Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rubicon - more than just a name

Every version of the Jeep Wrangler is extremely capable off-road - more so than just about any other vehicle these days.  The sad reality though is that most Wranglers actually spend more time mallcrawling than rockcrawling.

There is, however, a special version of the Wrangler that is designed with hardcore 4wheeling in mind.  Named in honor of California’s famed Rubicon Trail, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon comes from the factory with additional off-road equipment that any serious off-roader would otherwise choose to equip their standard-model Wrangler JK:

  • Electronically-disconnecting sway bar replaces a fixed, articulation-limiting sway bar. 
  • Heavy-duty Dana 44 front axle replaces a lighter-duty Dana 30. 
  • 4:1 transfer case for slower crawling than with the standard 2.72:1 gearset. 
  • Rock rails under the doors in place of vulnerable tubular side steps and sheet metal. 
  • Electronic differential lockers for more traction than the standard open or limited-slip diffs. 
  • 4:10:1 axle gears in anticipation of larger tires.

With that list of equipment, the $5000 premium for the Rubicon model starts to look like a bargain!  The only things the Rubicon is missing is a suspension lift and bigger tires for adequate ground clearance; in today’s litigious society where dishonest organizations fabricate scare stories to increase magazine sales, you can hardly blame Jeep for selling it only as a lowrider.

One look at the Rubicon’s design, and it’s obvious that Jeep’s engineers designed this Wrangler specifically for suspension that sits 3 inches taller with fitment of 35-inch tires.  Large wheelwells, deep gears, and an overbuilt drivetrain practically beg to be taken on hardcore 4x4 trails.  Jeep may not have finished the job of building the perfect on/off-road vehicle, but at least they equipped it with a decent set of too-small BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A-KM2 tires that will get you by until you get your aftermarket suspension kit installed.  Heck, they even pre-geared it for the requisite set of 35’s!

Thankfully, the aftermarket has embraced the Rubicon (and the lesser Wrangler models) with open arms.  You can find suspension kits to fit literally every budget and the full spectrum of terrain, from simply dropping the kids off at soccer practice to rockracing in King of the Hammers:

Plans for my Jeep fall roughly halfway between those two extremes.  While it will remain my daily driver and long-distance roadtrip vehicle, I am not one to shy away from challenging off-road trails.  The Rubicon Trail is only one of many hardcore trails my Jeep will frequent.  Determining the right dual-purpose suspension kit and tires will be my highest priority.  I have a pretty good idea what hardware I want to invest in, but I encourage you to share your thoughts below.

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