but it’s ridicu­lously easy to fold. Just re­move two bolts and pull the wiper arms, re­move four Torx-head bolts at the top of the windshield frame, and down comes the windshield. Plus, the windshield is com­pletely re­mov­able by tak­ing out the four Torx-head bolts that hold it to the brack­ets. From start to fin­ish you can have the JL windshield folded in un­der two min­utes and com­pletely re­moved in un­der three. And the best part is the rollcage is not com­pletely in­de­pen­dent of the windshield, al­low­ing the soft top to be kept closed with the windshield folded or re­moved. It’s awe­some!


To meet in­creas­ingly strin­gent fuel econ­omy stan­dards, the JL Wran­gler made co­pi­ous use of light­weight ma­te­ri­als. And while de­creased fuel con­sump­tion is nice, lighter weight trans­lates into a ve­hi­cle that feels more airy, flick­able, and nim­ble on- and off-road. The JL fea­tures alu­minum doors, hinges, hood, and fend­ers as well as a mag­ne­sium swing gate. Alu­minum con­struc­tion con­tin­ues to the en­gine, en­gine mounts, and steer­ing gear. Lighter is bet­ter.

7 REAL 33S

Although we are some­what con­fused that the JL Rubicon comes with an all-ter­rain tire in­stead of an hon­est mud-ter­rain, the tire size has been upped to a gen­er­ous 285/70R17. Yes, a 17-inch wheel. In an age when ev­ery OE man­u­fac­turer is try­ing to rein­vent the wheel (lit­er­ally) to in­crease flash and de­crease tire side­wall heights, we are very pleased to see the JL Wran­gler re­tain­ing an ex­cel­lent side­wall ra­tio to help ab­sorb bumps, aid in tire con­for­ma­tion around ob­sta­cles, and in­crease sur­viv­abil­ity. Want to plug holes in your side­wall or in­stall a spare with great fre­quency? Run some 33-inch tires on 20-inch wheels. Want to hit the trail aired down and have an awe­some time? Keep your wheel sizes limited to 17-inch-di­am­e­ter op­tions and hit it hard.


For starters, the shape of the JL fen­der flares is just nicer than the weirdly an­gled and di­he­dral’d JK flares. The JL is just a vastly bet­ter look­ing and de­signed ve­hi­cle in our opin­ion. But not only are the JL flares bet­ter look­ing, with the fronts in­cor­po­rat­ing the side marker and di­rec­tional, but their gen­er­ous open­ing look like they would eas­ily ac­com­mo­date a 35-inch tire with no cut­ting or trim­ming and might even squeeze a 37. That means you’ll be able to keep your lift heights lower to run a given tire size. Also, since the JL sus­pen­sion works out of the box, not mess­ing with it right off the bat is a nice op­tion for the JL Rubicon owner who wants to run meaty tires.


The JL Rubicon can be or­dered from the fac­tory with steel front and rear bumpers that can take a rock hit with­out fall­ing apart. Much like the JK front bumper that’s only avail­able as an af­ter­mar­ket add-on from Mopar, the front JL Rubicon bumpers fea­ture re­mov­able ends and can be made winch-ca­pa­ble with the ad­di­tion of only a winch plate. The rear bumper fea­tures steel ends, so gone are the days of the JK’s plas­tic rear bumper “box­ing glove” end­caps that dented on con­tact with any­thing harder than a marsh­mal­low. Fur­ther­more, the high-clear­ance de­sign of the bumpers gives the Rubicon a 44-de­gree ap­proach an­gle and a 37-de­gree de­par­ture an­gle.


The JL in­te­rior is so much bet­ter than the JK that we don’t even know where to be­gin. For starters, de­spite the windshield’s in­creased rake for fuel econ­omy, the in­te­rior ac­tu­ally feels roomier. The dash is flat­ter, which not only evokes mem­o­ries of an early CJ but also in­creases the space be­tween driver and dash. The Rubicon locker switch is an­odized red and very sim­ple to use, with a wide, fat en­gage­ment but­ton and huge “off” but­ton you won’t mis­take for a power win­dow switch. The shifters are chunky, and the gear shifter fea­tures a red trig­ger that’s awe­some to han­dle. The bulky rollcage pad­ding has been re­placed with im­pact-rated plas­tic, which is not only cleaner but smaller in di­am­e­ter than the goofy cloth-cov­ered foam of old. The gauge clus­ter and in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is bright and fea­tures killer graph­ics. Last but not least, there are mul­ti­ple power ports sprin­kled through­out.

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