Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or crawling over them in your old 4×4 while living off the grid) you’ve heard about the redesigned 2019 Jeep Wrangler. You can tell at a glance that the new Wrangler has grown in all the right ways, and when spotted next to the previous generation “JK” Wrangler, the latter appears outdated and cheap. All the traditional Wrangler cues are there: exposed bolts for removing the doors, a grille comprised of seven vertical slats that taper slightly backwards at the top (a nod to the “YJ” Wrangler), and a windshield that folds down, but now with greater ease than ever. The new Wrangler is still the same capable-as-hell off-roader it’s always been, especially in Rubicon form, but finally modern: Jeep so thoroughly addressed the truck’s longstanding gripes that the Wrangler no longer needs excuses made for it.
The Good: Until the diesel powerplant arrives, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is the engine to get: the extra 35 lb-ft of torque it claims over the V6 also comes on 1,800 rpm earlier. Merging into highway traffic is no longer a sweat-inducing adventure, and at cruising speeds the 2.5-inch wider track vastly improves stability over previous generations. The last Wrangler Rubicon I drove, a Wrangler JK, was hairy above 65 mph, but the new Wrangler JL feels solid as can be, even at SoCal six-lane speeds. In addition to the new turbo-four engine, the interior is completely redesigned and finally looks and feels premium, with upscale features like a heated steering wheel and FCA’s excellent 8.4-inch touchscreen, now available in the Wrangler as a $1,200 option. It’s Apple CarPlay- and Android Auto-ready, offers Wi-Fi connectivity and provides a crisp view from the backup camera that looks through the middle of the spare tire mounted at the center of the tailgate. Same old Wrangler, all-new benefits.
Who It’s For: Few vehicles enjoy the Wrangler’s broad cross-generational appeal, though the Rubicon-badged two-door is more of a specialist vehicle intended for serious off-roading. Opting for the two-door over the four-door Unlimited gives a more compact package (easier to live within cramped urban areas) that somehow manages to deliver a livable backseat, even for passengers of the 6’3 variety. If you’re looking to get out and explore, don’t need to haul a bunch of cargo and aren’t constantly driving friends or family around, the two-door Wrangler is for you.
Watch Out For: New technology will always cost extra, and that’s true for engines. Downsizing from the V6 to the four-cylinder turbo will cost you $1,000 — and since the eight-speed automatic transmission is the only option for that engine, add another $2K. That’s a $3,000 premium for the smaller engine, and with safety options and interior appointments, the Rubicon’s price tag can push well past $50K.
Alternatives: Nothing new with an intact warranty can touch the Wrangler Rubicon in terms of performance. A Toyota 4-Runner TRD-Pro is currently suffering from the old age problems that the previous generation Wrangler had, but it competes with the 4 door Wrangler anyway. If you’re looking for two door off-road fun from the factory, the Wrangler Rubicon is (and should be) your only option.
Review: During my week with the Rubicon, typically sunny LA days in early February were replaced with deluge after deluge. Perfect. The Firecracker Red paint gave the updated silhouette an extra pop, and since the Wrangler shape looks especially proper covered in mud, it was fortunate that to play in. Solid front and rear Dana 44 axles are the gold standard in durability and the Wrangler’s can be easily locked, either in unison, or just the front, with a dash-mounted switch. With a new 4.10 drive ratio and the E-Torque mild hybrid assist, crawling is remarkably breezy, even for a Wrangler — I simply chose to idle through deep mud and over various steep obstacles. You can also up the speed using Jeep’s version of off-road cruise control to moderate the pace via buttons on the steering wheel. This is the kind of stuff that was confined ton pricey Land Rovers just a few years back.
I prefer to do things the old fashioned way, with my right foot and aiming for smooth inputs. The E-Torque helps here, too: it’s smooth, not jumpy, and doesn’t make the throttle overly sensitive. Moderating off-road crawl speed was easy. Of course, this being a two-door vehicle with a turbocharged engine, I had to turn off all the nannies and get it sideways. It’s clearly no drift machine, but chucking the truck into a low-grip corner and using the turbo’s low-end boost to kick out the backside on exit was plenty enjoyable. This isn’t a Raptor or even RAM Rebel, but something tells me we’ll be seeing a Baja-oriented Wrangler (or Gladiator) in the near future.
The on-road experience required some rewiring of my brain. Driving previous generation Wranglers on a Los Angeles freeway, especially Rubicons with knobby 33-inch off-road tires, was a white-knuckle affair. Not so in the new Wrangler. There’s still some sway from the softly sprung off-road suspension, but it’s remarkably composed. When the roads were dry and the visibility good, I took to driving the Rubicon like a hot hatch — like a WRX or GTI that had been given the ultimate safari car treatment. It’s not fast, but it is quick to respond, to overtake a vehicle or simply to put some distance between you and traffic. Speeding in a Wrangler Rubicon: it’s a brave new world folks.
Verdict: This is the best Wrangler yet. I can say that with confidence even though I haven’t driven every generation of the car. I’ve been a passenger in all the previous iterations, and the limitations of those vehicles were obvious even from the left seat. With the new Wrangler, Jeep has fixed the most glaring drawbacks — spartan infotainment, twitchiness at speed, a dowdy interior — with a heaping dose of modern technology and design.
Only the Porsche 911 enjoys the same kind of ceaseless incremental improvement as the Wrangler. With the Jeep crowd unabashedly on board, the new Wrangler should have no trouble finding success with a wide audience, and the Rubicon will certainly mint new off-roading enthusiasts who also like to keep an eye on their MPGs while they cruise back to the suburbs — for once, in both quiet and comfort.
What Others Are Saying:
“Optimized tradition is the whole story with the new Wrangler. You won’t find any drastic departures from the original recipe here: The axles are still solid, the roof and doors still come off, the body still bolts to the frame. Everything that makes people exuberantly, irrationally love the Wrangler is still here. It’s just been finessed in a way that won’t jostle a die-hard’s sensibilities.” – Bob Sorkanich, Road & Track
“What you won’t know, until you experience this Jeep for yourself, is how livable it’s become. The quivering structure, gale-force wind noise and crappy HVAC system? All banished. The pathetically slack steering, Richter-scale column shake, torpid handling, and shimmying over bumps? Also remarkably improved. For the first time in history, the Wrangler isn’t a chore to drive on pavement.” – Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive
Model Year/Brand/Model: 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Purchase URL: www.jeep.com
Price: $37,945 (base)
Engine: 2.0L 4Cyl Turbo w/Mild Hybrid Assist
Transmission: Eight Speed Tiptronic Automatic
Horsepower: 270 hp
Torque: 295 lb-ft
MPG: 18/23 City/Highway
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