When people talk about cars that symbolize America, they usually talk about trucks or muscle cars . For my money, though, there is nothing more American than a Jeep Wrangler . Born from the Willys MB that conquered the land during World War II, the modern Wrangler still embodies the same virtues of rugged simplicity from all those decades ago.
At least, that is how it looks from an exterior design point, but the newest Wranglers have satellite navigation, heated leather seats and even hard tops now. Has our march toward comfort finally taken the edge off the most capable off-road vehicle to come from an American company? Is the Wrangler still willing to get dirty and climb through mud and rocks to get somewhere?
I recently spent some time with a 2014 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon X to find out. As the Rubicon , it has the most aggressive off-road equipment, but it has also been loaded with as many creature comforts as possible too.
So who broke first, me or the Jeep?
Continue reading to find out more about the 2014 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon X
If you have seen one Jeep Wrangler, you have basically seen them all. They have grown in every dimension since the first civilian CJ came out in the 1940s, but the overall feel of the design has stayed surprisingly true to its roots. That large, flat nose sits with its prominent seven-slat grille opening, and the hood is still held down with large rubber straps. The wheels are gargantuan, and are only covered by modest plastic fenders to keep rocks and mud from being flung far and wide.
One of the most prominent features of the Jeep has always been the half-doors and cloth top. While our tester does have the soft top, sadly, the half doors have been replaced for full-metal units.
As this is the Rubicon X, and Jeep’s most hard-core factory model, our model has a whole host of upgrades that are immediately apparent at first glance when compared to the base Wrangler. From the front, the large, steel front bumper with red tow hooks stands out, and the hood is a vented, power-dome unit that is incredibly menacing looking from the outside.
Moving to the profile, the large wheels and tires make a big impression. The 17-inch alloys have a great silver and black paint scheme that looks great with our Anvil gray paint. If you look closely, you will also spot the factory rock rails that run down the side, which are very handy when you decide to crawl through a narrow ravine with lots of rocky outcroppings.
The back of the Rubicon is business as usual. The side-swing rear tailgate with full-size matching spare is present, and aside from the steel rear bumper with a red-painted tow hook, there is very little on the back of the Rubicon X to make it make it stand out from the lesser Wranglers.
Gallery Jeep Wrangler Rubicon X - Driven
One of the best parts about the visual design of the Rubicon is Jeep’s attention to detail. Almost every surface of this machine is covered in some tiny detail that enhances the SUV’s look, or pays homage to its history. The windshield is a great example. The black trim that surrounds the glass has a silhouette of the cars legendary nose, two round headlights and a seven-bar grille right above the rear mirror. In the bottom right corner, you will find a profile silhouette of a jeep scrambling up some rocks.
Other small touches include the red Jeep silhouette placed on each rim, the red “Trail Rated” badge on the front fenders and the Rubicon script on the hood. Jeep even has the Jeep logo embedded in the rear bumper inserts and on the front passenger grab handle. You will also find “Since 1941” on the grab handle as well. Every little touch feels like Jeep is really trying to embrace that strong heritage.
Dropping the Top
One of the draws of the Wrangler has always been the fact that it is basically a huge convertible, thanks to that soft top. For decades, people have been ripping off the top and taking of the doors to enjoy lots of wind and sunshine. As nice as it sounds, if you have never dealt with a Jeep soft top, you are in for a rude awakening. And those new doors don’t help you get to freedom any faster either.
The new doors can still be removed, but the process is much more involved than it used to be. For starters, the doors are secured into the swing mounts by large Torx bolts that need to be removed, and then to actually remove the door, you have to be careful and make sure to remove all the new wiring that has been added to power the speakers, locks and windows.
To actually take the top down, you need to first remove the rear windows. These simply zip in, but they are large and can take some effort to get removed. Once all three large rear windows are taken out and stowed, you can begin to fold down the top. Start by undoing two large, metal latches on the windshield. Once that is done, there are some plastic slides that need moved to allow the first portion of the top to flip back.
The top can be locked in this position to create a sunroof effect. To keep going, unhook the secondary latch that is just above the headrest of each front seat and slowly move the top backward. I quickly found that using two people made the job considerably easier. Once you get the top all the way back, just let it fold and lay between the rear seat and the spare tire. If you felt so inclined, you could take the top completely off.
Thankfully, if you find yourself in bad weather, I had a much easier time putting the top up than taking it down.
The inside of the Rubicon X is far from the angry and purposeful machine that its exterior would imply. The standard Rubicon comes with features like a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, an Alpine Premium stereo with Uconnect and SiriusXM Satellite radio. The Rubicon X package adds even more interior niceties with accent stitching throughout the cabin, leather for all the seats, silver interior accents, seat heaters for the front seats and power equipment everywhere.
Our car also had the upgraded Uconnect system with a 40GB hard drive and 6.5-inch touchscreen control. This upgraded system also comes with navigation and SiriusXM Travel Link.
Overall it is a much more civilized interior that feels catered towards to daily commute than the weekend mud-pit scramble.
Gone is the old 4.0-liter straight six of yesteryear. While it may have been a reliable, old mill, times have changed, and the new Wrangler Rubicon comes with Chrysler’s unbelievably good Pentastar V-6 under the hood. That means 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of rock-crawling torque. Having a Jeep with nearly 300 horsepower is a good thing. Our transmission is the optional five-speed automatic with the fancy Hill Descent Control.
Now the engine is fancy, but all the real goodies are elsewhere in the driveline. The 4-to-1 Rock-Trac 4WD system makes use of Tru-Lok differentials on next-generation Dana 44 Axles front and rear. The Rubicon also has a super-cool electronically disconnecting front sway bar that gives you an extra 25-percent wheel=travel length.
To make sure all this equipment stays protected, skid plates are standard under every important component from the transfer case back to the gas tank.
The usual government mandated bits like ABS and traction control are included here as well. Thankfully when you lock the Wrangler into four-wheel Low, traction and stability systems are automatically disengaged.
Sadly with all that off-road equipment, the Rubicon doesn’t get the greatest fuel economy. It carries an EPA-estimate of 17 city, 21 highway with 18 combined. During my testing I averaged around the 18 mpg mark with mostly highway cruising.
Thanks to its many varied models, the Jeep Wrangler is much like a Porsche in that prices between base models with no options and decked out high-end machines can be quite dramatic. If you want a shiny new Wrangler to park in your driveway and you don’t care if it has all the extra off-road goodies of the Rubicon, you can have it for $22,395. A Base Rubicon on the other hand is $30,995. Our Rubicon has the Rubicon X package that added all the cool touches like the power dome hood, steel bumpers and leather interior, but it came at a cost of $4,100. When you add in the $1,295 for the automatic transmission, $1,095 for a the Uconnect with Nav, and the $995 destination charge, it all comes to a grand total of $38,480. That is a cost increase of more than 80-percent.
If you can’t understand why people like Jeeps so much, you haven’t driven one. Much like Subaru s, every Jeep feels very unique. It is a coarse and sort of unrefined machine that feels purely mechanical and purposeful.
In a world of cars that are quickly trying to become the most unobtrusive thing in your daily life, the Wrangler stands out like a like green sledge hammer laying in the front window of an antique china shop. It is glorious.
That type of driving dynamic does have its drawbacks though. Basically if you use the Wrangler for anything but traipsing through the woods, it is mostly terrible. Those large knobby tires create a horrendous noise on the road, and thanks to that soft top, every ounce of it seems to make it into the cabin. Wind noise is also pronounced and the lack of insulation means that it stays warm in the summer and cool in the winter. The heater and air conditioning both work very well, so the insulation issues are kept at bay.
The short wheelbase and tight turning radius make the Wrangler work well in more urban environments, but the fuel economy and lack of secure storage due to a zip-open exterior make it a bad companion for city living.
Since it isn’t the best tool for asphalt trekking, I took it to its natural habitat. The middle of nowhere where the rocks and mud live. Thanks to a malfunction of the SD card in my GoPro, I don’t have any footage of the fun; all I have is the leftover mud caked in the fenders. I’m not much of a rock crawler, but I do love the idea of a large muddy field. I found the closest muddy bog of red clay and did my best to get stuck. The Rubicon wasn’t having any of it. After about an hour of sliding around I gave up and headed back home.
The amount of abuse this machine will put up with is unbelievable. If you need to make it from any point A to any point B, the Wrangler will get you there.
If you need a machine to take off-road, but you don’t want a Jeep, the Xterra is a great second choice. From the factory, even the best Xterra won’t be a match for the pure performance of the Rubicon, but it does offer better cargo space and comfort with its larger size and closed-body construction.
If you need the pure ability of the Rubicon, the Nissan can’t give you that from the factory, but incredible levels of aftermarket support have given the Xterra the boost it needs to crawl the steepest slopes with the best of them. If you want a machine that is far better on the road, but still has the chops to get you lost in the wilderness, the Nissan Xterra is a great choice.
Gallery Nissan Xterra
If you want the raw untamed ability of the Wrangler, but you want it with the civility of the Xterra with a dash of wood and leather for good measure, the Mercedes-Benz is the best option. Just like the Wrangler, the G Wagon hails from decades of military history that have honed its abilities and construction. It has the same classic square shape, but it comes loaded with the traditional Mercedes -Benz pile of luxury goodies. Real leather covers most surfaces, the dash is a collection of metal and exotic woods, and powering it all is a collection of massive engines that include V-8s.
The G-Class is essentially without peer in the world of luxury off-roaders, but all that refinement combined with rugged off-road skills doesn’t come cheap. You could buy a trio of decked Rubicons for the cost of some G-Class models. Still, if nothing but the best will do in all aspects, it is hard to argue with this German.
Gallery Mercedes G-Class
I find myself simultaneously in awe and fury with this Jeep. The Wrangler Rubicon has been the single most capable off-road vehicle I have ever driven, but it is built to cater to the thousands and thousands of owners who never let it see more than a mud puddle. The Rubicon is not a car that should be driven around town. Even if you find yourself out in the woods on occasion, the Rubicon is not a sensible daily driver. That said, It took me to see some incredible sights that I didn’t know existed just a few miles from my own home. If you live in an area where paved roads are not the norm, the Wrangler is basically the best thing you can own. I just have a hard time recommending a 2-ton SUV with soft sides, simply because I know most of these barely see a gravel road.
- Unmatched off-road ability
- Powerful, new V-6 engine
- Take off the doors and the top for the ultimate convertible experience
- With a price near $40k it is not cheap
- Fuel economy is appalling
- Not very secure for belongings thanks to soft sides