Test Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The ultimate affordable off-road SUV

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The Jeep Wrangler is the ultimate affordable off-road SUV.

By Nick Kurczewski, Contributor, Car-ED.com | August 2018

What is this vehicle?

Driving a Jeep Wrangler reminds you why this square-edged SUV has remained popular for so many years. A modern powertrain and numerous luxury touches make it far from being the bare-bones, rough-and-tumble truck it was decades ago. But there’s a very simple and timeless core message that comes with the Wrangler. It was built to be rugged and to venture off-road, and no amount of marketing hype or commercialization can take away from the central charm of this solid-axle, square-edged sport-utility.

Getting behind the wheel of a 2018 Wrangler Rubicon, the most adventure-loving trim level of an already very adventurous vehicle, shows how Jeep engineers have adapted the company’s most beloved model for life in the modern world. There are plenty of SUVs that handle better, stop faster, or accelerate harder than the Wrangler. It’s true – sorry Jeep fans.

There are also plenty that get better gas mileage, or offer fancier cabins with more space for passengers and cargo. Yet, at the end of the day, the Wrangler’s attributes – and if we’re being frank, also its negatives – place this Jeep in a field with no true direct competitors. It’s a one-of-a-kind vehicle that, in a world of hashtags and trending topics, feels refreshingly individualistic.

Who is this vehicle for?

The Wrangler, especially in Rubicon trim, is going to appeal to car shoppers who want to venture off the beaten path, or at least look like they could at a moment’s notice. With a starting price of $36,995 (excluding the $1,195 destination fee), our Rubicon is not exactly cheap! For comparison, a basic Wrangler carries a sticker price of roughly $24,000.

Spending this amount of money on a vehicle designed to traverse mud and rocks, but then only using it for a daily commute, is like driving a Porsche 911 Turbo simply for sedate trips to the grocery story. Certain cars (and trucks) shine best in the environment they were bred to conquer, no matter if it’s the German autobahn, or the Rubicon trail.

By the way, yes, that is a real 22-mile stretch of road – and it’s something Jeep takes very seriously. While many Wrangler buyers might find the four-door Unlimited model more appealing, thanks to its greater cargo room and more spacious second-row seating, it’s also nice to get reacquainted with the original two-door variant.

We will warn you, however, the higher ride height of the Rubicon model makes accessing the cramped second-row seats a hilarious feat of gymnastics. Kids and pets will definitely need a boost. Fragile adults might need a consultation with a chiropractor.

Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?

The Wrangler might look similar to previous models, but it’s driving behavior is much better than before. The 17-inch tires fitted to the Rubicon hum a bit at highway speed, though it’s much quieter inside than we imagined, especially considering these hefty tires are mated to a heavy-duty suspension. Your author remembers riding in a friend’s mid-1990s Wrangler back in college, and hating pretty much every moment of the experience. The soft-top hood flapped, the engine droned, the radio was tinny-sounding, and ride bobbled and shook over anything bump bigger than an ant hill.

Granted, the rough edges remain in the Wrangler, since there is only so much magic you can perform on a vehicle riding on a short wheelbase, with solid axles at either end. But in terms of comfort and livability, the latest Wrangler is a quantum leap forward.

Interesting facts about this vehicle!

Under the hood is a 3.6-liter V-6 that delivers 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Performance is smooth and the optional ($2,000) 8-speed automatic fitted to our test vehicle does a fine job getting the available power to the road. Fuel mileage isn’t much to write home about, however. The EPA-estimated 18 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway places this little Jeep on par with full-size trucks, like the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram 1500.

In terms of handling, the upright windshield and flat sides of the Wrangler make positioning it on the road – or rocky trails – particularly easy. The giant spare tire, which slapped directly onto the tailgate, made the reverse camera fitted to our tester a valuable ally when parallel parking. If all else fails, the optional steel bumpers and underbody skid plates should help make certain your Wrangler Rubicon remains in one piece.

True to Jeep tradition, you can still take off the doors and even fold the windshield flat!

What Impressed Us / Top Likes:

The Rubicon 4×4 is much better than we imagined on city streets and on the highway. This isn’t some paint and sticker special, either. The Rubicon is fitted with true off-road hardware, such as a Dana heavy-duty wide front and rear axle, a front disconnecting stabilizer bar, skidplates beneath the vehicle (to protect it from rocks), a locking rear differential, and those chunky 17-inch tires. The short front and rear overhangs make this Wrangler ideal for traversing steep inclines and declines, too.

And yes, it’s hard not to love the timeless design of this Jeep. There aren’t many vehicles that stand out like a Wrangler. The front seats are comfortable and the infotainment system is extremely simple to use. If you expected the cabin to feel like a penalty box, then think again. Well, that is until you need to crawl into the rear seats.

Items to Make Better (Least Favorite Things):

  • Fuel mileage is pretty bad, considering the Jeep Wrangler comes with a V6 engine and not a fuel-guzzling V8. The EPA-estimated 23 mpg during highway driving is about what you’d get in a medium to full-size pickup.
  • Getting into the back seat of the two-door model is downright hilarious. It’s also pretty cramped back there, once you’re in. And hold on, because directly under your backside is a solid rear axle. If you loved sitting in the bumpy back of a school bus when you were a kid, then these bouncy Wrangler seats will be your ultimate throwback.
  • The Rubicon is pretty pricey, especially once you start adding options. The four-door variant can break the $40,000 barrier, too. Keep in mind what you want and need in your Wrangler. If you can live without the hardcore off-road gear, then a cheaper and more basic trim level could be a much better fit for your budget.
  • Cargo room in the two-door model is pretty limited too, at only 12.8 cubic feet (with the rear seats in the upright position).

Segment and Competitors:

As we mentioned, finding a direct rival to the Wrangler is impossible. The only vehicles that come close are midsize pickup trucks, like the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Canyon. (Perhaps it should come as no surprise to learn that Jeep will soon introduce a pickup version of the Wrangler. The Mercdes-Benz G-Class shares a similar military upbringing to the Wrangler, but it’s grown into being a plaything of the rich with a starting price of more than $100,000.

  • Toyota Tacoma
  • GMC Canyon
  • Chevrolet Colorado
  • Jeep Cherokee
  • Ford Ranger

Unique Specifications:

All versions of the Wrangler come with a 3.6-liter V6 engine, coupled to either a 6-speed manual gearbox or 8-speed automatic. Rear-wheel-drive is standard on most models, though many buyers will undoubtedly want the extra grip offered by the available all-wheel-drive.

The Rubicon is one of the highest trim levels, with a focus firmly on all-terrain prowess. We’ve already detailed the heavy-duty suspension upgrades and beefier tires that make up this fun-loving SUV. The bold exterior graphics leave onlookers in no doubt as to which version of the Wrangler you’re driving.  Our test vehicle came to $49,570, when fitted with options like an upgraded 8.4-inch infotainment system, steel front and rear bumper guards, an 8-speed automatic with hill descent control, and leather-trimmed seats.

Pricing and Availability:

The standard Rubicon 4×4 two-door carries a starting price of $36,995. Opting for the four-door Unlimited model, also with all-wheel-drive, raises the price to $40,995. Both models are available now. Coming soon is a pickup-based version of the Wrangler, which will blur the lines between an SUV and truck.  A 2.0-liter turbocharged model is also in the pipeline. This could offer even better low-end torque for going off-road, while bettering the fuel mileage offered by the current V6.