If there's any name synonymous with four-wheel-drive capability, it's Jeep. And if there's any question about which Jeep is the most capable player on the team, there shouldn't be. The Wrangler has long been the ultimate hard-core off-road choice for anyone who needs a trail hero fresh off the lot.
We ordered a short-wheelbase Wrangler Rubicon for this ultimate test because of Jeep's credentials. The Rubicon package comes with a Rock-Trac transfer case with the same NV241 low-range ratio gearing as the Hummer H3. The 4:1 low-range gear in the transfer case allows the vehicle to offer a 47:1 crawl ratio (first gear x axle ratio x low range), which gives the vehicle amazing tire-grabbing control. The part-time four-wheel-drive system uses an electronic stability program (ESP) that can be completely turned off when in low range by depressing the ESP button for five full seconds (it signals you with a beep). Add to this the fact that the Rubicon package has front and rear locking differentials to provide equal tractive force to each tire. A single button allows the driver to engage the rear locker first, then the front locker if needed.
Furthermore, there is also a front swaybar disconnect switch that relaxes the three-piece steel swaybar to give the front suspension almost 20-percent more flex to navigate over rocky or uneven terrain. Additionally, Jeep's Rubicon package uses BFG Mud Terrain T/As, possibly the most aggressive tread available on any factory vehicle. Ultimate low-traction treads, combined with ultimate low-traction mechanicals make the Rubicon package an almost unbeatable team; however, if there is a weak point, it's in the 3.8L cast-iron V-6. The engine only puts out 202 hp and 237 lb-ft of torque, but it feels like its even less than that, even with 4.10:1 ring and pinion gears. Although clearly not designed for pavement racing, a 0-to-60 time of almost 9.8 sec puts the Jeep Rubicon right on top of a Toyota Prius.
Sure, approach and departure angles are more than 40 degrees both ways (much better than a Prius), but, come on—a vehicle that only weighs a tick over 4000 lb and has a new V-6 shouldn't feel like a four-banger. Anyway, back to its strengths. Thankfully, Jeep's basic undercarriage is basically the same as it's been for 30 years (ladder frame, live axles, mechanical lockers, and OHV valvetrain), meaning if any type of mechanical or engine problems occur, you have a much better chance of making a fix and getting out than with one of those computer-controlled, SOHC, unibody, and complex independent suspension vehicles. We opted for the shorter wheelbase version for the better breakover angles and (slightly) better power-to-weight ratio. Base model Rubicons start at $27,000, with our dual-top convertible version with the navigation system topping out just past $32,000. See how the Jeep finished our Torture Test when the full story comes out.