We drove a $48,000 Jeep Wrangler to see if the ultimate off-road SUV could live up to its legendary reputation

Our Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

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Our Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
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  • The 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is a serious off-roading machine.
  • But can the trail-warrior Rubicon handle everyday life?
  • The answer is that the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon isn’t interested in everyday life if there are trails to conquer – and if that’s your thing, you’ll be happy to spend $48,000 on the vehicle.

I’ve honestly never understood the appeal of the Jeep Wrangler (and before, that the Jeep CJ) to the vast majority of consumers. Sure, the rugged, barebones vehicle makes ample sense – if you’re a dedicated rock-crawler, have rivers to routinely ford, are planning an expedition to a place the civilization forgot, or are simply opposed to cars that don’t have doors that can be removed.

But that’s gotta be … I don’t know … less than 1% of all car buyers? The rest are going to use almost none of the Jeep Wrangler’s capabilities. And yet, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles still sold about 240,000 of these things last year in the US.

How many of those owners do you think are meandering through unimproved territory on a regular basis? Well, the answer is, “Some.” But quite frankly, when it comes to an outdoor lifestyle, the spiritual descendant of what started its long life as a World War II scout vehicle is a less-good choice than a Toyota Tacoma.

The Wrangler owes its baffling, ongoing celebrity in the auto world to its image. That’s what makes, for example, teenagers dig a ride that every parent knows might look cool, but that’s expensive to own and rather challenging to operate. Even Alicia Silverstone’s disastrous driving test in “Clueless” can’t change hearts and minds.

Read more: I drove a $69,000 RAM 1500 and a $57,000 Chevy Silverado to find out which is the better pickup truck. Here’s the verdict.

However, because image is everything for the Wrangler, it can’t be a Potemkin village on four huge tires. Jeep has and continues to take this responsibility seriously. Ridiculously seriously.

I drove a fairly non-fuss Wrangler a couple of years ago and had a typical Jeep-in-the-‘burbs experience. More recently, Jeep tossed me the keys to an upscale 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with a base price of $37,500. Kitted out with many of the goodies that owners can get on the latest-generation that went on sale in 2018, our test car cost $48,000. The base Wrangler two-door in Sport trim starts at $27,945.

Has the $48,000 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon made concessions to soft modern life? Is the Greatest Generation/zombie-apocalypse-survival machine surrendering to the weakness of prospective owners who don’t spend their days far, far away from major highways? Can you still remove eight bolts and go doorless?

Read on to find out.


My $48,000 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon arrived with a snazzy paint job. It’s called “Punk’n Metallic.” Get it?

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The little Jeep that defeated Hitler wasn’t available in “Punk’n” metallic, but its battlefield history sets the standard by which all modern Jeeps are judged.


The first civilian Jeeps appeared in the late 1940s.

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Vintage Seekers

I tested a cheaper version of the Wrangler in 2017, from the previous iteration of the vehicle.

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Read the review.


Believe it or not, the basic mechanical design hasn’t changed much in the intervening decades since the vehicle first appeared. The Wrangler Rubicon is body-on-frame, with two solid poles of metal serving as its front and rear axles.

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The now-legendary grille and headlights have been tweaked, but never truly revamped.

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Let’s face it — nothing else on the road looks like a Jeep. It stands out in the same was as a Corvette or a Lamborghini. It’s an iconic design.

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The branding and nameplating is more extensive than it was on our previous test Wrangler.

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Notably, the Rubicon call-out. That’s not for the river in Italy, by the way. It’s the name of a famous off-road trail in California. Jeeps have been tackling it since the 1950s.

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If you need proof, the Wrangler Rubicon is obviously trail-rated. In fact, the Rubicon trim level features a combination of staggering offroad capability and — for Jeep — somewhat impressive interior comfort.

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The Wrangler is unmistakable from every angle. The shell over the rear seats and cargo area is removable, revealing the roll-bars. As this was a winter test, I didn’t go there.

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Yep, you have five tires.

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The BF Goodrich all-terrains can take you from road to trail — but they’re going to happier with the latter.

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Note the mega-serious locking hubs — as well as the subtle reference to the original Willys Jeep.

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That bumper ain’t foolin’ around.

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Neither is this gas cap.

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Or these functional hood scoops.

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The Wrangler provides four convenient exterior cupholders.

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What’s new? These lights in the fender, for one thing. Might actually be the only thing, actually.

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Cargo capacity with the rear seats up is pretty bad.

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This schematic details four-wheel-drive operation, tells you what depth of water you can drive through, and reminds that the Jeep is built in Toledo, Ohio.

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Let’s check out the engine!

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Dang! The prop-rod couldn’t be unstowed! Lacking a nearby fallen limb, old axe handle, or dinosaur bone to hold the unlatched hood open, I had to use my arm.

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The venerable 3.6-liter V6 makes 285 horsepower with 260 pound-feet of torque, which is unimpressive on paper. On a rock-strewn trail with the 4WD system active, you see the logic, however. The Wrangler isn’t built for speed or comfort — it’s built to extract you from severe jams.

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The fuel economy is as bad as always: 18 mpg city/23 highway/20 combined. The new generation adds a turbocharged four-cylinder to the lineup.


Let’s hike a leg way up and step inside.

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The black interior featured leather-trimmed and topstitched seats.

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That’s fancy, but this is a Rubicon.

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The rear seats are … something of afterthought. There’s a four-door Jeep if you need to use them. My eight-year-old could make his way back there only by crawling between the front seats.

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You can overcome this challenge by throwing a few latches …

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… to remove the three-piece roof. Then you just climb in over the side!

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That’s a useful grab rod for the passenger.

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There are grab points on the pillars as well. You’ll need them if you rock-crawl and switch from level angles to ones that make you worry about tipping.

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The driver gets a well-appointed steering wheel and the better-than-basic instrument panel.

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There’s a pushbutton stop start, a concession to modernity. But is also means a key chain isn’t constantly banging around.

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So we don’t get to test the offroad cred of Wranglers. Suffice it say, however, that the eight-speed-automaker is well-mated to the motor, and that if you do you homework …

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… you’ll be able to take full advantage of the best offroader that America has to offer, which can be configured to switch the 4WD on the fly.

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The seven-inch infotainment screen is rinkydink by 2019 standards, but FCA’s Uconnect system is quite good — and you aren’t going to accessing your playlists when you’re fleeing brain-eating zombies, anyway.

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We’ve always been impressed with Uconnect. It handles everything from GPS navigation to device connectivity with aplomb.

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There are USB/AUX ports, recharging options, and an audio system that sounds completely awful in the Wrangler Rubicon. Can’t have everything!

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So what’s the verdict?

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I’ve trail-busted in a Jeep, and let me tell you, you want one of these babies if asphalt isn’t on the route.

The Rubicon Wrangler also gained me some serious dad points with my teenage daughter, an aspiring outdoorsperson who could someday justify getting a Jeep like this.

But the real question here is, “If asphalt IS on the agenda, what’s the Wrangler like to live with?”

When I asked myself in 2017, I concluded:

Over a week, I grew to enjoy the Wrangler for what it is: a lovable brute. A dog by my side would have been a natural addition. I could imagine never, ever worrying about washing the Jeep. It would only look better with dents, dings, perhaps even rust, scratched paint, encrusted with crud. Part of the investment you’d make if you bought a Wrangler would be in unselfconsciousness.

You can now do that in a vehicle with a somewhat more high-tech interior. But the truth is that if you must have a Wrangler, you might as well buy the cheapest trim level, pack in some infotainment, and call it a day. The Rubicon’s capabilities will be lost 95% of the time (I did luck out when I tested the Rubicon: a storm dumped a foot of snow on my driveway, and the Jeep powered through it as if it were cotton candy.)

Don’t get me wrong: For the people who might actually visit the Rubicon Trail, the Rubicon is what’s called for.

For everybody else, it’s too high, the ride is tractor-like, the engine is underpowered at highway speeds, the cabin is noisy, the cargo capacity is disappointing, the audio system isn’t up to the standards of a 1980s boom box, and the fuel-economy is wretched.

But. But. But. The Wrangler Rubicon does make you look cool. And a lot of times, when image is everything, what’s under the skin is a fraud. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon doesn’t suffer from that problem.

What we have here is a lot of hat and a lot of cattle. What you see is without a doubt is what you get. And then you just have to ask if you’re the kind of person who can handle what that means. If you say you can, then the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon will be the best $48,000 you ever spent.