A Jeep for Unlimited possibilities
Jeep is a four letter word that’s synonymous with outdoor fun and off-road ability. Ownership of the brand name has changed hands many times since the original war-time Willys design rooted itself in society.
After acquiring AMC some 20 years ago, Chrysler has been keeping the 64-year-old Jeep marque going strong through a series of careful refreshes. Like its predecessors YJ and TJ models, the current JK iteration, which was redesigned and released in 2007, remains true to the iconic image and capabilities of the very first Civilian Jeep Willys (CJ-2) of 1944.
The 2008 Jeep Wrangler is still easily one of the most recognizable vehicles in the world with the characteristic round headlights, seven-slot vertical grille, squarish body and flared fenders still in tact. Trim levels for 2008 are X, Sahara and Rubicon for the 95.4-in. short wheelbase two-door models, starting at $19,995. Four-door 116-in. Long wheelbase “Unlimited” four-door models start at $25,495 (for the X). All versions get a 3.8-litre SMPI V6 (producing 202 hp and 237 lb.-ft. of torque), four-wheel drive system and six-speed manual transmission.
Fog lights and tow hooks integrated in the front bumper, and a convertible soft top are standard on all models. The top-line 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4 I’m writing about, however, starts at $30,595. Highlights on this vehicle include the power convenience group, which brings power windows and remote door locks to the Wrangler for the first time, and the three-panel freedom hard top.
Rubicon models come with massive 255/75 series BFGoodrich Mud Terrain off-road tires over 17-inch wheels that increase ruggedness and traction over harrowing terrain thanks to the Rock-Trac NV241 (4HI/4LO) part-time, shift-on-the-fly transfer case that’s shielded by a large skid plate. With more than 10 inches of ground clearance, a trail-rated five-link suspension with Dana live solid axles, Tru-Lock front and rear differentials, traction and stability control systems, plus a disconnecting front sway bar system, the Rubicon is Jeep’s most capable explorer.
It’s too bad I was only able to drive it on paved roads. Similar to how the Subaru WRX STI is a road-legal version of a WRC rally car, the Rubicon is essentially a rock-crawling back-country machine built for the streets. That said, it is not for everyone and those knobby, mud-hungry tires are neither the quietest nor stickiest tires for paved roads, but they can get the job done if a second set of more tarmac-friendly tires is not an option. Not that the 4.46 first gear ratio will let you tear away from any stop light; the Rubicon drives more like a truck than a SUV. In fact, gearing is certainly tilted toward power and torque than it is speed and acceleration. And, I wouldn’t have it any other way in the Rubicon, extended wheelbase or otherwise.
So, instead of the traditional Easter morning egg hunt this year, I found myself scouring the local countryside alone for a mud pit or cottage trail to put this “Trail Rated” beast through its paces. There’s a restaurant in my neighbourhood called the Rubicon Grill and the owner is quite a Jeep nut. During the warmer months their parking lot is often overflowing with dozens of examples of hopped-up Renegades, Saharas and Rubicons back from a day of trail driving and with fresh coats of caked-on mud as proof. It’s a meeting place where Jeep owners talk shop and swap stories over some wings and beer.
My plan was to get this vehicle as dirty as possible, take some pictures and then stop in to kick-start the après-driving festivities with the locals. Unfortunately, with so much melting snow and ice soaking the ground in my region there were few spots I came across that didn’t evoke images of me getting completely stuck in deep pits of Ontario mud that flourish every spring. Trail veterans call it the brown gold, but the thought of me venturing out into the middle of a construction site without a tow vehicle or a winch (an absolute must for serious off-roading adventures) and not being able to get out has prompted me to revisit the idea at a later date.
The day wasn’t a total loss, however, and I ended up spending the afternoon driving some of the most challenging roads I know of in Halton Hills and Caledon. I managed to get 15.5 L/100 km, which is not bad fuel economy for a vehicle weighing 4,200 pounds (1,900 kg). Now, like those Rubicon Grill regulars, I too yearn for warmer, sunnier weather to strip off the doors and go topless; and, a chance to experience the charismatic 4×4 Rubicon’s legendary off-road performance first hand. Keep visiting our blog for such posts!