Read our review of the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with price, specs, on- and off-road performance, practicality, handling, safety and more.
The modern Jeep Wrangler owes its origins to the World War II Willys Jeep that saw military service across Europe and the Pacific. That vehicle was intended to be a lightweight and expendable battlefield run-around that birthed the modern 4X4.
Jeep has tried to stick with the formula, tweaking the engineering and creature comforts over the years. And this latest version of the Wrangler, the JL, is the best yet. We tested it in top-spec, off-road-oriented Rubicon trim and have now driven both the petrol and diesel variants; we compared the diesel Rubicon with the Ranger Raptor (read that comparison here).
It costs how much?
The Jeep JL Wrangler is available in a handful of variants with prices starting at $48,950+ORCs for the three-door Sport S. This climbs to $53,450+ORCs for the Unlimited Sport S, $59,450+ORCs for the Overland, $62,950+ORCs for the Unlimited Overland, $63,950+ORCs for our petrol-powered Rubicon and $68,950+ORCs for the diesel-powered Rubicon.
That’s a spread of around $20k, but if you’re looking to drive off-road then it’s the Rubicon pair that will be of most interest. So, what do you get for your coin? Quite a bit. LED headlights, climate control air-con with directional rear air vents, 17-inch alloys wrapped in 32-inch tyres, infotainment system with Apple and Android connectivity, and native sat-nav, keyless entry and start, removable second-row seats, front and rear diff locks, sway bar disconnect, and much more. Our test vehicle had the cost-optional Rubicon Luxury Package ($1500), which gives a leather interior, and the Trail Management System ($350), which is a set of rails in the boot with sliding tie-down points. The Sting Grey metallic paint on our test vehicle cost $745. Only Black and Bright White are free. So, all up we’re looking at sticker price, before on-road costs, of $66,545+ORCs.
What’s under the bonnet?
We’ve already tested the diesel-powered Wrangler Rubicon, and you can read about that one here. The petrol-powered Rubicon is cheaper out of the blocks and is carried over from the JK Wrangler. It’s a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 making 209kW at 6400rpm and 347Nm at 4100rpm. Like the diesel engine, the petrol gets an eight-speed automatic. The diesel Rubicon makes less power (147kW) but quite a bit more torque (450Nm).
Our week with the Rubicon saw us put it through its paces across the sort of terrain you’d be likely to drive it, including highway, around town, dirt roads, water, and up and down hills. We made sure to drive it across the same roads as the diesel-powered Rubicon we had a few weeks before so we could offer some qualified opinion. So, here goes.
Where the diesel engine felt puffed down low in the rev range with poor throttle response, the petrol feels the opposite, jumping off the line if you so much as look at the throttle. The Rubicon petrol’s nothing-and-then-everything throttle takes some getting used to manage the thing off the line without looking like a loon. Fortunately, once you’re driving at more than 40km/h, the Rubicon is a smooth operator with the transmission shifting slickly and the engine sounding good as it revs.
Despite its torque disadvantage, the petrol-powered Rubicon, when you’re on the road, doesn’t feel any less grunty than the diesel, with strong low-down performance. And it gets better as it revs, and that’s not something you can say about the diesel which starts to run out of puff when leaned on. In general driving, the difference is a lot closer, but my pick, because of its flexibility, is the petrol V6 engine.
Fuel consumption is usually the great leveller when it comes to petrol vs diesel where long distances and off-road driving is concerned. And our Rubicons were no different. The diesel we tested the other week returned a combined 9.3L/100km (against a claimed combined 7.5L/100km), while the petrol we tested returned 10.9L/100km (against a claimed combined 10.3L/100km). We measured this across the same distances with both vehicles filled at the same service station, albeit weeks apart and the petrol didn’t have quite as much weight in the back as the diesel had weeks before. Why the big jump in the diesel? Simply because you’ve got to lean harder on the throttle than you need to with the petrol-powered Rubicon.
What’s it like to drive?
There isn’t as much wind noise in the JL as in the JK, or maybe there is, but because the engine is so loud, you don’t notice it at lower speeds. Indeed, at 100km/h on the highway, the wind noise drowns out the engine and combines with the sound of the tyres to create a proper racket in the cabin.
Engineers can do amazing things with vehicles (think: Hyundai drift bus). But, with the Wrangler, its off-road capability plays against it on the road. Solid axles front and rear and soft, long-travel suspension don’t make for a corner carver, no matter how talented the engineers are. That said, the JL Wrangler is easily the best-to-drive on-road example of the breed if that’s not damning it with faint praise. If you’re feeling energetic and up for a challenge, it’s possible to hustle the Rubicon quite quickly in the dry, but it requires a lot of work, and it’s not overly pleasant. There’s a constant bobbling, and the slow steering requires regular attention to keep the thing in its lane; tip it into a corner, and it’s a case of hang on and hope for the best. But the grip, even on the muddies, is pretty good.
What’s it like off-road?
Jeep calls the JL Wrangler, the world’s most capable SUV but that would be the marketers talking. In their defence, almost no other 4X4, out of the box, is set up quite like the Wrangler Rubicon.
There are front and rear diff locks which can be locked in the combination of rear only and then front and rear, and a swaybar disconnect for improved articulation. Then there are standard-fit, 32-inch BFG mud-terrain tyres rather than the 33s the US market Wrangler gets. Why the difference? Jeep won’t say exactly (we asked a couple of times) but the fenders on Aussie-spec Wranglers are called low-riders which means there’s less clearance, which could have something to do with it. The Rubicon gets genuine rock sliders under the sills, and a 4.1:1 transfer case for a crawl ratio of 77.2:1 via Jeep’s, take a breath, Rock-Trac HD Full-Time 4WD system. So, how does this system work? The Rubicon can be driven in either two-wheel drive (rear-wheel drive) or in 4H Auto which, like Mitsubishi’s Super-Select II system offers all-wheel-drive on high-traction surfaces. That is an on-demand all-wheel-drive setting, meaning it’s rear-drive until slip is detected and drive is sent to the front axle. Then there’s 4H Part-Time which is a locked four-wheel drive setting as this locks the centre clutch (this is only for off-road use). And then, of course, there’s low-range.
Added together, the Wrangler Rubicon is extremely capable when the going becomes slow and lumpy. In fact, in rutted and lumpy terrain there’s almost nothing better than it. The soft, long-travel suspension and the sway bar disconnect meant the Rubicon could be walked up our rutted test hill nice and slowly keeping its wheels firmly in touch with the ground even with little weight on the front axle. And when it did run out of travel and lift a wheel, the brake-traction control did an excellent job of maintaining momentum.
Low-range first-gear in the Rubicon is almost, dare I say it, too low. Fortunately, you can manually select up to third-gear low range and drive off from stationary. But, in our experience, low-range is best left for really slow-going and tricky terrain only, with 4H Part-Time making for quicker and more comfortable driving across all but the most technical terrain.
Even with its claimed 252mm of ground clearance (we measured this and got closer to 249mm) the Wrangler Rubicon will eventually run out of clearance. While there are rock sliders capable of taking the weight of the vehicle and some underbody protection too, the steering arm and damper all hang low and we bumped them a couple of times on our hill climb. And the same goes for the belly, but at least there’s some underbody protection protecting things like the transmission, but a lift would help matters and improve on the 20.2-degree rampover number. Approach and departure are 34.8 and 29.2-degrees, respectively.
One area the Wrangler steps ahead of just about everything else on the market is with its hill descent control which can set down to only 1km/h which is nuts. And it works. You set the speed and let it do its thing. Some systems will let go once they detect a slight rise, but that’s not the case with the Wrangler’s hill-descent control. That said, so low is the low-range that you could, in most situations, ignore HDC and select low-range first-gear.
We all know the importance of tyres on a four-wheel drive, and the role they play in improving grip and the BF Goodrich mud-terrain tyres fitted to the Wrangler Rubicon as standard are excellent. Sure, they won’t be cheap to replace, and they’re noisy on-road but off-road they contribute towards making the Wrangler Rubicon even more capable.
Can you tow with it?
The Wrangler Rubicon has a maximum braked towing capacity of 2495kg with a maximum towball download of 250kg. But, like a lot of things the devil is in the detail. The petrol-powered Wrangler Rubicon weighs 1992kg, and its GVM is 2562kg (this is the maximum a fully loaded petrol Rubicon can weigh. The payload is 570kg (for the petrol-powered Rubicon) which isn’t amazing once you start adding people and gear, let alone permanent add-ons like driving lights, etc.
Back to towing. The Gross Combined Mass is 4808kg and, so, if you’re towing a trailer weighing 2495kg you’re left with 2313kg. Delete the kerb weight of the vehicle from that (1992kg), and you get a payload remainder of 321kg. Out of that number, you’ll need to subtract the towball download, leaving you with a little more than 100kg to spare. Realistically, you should be looking at towing a trailer weighing around two-thirds of the maximum braked towing capacity to ensure you’ve got payload left for people and gear.
What’s the interior like?
The dashboard sits flat and is dominated by the large 8.4-inch infotainment screen, chunky buttons, dials and switches; there are no switches on the doors because they can be removed. And all of the dials and switchgear are below your eye line and can be quite hard to read when you’re driving, requiring you to take your eyes off the road for longer than you should. The vehicle in these photos is the diesel-powered Rubicon we tested recently – our petrol-powered test vehicle was identical on the inside.
The starter button is tucked away next to the steering column, and there wasn’t a single person from the office who didn’t hit the Tone dial on the stereo to try and start the vehicle. And the window controls take a bit of getting used to, being mounted down on the centre stack instead of on the doors (for obvious reasons; they’re removable, remember); that they’re only auto-down and not back up is annoying.
Beyond the busy switch gear, there are a raft of Jeep-themed Easter eggs scattered around the cabin, from pictures of a Jeep on the windscreen, to the start-up screen that shows one driving across the instrument cluster and more besides.
If you’re a taller person, like me, you’ll find the Wrangler uncomfortable. There’s minimal legroom, and the transmission tunnel robs foot room for your left leg, meaning you’ve got to have it cocked up to avoid fouling the brake pedal. The handbrake is a bit of stretch as it’s been left over on the left-side of the vehicle (wasn’t swapped in the conversion to right-hand drive), and there’s not a lot of adjustment in the steering wheel either. Combined, it leaves the driver with a sense of being smushed up against the wheel and dashboard.
Over in the back seats, there’s good head, and legroom and the directional rear vents are a nicety that we all seem to expect these days, along with USB, USB-C outlets and 230V inverter plug. The storage pouches are all made from net, and so storage for things like bottles is limited. More than that, the middle seat is more of a perch than a position an adult would be happy to use for any length of time.
How practical is it?
We’ve explored towing and payload already, so, let’s look at storage. There’s 897 litres of storage space with the back seats in use which grows to 2055 litres when you drop down the 60:40 split-fold seats. There are two ISOFIX mounts on the outboard seats and three top tether anchors on the seatbacks.
The swing-out tailgate is a split affair with a swing-up glass panel and the swing-out door with the spare wheel attached. It’s a fiddly system to use in that you’ve got to remember to close the lift-up glass panel first, but it’s handy in that you can close the tailgate and still leave the glass panel open.
Jeep offers a five-year, 100,000km warranty with five-years capped price servicing. Service intervals are 12 months or 12,000km with capped price servicing for the petrol-powered Rubicon set at $299. By comparison, the diesel is priced at $499 per service.
What about safety systems?
Safety is where the argument for the Wrangler falls over. A one-star safety rating from both EuroNCAP and ANCAP here in Australia (based on European test data) is damning. Jeep Australia has said it’s expecting a local ANCAP test on the Wrangler but with the rules the way they are, it won’t be possible for the Wrangler to reach more than two or three stars. Indeed, after writing this review, ANCAP did release an updated rating for the Wrangler giving it 3 stars. Meaning, all Wrangler variants (MY20 – November 2019 onwards) carry a three-star rating but the ones before are stuck with a one-star rating.
The Wrangler Rubicon offers front and side airbags, low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking (now standard across the range), blind-spot monitoring (now standard across the range) and rear cross-traffic alerts, active cruise control, parking sensors, reversing camera, tyre-pressure monitoring system and the ability to be run four-wheel drive (auto) on high-traction surfaces.
So, what do we think?
If you want a new vehicle to race a mountain goat to the top of an, er, mountain, then the Wrangler Rubicon is the only way to go. No other 4X4 on the market is set up, right out of the box, to be as capable when the going is genuinely rough. However, it’s not perfect. It’s got an unsatisfactory safety rating, it can’t tow much or carry much, and it isn’t great to drive on the road. And, if you’re tall, the driver’s seat is a little cramped. But taken as the sum of its parts, the Wrangler Rubicon is a hoot and one of the only vehicles you could load up and tackle just about any track without too much drama.
2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (Petrol) Specifications
WARRANTY Five-years, 100,000km
SAFETY One-star ANCAP
ENGINE 3.6L V6 petrol
POWER 209kW at 6400rpm
TORQUE 347Nm at 4100rpm
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic
DRIVE Four-wheel drive (part-time)
DIMENSIONS 4882mm (L) 1894mm (W) 1848mm (H) 3008mm (WB)
ANGLES 34.8-degrees (approach) 29.2-degrees (departure) 20.8-degrees (ramp over)
GROUND CLEARANCE 252mm claimed
KERB WEIGHT 1992kg
TOWING 2495kg maximum braked
TOWBALL Download 250kg
FUEL TANK 81 litres
SPARE Full-size alloy rear mounted
THIRST 10.3L/100km (claimed combined); 10.9L/100km tested