Nothing’s Shocking: The Most Capable Ever Wrangler Soldiers On
How do you review an icon? The Jeep Wrangler has been with us in one form or another for 75 years. Military duty, postal service, rock hopping, mud womping, vacation rental—you name it, Jeep‘s original 4×4 has literally put the U in SUV. Everyone’s seen one, and like the original Volkswagen Beetle, odds are good that most people have a Jeep story. With that in mind, the test vehicle in question is the Hard Rock limited edition version of the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, which adds a bell and a whistle or two over the standard truck. But what’s left to say? Especially about the JK Wrangler, the current going-to-be-replaced-by-an-all-new-version-in-2018 model that’s been in production since 2006? Here’s a hint: Nothing you’re about to read will shock you. But it might just convince you to go on ahead and pull the trigger on a purchase that you’ve been meaning to make for years. Deep down, on some level, what red-blooded American doesn’t want a Jeep?
The Wrangler Rubicon is already as capable as any SUV on the market, but the Hard Rock version does add some spice to the mix, as well as $4,800 USD to the base price. We’ve seen many of the Hard Rock’s changes before on the Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition, and we’re happy to see them return. Visually speaking, the biggest change over the standard Rubi is the steel front bumper. Featuring removable end caps, red tow hooks, and integrated foglights, the winch-ready metal bumper saves you from turning to the aftermarket when you come to the same conclusion most Jeepers eventually arrive at: Plastic bumpers are for crossovers. The Hard Rock also comes with a Power Dome hood. Essentially air vents, the new hood does look pretty good. Most useful of all the exterior changes are without question the standard sill-mounted rock rails (from the 10th Anniversary SUV), which quite literally allow you to slide on rocks. Also, there’s a single red tow hook out back that seems to absorb 86 percent of all off-road damage. So be it.
Inside, the seat heaters are the big news. Not something I normally crow about here in Southern California. However, when faced with a couple of frosty, single-digit mornings in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, this past winter, I realized the butt warmers are worth every penny. Especially when you only have the soft top in place. Brrr. Those heaters are buried under Hard Rock-specific leather-trimmed seats. The steering wheel is also leather, though it remains unheated. Other than that, there’s some silver trim, and that’s about it. What the Wrangler really needs is FCA’s big, simple navigation screen. Jeeps should have big, legible, useful maps, no? Again, a new Wrangler is coming.
On our test track, well, a Jeep’s still a Jeep. The Wrangler gained the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 back in 2012, and both horsepower and torque have remained unchanged since then: 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. This Hard Rock edition is the quickest Pentastar-powered Wrangler we’ve ever tested; it jogs to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and achieves the quarter mile in 16.3 at 82.5 mph (133 km/h). That bests the previous times of 8.4 seconds and 16.4 seconds at 82 mph (132 km/h), curiously, until you look at the curb weight—4,600 pounds (2,086 kg), making this Unlimited the lightest four-door Pentastar Wrangler we’ve ever weighed by 72 pounds (33 kg). This is also the slowest Unlimited Wrangler we’ve ever run around our figure-eight course at 31.1 seconds. Compare that to 30.8 for the next least fleet. As for braking, 138 feet from 60 mph is the longest we’ve ever recorded for a four-door Wrangler. Next worst would be 135 feet. For some perspective, a modern sedan needs about 110-115 feet to do the same. Keep your eyes up. Miles per gallon is rated at 16/21 (14.7/11.2 L/100km) city/highway, but anecdotally on a 2,000-mile (3,219 km) trip to northeastern Colorado and back, we saw about 13 mpg (18.1 L/100km). The Wrangler still uses a very old-school five-speed automatic. 2018 should see the introduction of an eight- or nine-speed auto. And yes, a six-speed manual is and still will be available.
None of that is why you buy any Wrangler, let alone the Rubicon Hard Rock. Moab, Utah, on the other hand, is. Which is precisely why we swung by, to go bash all the fancy off-road bits on some big, red rocks. If the Rubicon Trail is the Wrangler’s spiritual home, Moab is where it attends mass. Jeep has helped fuel this fire by supporting the annual Moab Easter Jeep Safari. Because the Rubicon Trail is for all intents and purposes a double black diamond these days, Moab has become the go-to spot for off-roaders of all skill levels. We chose the Poison Spider Trail, a moderately difficult route that requires a transfer case and four-wheel drive without too many “sorry we flipped your Jeep over on its side, Jeep” phone calls.
The Hard Rock tackled the trail, no problem at all. Aside from the Rubicon’s Rock-Trac 4×4 system with its 46.6:1 crawl ratio in first gear low (the manual Rubicon puts along at a slothlike 73.1:1), Rubis also get Dana 44 axles with electronic lockers front and rear, plus an electronically detachable front anti-roll bar for better off-road suspension articulation. Although the lockers and the trick anti-roll bar allow the Rubicon to run its namesake trail, we didn’t need all that fancy jazz on Poison Spider. For fun we detached the end caps from the front bumper, but again the Hard Rock is so stout, so mechanically capable, so damn good on rocks and dirt that the electronic trickery simply wasn’t needed. In a way, that’s the problem with testing Wranglers, especially the Rubicon versions. If your vehicle is quite literally designed to tackle the most difficult trail rating there is, what is there to discover? The answer is scenery. Acres upon countless acres of breathtaking, conscious-altering scenery. Moab, and really the overwhelming majority of Utah, is psyche-shatteringly gorgeous. See as much of it as you can before you have to get off this earth. Is there a better way to accomplish that than in a Hard Rock Rubicon? Not with the top down, there isn’t.
|2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$45,330|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.6L/285-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,600 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.9 x 73.7 x 72.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.3 sec @ 82.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||138 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.59 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||31.1 sec @ 0.49 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||16/20/18 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||211/169 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.10 lb/mile|