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Jeep Wrangler Rubicon put to the test: The world's best off-road vehicle?

In a world full of SUVs, the Jeep Wrangler is the last of its kind. Our test clarifies whether it is better off-road than all the rest.

"The best or nothing at all" – The Swabian automotive group Daimler uses this slogan to advertise its models. Except which off-road vehicle is really the "best"? This question is as old as civilian off-road vehicle construction itself.

15 years ago this question would have provided a great deal of material for heated discussion, as robust climbing frames such as the Nissan Patrol or Daihatsu Rocky arrived in the dealer car parks as new cars. Nowadays, on the other hand, anyone looking for a solid vehicle for rooting around in the dirt, will seem rather like the stubborn Gauls in an Asterix comic: a small group is contradicting the mainstream and misses no opportunity to amuse itself at the expense of the army of wind-breaker SUVs and pseudo-off-roaders. Except: unfortunately this doesn't change the fact that rational off-roaders are a dying breed, at least in the Europe of completely networked traffic safety with the Euro-12 emissions standard. For the selection that is officially available in Germany includes just four models that follow the fundamental basic law of off-road suitability down to the letter – and even these are gradually dying out.

Jeep Wrangler with classical virtues

Since all-wheel drive was invented, there has been no change with regard to what an off-road vehicle needs to get as far as possible on as nasty terrain as possible: as compact dimensions as possible, a suitable transmission ratio, rigid axle(s) for consistent ground clearance and articulation, a ladder frame for maximum ease of loading and load capacity. And the more locks the better.

Alongside the Mercedes G, now unaffordable for the majority of private individuals – which in any case has long overshot the mark as a Sheik-mobile and city cruiser – the Land Rover Defender and the Suzuki Jimny still remain. And the Jeep Wrangler. Which of these four delivers the best performance off-road is still up for discussion However, this is no longer the case once the "Rubicon" lettering features on the bonnet of the Jeep Wrangler. This indicates three measures the likes of which no other manufacturer offers and which committed off-road fans will otherwise have to laboriously purchase and have installed afterwards: locks to the front and back in extremely robust Dana-44 axles, an off-road gear with an extremely short ratio (4:1) in the distributor transmission and, the icing on the cake, a stabiliser that can be decoupled at the touch of a button, making the chassis articulation even more fun than was previously the case.

Anyone who orders this package in conjunction with the short wheelbase of the three-door Jeep Wrangler will receive the series vehicle that is by far the most off-road capable on the market. However, there is no choice when it comes to the engine: the sophisticated six-cylinder petrol engine from the Grand Cherokee, with which any deep subsoil can easily be overcome, is not offered to us in the Rubicon model, which was previously not the case regarding the old V6.

Jeep Wrangler - extra-wide

The track of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which is exceptionally wide for such a compact car, brings advantages and disadvantages. In narrow passages, its predecessor, the TJ, had the clear advantage, the considerable turning circle and the drive train that distorts considerably when manoeuvring, even on loose ground, doesn't help the problem either. On account of this, the sloping position safety has been increased considerably, and even when driving quickly, the track width of almost 1.6 metres gives a good feeling when cornering.

Anyone who decides in favour of the short Jeep Wrangler will get much better off-road performance in comparison to the five-door Unlimited model, with noticeably more robust handling on the road, although for long-distance journeys there are clearly much better vehicles. The joyous bumping around continues off-road: here, in spite of its helical springs, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is really bumpy and shakes its passengers over pothole-covered paths. Decidedly sensitive on the other hand: the articulation, especially with decoupled stabilisers. In many climbing situations, the axial locks remain undeployed, the rigid axles articulate hugely, the front wheel almost disappears into the wheel housing, fully spring-deflected.

Modern technology in a rustic housing

In the current model, hill descent control has also been installed. Even if many people would turn their noses up at it – it functions magnificently and is even extremely helpful in some off-road situations. For when it comes to climbing ability, there is no other wheeled vehicle that beats the fully locked Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, with the exception of the Unimog. The only thing: at some point you also have to come down again. Here, the pure engine brakes can result in over-braking on slippery surface – with the electronically controlled intermittent brakes everything takes place in much more relaxed fashion.

Although those who scoff at the Jeep Wrangler deride its hanging belly, even with the series chassis and tyres, it is unbeatable on hills and tricky passages with tight corners. And in water, the fun really begins: whereas the submersion limit was previously 48 centimetres, it is now a more respectable 77 centimetres. This is believable as, being positioned up high, the naturally aspirated engine is well protected against any unexpected surprises in this depth of water.

All that remains is to consider its suitability for everyday driving. Those who decide in favour of the short Jeep are practically choosing the original shape, and it was never famous as an exceptional long-distance vehicle or a sports field transporter suitable for large families. There is no-one who could be called a friend who would gladly offer up the rear seating bench on long journey, it is best removed. Then there is at least something resembling a stowage space suitable for travelling. The considerable consumption in spite of its modern diesel engine – it rarely falls below ten litres – is not improved by the fact that the tank is much smaller than that in the Wrangler Unlimited. And although the convertible roof has now been fitted with some form of folding mechanism and is more easily operated than was previously the case, the opening and, most of all, the raising of the fabric cap, still takes several minutes and is not without its obstacles to be overcome. However, this is also reflective of a real character piece and is far removed from the arbitrariness and boredom of the modern SUV.

Autorenbild Torsten Seibt

Author

Photo

Thomas Starck

Date

3 April 2015
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