Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Is Not for the Open Road - | Catalog-cars

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Is Not for the Open Road –

25 Aug 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Is Not for the Open Road –
Jeep Wrangler


2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Dan Neil/The Wall Street Journal

I SAY THIS WITH nothing but love: The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is pretty hopeless on asphalt.

The Jeep Wrangler, though immortal off-road, is more peculiar to drive on road: So says Rumble Seat columnist Dan Neil, who reviews the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon on the News Hub.

Also, having a virtually square frontal area (73.9 inches wide by 70.8 inches high), a flat windshield and a rectangular profile, the Wrangler Unlimited is subject to all kinds of fun and unfamiliar wind effects on the highway.

Hey, wow. That is surprisingly, um, lively. Nervous, even. Actually, the Rubicon four-door requires more moment-to-moment piloting down the road than just about any other new light vehicle.

By design, of course. Everything that makes the Jeep Wrangler immortal off road—narrow track, high ground clearance, leggy suspension, iron-born chassis, bouncy-house tires—also makes it more peculiar to drive on road. This is doubly true of the Rubicon series, equipped with the Wrangler’s hard-core off-roading package: Twin Dana 44 axles with electronic locking; a heavy-duty transfer case with a wall-crawling 4:1 low-gear ratio; an electronically disconnecting front sway bar that allows you to increase front-wheel articulation when you’re driving over fire hydrants.

And all of that is armored up with the Rubicon package’s rock rails, steel bumpers, awesome red tow hooks, underbody steel skid plates and other blacksmithing. Which way to the front, zombie-killers?

The Rubicon is essentially a factory tuner car, a turnkey rock-crawling hero, and it is capable of amazing things. I took my 6-year-old girls off-roading in it and they thought it was better than Disney World.

“ All SUV’s are tippy, and the Rubicon is the SUV-iest of them all. ”

But it is also a victim of its own overcapacity in one, narrow range of application. All SUV’s are tippy, and the Rubicon is the SUV-iest of them all. And I think Wrangler trucks can keep on being so gonzo only thanks to the backstopping of a little bit of silicon and circuit board, as of 2012 federally mandated on all new cars and light trucks: electronic stability control (ESC).

The current-generation Wrangler series, the JK platform, which made its debut in 2007, includes the four-door Unlimited model that has been an absolute payday for the company. The factory, in Toledo, Ohio, is running near capacity. Wrangler is a legacy design, with mechanical roots (short-coupled, body-on-frame construction, solid axles, removable doors) reaching back to the Willys Jeeps of World War II.

These are attributes that make Wrangler a product category of one.

Jeep would contend that Wrangler has come a long way in drivability and amenities, and that is true. In part to improve the on-road handling, the JK generation’s track was widened more than 3 inches, which had the effect of lowering the vehicle’s center of gravity and increasing roll stability, all things equal.

In 2011 Jeep retired the hog-iron 3.8-liter straight-six engine and replaced it with the cleaner, more efficient Pentastar 3.6-liter V6, paired with a five-speed automatic, a major step up for the vehicle’s acceleration and usability.

Car and Driver clocked a 2012 four-door Rubicon at 7.6 seconds, 0-60 mph, compared with the 11.5 seconds of anguished torpor from the old engine model. Our test Jeep was perky enough in a straight line.

There is actually a long list of road-friendly refinements, quietly made, including one-touch power windows and locks (remember, you can remove the doors), heated seats, Bluetooth and optional audio system with a 40-gigabyte hard drive and navagation touch screen.

But under all that, the Unlimited Rubicon is still a long-wheelbase agricultural vehicle, a tractor with clear coat, sitting on four of the most flubbery tires on the original-equipment market. Catching a pothole just right will bounce the tire and set off a series of undamped, body-pumping oscillations.

It isn’t uncontrollable but it is, well, special.

And, as crazy as it may seem, a majority of SUV buyers—even a majority of Rubicon buyers—will never take them any farther off-road than a carwash. Off-road? I just paid 45 grand for it.

Jeep Wrangler

So what you have here is a growing audience driving these super-specialized, fairly finicky vehicles, with earth-moving undercarriages and full agro tires, for looks. Because people have a rich fantasy lives. I don’t know and I don’t judge. It is a Jeep thing.

But it seems, from the evidence of a nearby high-school parking lot, many of these drivers are relatively inexperienced.

So I say thank God for ESC.

More on Cars

Safety is a matter of the gravest concern for auto makers, so I want to take this part seriously. Automobiles are much safer than they were a decade ago. Smart air bags, seatbelt-integrated air bags (beltbags), optimized crash and crush structures, better steel, pedestrian-safe design, smart braking, better lighting, rear cameras, on and on.

Soon radar-and-optics-based driver-assist systems, such as automatic lane keeping, side-object detection, adaptive (distance-keeping) cruise control and forward crash detection and mitigation, will be commonplace. Safety really is the revolution at our feet.

And the most lifesaving technology of all, as well as one of the cheapest, has been ESC.

ESC detects incipient loss of vehicle control—skidding and spinning out, for instance—and attempts to correct it by selectively pulsing the anti-lock brakes at one or more wheels in the blink of an eye and, if necessary, reducing engine power. ESC piggybacks on vehicles’ anti-lock and traction-control hardware.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated in 2006 that ESC reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle rollover accidents by about 80 percent.

Vehicle stability is very much on the minds of auto makers. Stability control became standard equipment on all Wranglers in 2007, with electronic roll mitigation—an overlay of the ESC system that uses accelerometers to monitor chassis roll rates—phased in since.

In sports cars, stability-control systems are often regarded as the fun police, and the first thing you want to do at a track is either turn it down, or off. It took the Rubicon—and those nutty BF Goodrich tires—to teach me to love ESC again. With ESC now part of the regulatory landscape for all new vehicles, engineers and designers have more of a margin for error against which they can responsibly evolve ever faster and more capable road vehicles.

Whether you’re talking about the Rubicon or an 800-hp Porsche, ESC makes the inherently unstable reasonably stable.

I never put the Rubicon into any kind of high-speed avoidance maneuver to test the ESC, but I sure felt better knowing the system was on duty.

I felt even better knowing that if some kid drops a wheel off the shoulder in this rhino, he’d have some computerized assistance to gather it back up.

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