2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Review
Paul Horrell’s 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Review with Performance, Ride and Handling, Infotainment, Safety, Verdict and Score.
IN A NUTSHELL The American off-road legend returns. Familiar-but-changed shape hides signifiant technical progress including better powertrains and useful electronics. Live-axle chassis is naturally a bit lumpy on the road, but awesome off it.
2019 Jeep Wrangler (Rubicon RHD)
Price From $68,950+ORC Warranty 5 years/100,000km Engine 2.2L diesel turbo Power 147kW at 3500rpm Torque 450Nm at 2000rpm Transmission 8-speed auto with two-speed transfer case Drive four-wheel drive and three lockable differentials Body 4882mm (l); 1894mm (w exc mirrors); NAmm (w inc mirrors); 1848mm (h) Turning circle 12.4m Ground clearance 252mm claimed Approach/breakover/departure angles 35/21/29 degrees Wading depth 760mm Towing weight 2495kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) Kerb weight 2160kg Seats 5 Fuel tank 81 litres Spare Full size Thirst 7.5l/100km combined cycle
Jeep wasn’t going to overhaul the Wrangler’s shape, any more than Porsche would with the 911. But this year’s version is all new on the outside. The body has lightweight aluminium panels, an easier roof-removal system (though a complete strip-down would still be measured in hours not minutes) and LED lighting.
We tried the two new engines in Britain, petrol and diesel four-cylinders. But in Australia the petrol is the familiar V6. All of them provide adequate power – indeed the turbo-four and nat-asp six have little to separate them except the smaller one is more economical. They all hook up to an eight-speed transmission, a huge step on from the old five-speeder.
What hasn’t changed is the focus on off-road ability. It’s live axles at both ends, a transfer box, and loads of clearance. The Rubicon version adds diff locks, more underside protection and a decoupling front anti-roll bar to squeeze even more articulation from the front axle. That’s available in Australia with both V6 and diesel engines, and we tested the diesel.
To be honest the Rubicon is the Wrangler you want. If you aren’t the type to be doing severe off-roading, other vehicles are more spacious, comfortable and safe. If you’re going deep into the bush with your Jeep, don’t compromise. Get the Rubicon.
The Rubicon comes only as a LWB four-door, however the softer specs can be had in the familiar short-wheelbase two-door form. The two-door is cramped in the back and doesn’t offer much boot. The four-door is a far more practical proposition even if it’s less recognisably a Wrangler, and slightly less manoeuvrable.
The new Wrangler will go on-sale in Australia in April.
What’s the interior and practicality like?
You feel hemmed in. The cabin’s narrow, because the design calls for it to sit within the famous wheel-arch shape. There’s a bulky rollover structure over your head. Footwells are cramped because the transfer case robs space, and the windscreen is small, upright and close. Despite all that, the main operating ergonomics are perfectly OK.
You sit upright, generally on top of things, and the tombstone seat is pretty supportive although not finely adjustable.
The short-wheelbase version has only small-child rear legroom, and it takes a small child to wriggle behind the front seats to get back there. The long-wheelbase four-door, which is what you get if you opt for the Rubicon off-road equipment level, solves both those problems. It’s is OK for adults on medium-length journeys.
You get to the boot by first swinging away the side-hinged lower tailgate, which carries the spare wheel, then lifting the glass. The space you find there is limited by the bulky roll cage, but the rear seats flip forward.
Cabin storage space isn’t that vast in volume but it’s well thought-out, with nets in the doors and transmission tunnel, a decent centre armrest box, dash-top tray, phone box and other little spaces. Dotted all over the cabin you’ll find USB sockets, both the old sort and type-C, and the Rubicon has a 230V mains outlet too. It’s rated at 150W which will charge your laptop but and maybe run a slow travel kettle.
All the electrics are claimed to be water-resistant, so you needn’t worry about a bit of a splash, or of wiping them clean with a wet cloth. Switches for the off-road tech are chunky enough that you can use them with gloves on. You also get real hardware controls for the main climate functions.
The roof clips off fairly easily. A longer campaign with a hex wrench will remove all the side window panels, the rear screen and even the doors. You can also fold down the windscreen… yummy fresh bugs delivered direct to your tastebuds.
What’s the infotainment like?
Two levels are offered in the Wrangler, but for the Rubicon it’s the top 8.4-inch system, as used in other high-end Chrysler Group vehicles (and Maseratis). It’s sensibly laid out, responsive to the touch and well connected. Jeep adds several off-road apps, including graphics that show the status of the diff locks and anti-roll bars, and extra engine instruments, and inclinometers.
If you’re more comfortable with Apple or Android, those systems are well integrated.
The stereo is a punchy Alpine system including a subwoofer, and the speakers are waterproof so you can keep the party going even when the weather turns grim.
What’s the performance like?
This a story of weight. I tried the 200kW 2.0-litre petrol in a short-wheelbase Wrangler Overland that weighs only around 1900kg, and it did a stout job. But the 170kW diesel engine, despite having an aluminium block, adds weight, and so does the longer four-door body and so does the Rubicon equipment. Result is a 0-100km/h time about two seconds slower, at 9.6sec.
Even so, it feels quick enough for the Wrangler’s road manners except when you need all-out overtaking shove. It certainly has all the muscle and control needed for off-roading.
It’s quiet for a diesel too, and at highway speed will be more than drowned out by the drumming of the knobbly tyres and the sound of the square-cut body rushing through the air.
The eight-speed auto is more than averagely smooth and lets the torque do the job rather than fidgeting too many downshifts.
What’s it like on the road?
Steering is pretty accurate and major body motions well damped, so unlike in old Wranglers you don’t feel you’ve completely lost your grip on events. But with those heavy live axles shuddering away underneath, the ride does get turbulent. And it’s not just vertical motions either, as it puts you through a lot of lateral jostle and lengthwise pitch, though those aspects aren’t as bad on the LWB as on the two-door SWB.
Strong and controllable brakes pull it up decently straight despite the chassis commotion.
What with the noise and the lumpy ride, this is never going to be the same sort of experience as a passenger saloon or even a crossover. It’s more elemental, more vivid. You get a lot of sensation of motion even when you’re not travelling quickly. Call it character. And a good way to avoid speeding fines.
What’s it like off the road?
This is why we’re here. The Wrangler Rubicon is one of the best out-of-the box off-roaders out there, and of course no-one much leaves their Jeep in factory state for long. The aftermarket is too much of a lure. And in fact the Rubicon has four accessory switches built right into the dash that will control your winch, auxiliary lights, fridge and other gear.
The Rubicon’s standard tyres are 32-inch jobs. It’s got underfloor guards front and rear, and rock-slider sill bars. Its axles are heavier-duty items than even the standard Wrangler’s, too.
The 4×4 system has a 2WD mode, but on a wet road you can find an inside rear tyre spinning if you boot it out of a wet hairpin. No matter, the Wrangler has a full-time 4×4 mode where control of drive to the front is handled automatically.
If that’s not getting you through, shift to 4×4 part-time, which locks the centre diff. Then for extra control it’s down to 4×4 low range. The basic Wrangler has a 2.72:1 step down to the low box. But the Rubicon is 4.0:1, and it also has independently controlled diff locks for the front and rear axles, with a simple dashboard switch.
Compared with brake-actuated ‘diff locking’ on the base Wrangler (and most other 4x4s) this makes a huge difference to control in difficult situations. Instead of waiting for a wheel to start spinning then have it braked, you have a much more progressive response to the accelerator from zero speed. Rock crawling is transformed.
Oh and the Rubicon has another trick. Pressing a dash switch will decouple the front anti-roll bar at low speed, allowing the axle to articulate better and maintain even force across the front tyres, rather than cocking one wheel in the air.
The auto box has full manual over-ride, so descents in low-box first gear are nice and slow, which renders the hill descent control almost redundant.
What safety features does it get?
The Wrangler did badly in the Euro NCAP test, scoring just one star.
Now, part of that poor rating was because in Europe at the time there was no forward emergency braking system. Wranglers for Australia will get this. So too will they have cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warning. But no lane assistance is fitted.
But the Wrangler’s troubles weren’t just about crash prevention. It also suffered in the offset crash test. Said EuroNCAP: “In the frontal offset test, the connection between the A-pillar and the trans-facia beam was damaged in a way that indicated the structure would be unable to withstand higher loads.” There were also objects in the dash that presented a hazard to the dummies.
But side crash protection was rated as good, and whiplash protection for rear impacts. Unfortunately, in real life drivers don’t get to choose the direction from which they crash.
The Wrangler has front and side airbags, LED headlights and a reversing camera. There are two Isofix points, in the rear. But EuroNCAP found that several types of child seat are difficult or impossible to instal properly, so check compatibility first.