How far the Wrangler has come, yet how close to its roots it still remains. Need a translation? Kelly Blue Book has awarded the 2014 Wrangler the U.S. vehicle with the highest resale value. It is number 3 in resale value among all vehicles. Wrangler production and sales have never been higher – the Toledo Jeep plant that produces the Wrangler is humming 24 hours a day which is 3 full 8 hour shifts yet Jeep still can’t meet the demand. This past May (2013), total 2007-2013 (JK platform) Wrangler production hit the 1,000,000 production total mark. In comparison the first model year (1987) Wrangler production was 45,053 units and 2014 model year production is expected to be 5 times that figure. People have been running away from traditional SUVs in mass the last few years, but the Wrangler is hotter than ever. It’s the most recognizable vehicle on the road. And it is undeniably the number 1 vehicle on the road that remains closest to its roots. It may have modern conveniences and even a civilized ride but its overall look dates back to the first 1941 Willys Jeep which was also produced in Toledo Ohio. Jeep has had many owners but its essence has remained pure to its mission. The Jeep CJ and its replacement the Wrangler, have always been the most capable off-road vehicles that could be purchased right off a new car dealership showroom floor.
The Wrangler is now in its third generation, the JK platform which was introduced first for the 2007 model year, for 2014 is basically unchanged. With sales hotter than ever, what incentive does Jeep have with tinkering with the Wrangler? The original 1987-1995 YJ platform Wrangler and 1997-2005 TJ platform both had long runs. Jeep buyers like it this way, they tend to adapt to change as well as Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man. This is why Jeep has been careful to evolve the Wrangler and not revolutionize it. The strategy has worked brilliantly not only by keeping traditional Jeep buyers happy but also luring new buyers into the Jeep family who like the Wrangler’s traditional looks and its rugged nature and all its available comfort and convenience options. A quick rewind back to 1987 and the Wrangler seemed like a Cadillac compared to the previous CJ it replaced. It had a modern dash layout and comfortable seats. However by 1987 standards the new Wrangler was really roughing it. After-all most Wranglers didn’t have air conditioning back then and no interior power options. And if you did have a factory radio (even with the cassette player option) it was equipped with only 2 speakers. Less than 7 percent of 1987 Wranglers were equipped with air conditioning. And most were equipped with a massive stick shift that had a small rubber boot separating it from the carpeted floor. Very few 1987 Wranglers had the optional 3-speed automatic transmission.
Fast forward to the current 2014 model year, and how have things changed. There are now three distinct trim levels – the Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon – all of which are available in either 2-door or 4-door (Unlimited) form. Back in 1987 there was just the Wrangler and Wrangler Laredo. For 2014 the most rugged and capable Wrangler and the highest price trim level is the Rubicon. The Rubicon was first introduced in 2003 as a the ultimate off-road Wrangler model, has evolved into a popular status symbol. For 2014, Jeep takes the Rubicon to new levels with the Rubicon X which is a Rubicon with the $4,100 (24J) X Package. The X Package is available in both 4-door (Unlimited) and 2-door Rubicon models. The X Package is essentially the carryover from 2013 of the 10th Anniversary Rubicon edition which is referred to as the 10A package. The 10A package for 2013 was only available in 4 colors, the X package is available in all eight 2014 Wrangler exterior colors.
Only about 30 percent of new Wrangler sales are 2-door models, most buyers who want loads of options usually go with the Unlimited. 2-door Wrangler buyers tend to be younger and less likely to splurge on the costly $4,100 X Package option. For this article we’ll focus on the Unlimited equipped with the X Package model since this will be what most X buyers will opt for. The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon has a base price of $34,695. This includes a lot of standard equipment such as air conditioning, auto dimming rear view mirror, digital temperature and compass gauge, power windows, power door locks, tilt steering, a security alarm, 4-wheel disc brakes, and many more items too numerous to mention. You add just the X Package and you’re still under $40,000. However if you check off all the options well your looking at slightly over $47,000 4-door SUV. That’s touching the price territory of Jeep’s luxury flagship the Grand Cherokee Summit which presents a big dilemma for buyers. Paying a little over $47,000 for a loaded Grand Cherokee seems more rational than splurging on a loaded Wrangler Unlimited. However the Wrangler has spent its entire life bucking normal trends and forging its own path. And for those that love the rugged boxy shape and rock crawling capability, even at just over $47,000, a loaded Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon X is still worth every penny.
On the exterior the X Package is standard with front and rear steel bumpers. The front bumper has a metal plate that can be easily removed for the installation of an aftermarket winch. The front bumper which has two round fog lights, has bumper ends that can be removed in 5 minutes to allow the area in front of both front tires to be wide open – a great feature for crawling rocks or heavy trail riding. Standard there’s a tough looking muscle car style power doom hood with twin black air inlets. On each side of the hood are gloss black (outlined in red) "RUBICON" decals. A set of attractive gloss black 17 x 7.5 inch wheels with LT255/75R17 heavy duty BF Goodrich Mud Terrain (black wall) tires, are standard with the package – the wheels alone are worth the price of the X Package (much better than the mineral grey colored wheels of the same shape on the regular Rubicon). Two front and two rear red colored towing hooks are standard – all other Wranglers have one single rear and two front towing hooks (all of which are black colored). The X also has a red "Trail Rated" badge located on the driver’s side front quarter panel. Also standard are Mopar’s rock rails with tubular side steps and a flat black fuel filler door.
The Unlimited Rubicon X just like the standard Unlimited Rubicon comes standard with flat black colored fender flares and a black colored soft top. For those who want the optional 3-piece Freedom Top hardtop there are two color choices – black or body color. Though many Rubicon purists prefer the black fender flares and hardtop, opting for the $295 body color fender flares and the body color Freedom Top gives the Rubicon X a nice touch of class – in fact it makes the X Package Unlimited Rubicon look as upscale as the $115,000 Mercedes G55 AMG which is the ultimate Hollywood status symbol. However the body color hardtop comes at a pricey $1,000 over the price of the black colored hardtop. And for those who want both the Freedom Top hardtop and a soft top, the Dual Top option is a good buy at $1,785. With this option the soft top is attached to the rear interior roll bars enclosed in factory wrapping. The extra rail hardware along with the soft side and rear windows are included in two factory sealed cardboard boxes. However be forewarned Jeep recommends the removal of the soft top or its installation (buyer preference) soon after purchase. If the soft top is installed the hardtop must be removed. Most will want to remove the soft top to recover the Unlimited Rubicon X’s large cargo space which rivals that of the Grand Cherokee. Jeep has been offering the Dual Top option on the Wrangler since 1997 but unfortunately still hasn’t figured out a way to allow the owner to removet the soft top without removing the hardtop temporarily. Perhaps on the next generation version of the Wrangler this big oversight will finally be corrected.
Though the exterior remains true to Jeep’s roots as previously mentioned, the interior is a totally different story. The Rubicon X’s interior can be equipped with almost as much bling as a luxury car. The X Package is standard with leather seating surfaces and the front seats are heated. The X unlike the 10A package from the previous year is only available with black leather seats, the ultra chic red leather seats are no longer available. Attractive silver interior accents are also standard with the X. A set of front and rear rubber slush mats are standard too. The X gets a sophisticated vehicle digital information center and bluetooth connectivity group with buttons on the sharp looking leather wrapped steering wheel. The standard satellite radio with rear subwoofer provides concert quality sound. However it’s worth it to upgrade the head unit to either the 430N or 730N CD/DVD/MP3/HDD unit. The 730N isn’t cheap with a hefty $1,570 price tag. Opting for the 430N or for the 730N is really a matter of preference. Both systems do a great job and offer many features. The 430N saves the buyer around $500 versus the 730N and for the budget conscious buyer, it’s the smart choice. However the 730N allows voice command navigation (not available on the 430N) and uses Navteq navigation software. The 430N uses Garmin navigation software and displays the speed limits for most roads (the 730N doesn’t have this helpful feature). Some prefer the look of the Garmin versus the Navteq display however the Navteq seems to do a better job of pinpointing your exact destination when you reach it and stops tracking while the Garmin gets confused in some cases after the destination is reached. One must have option, is the automatic climate control system for a mere $195 it’s a great bargain. A remote start system is a $495 option which is a sign of the Wrangler’s move up the luxury ladder.
When in the interior, most drivers will find the seating position is far superior to most SUVs. You have a flat easy to see out windshield – steeply racked windshields especially on SUVs are one of the worst SUV innovations in the last 20 years. You sit up high, with the Unlimited Rubicon X – you don’t fear the big 18-wheel tractor trailer in the next highway lane. For some reason it seems a lot smaller. And the Wrangler feels taller than most vehicles on the road. However the Rubicon X is very easy to park. A 16 year old with a week old license can park it between the yellow lines in a standard mall parking lot. Not to mention the tight turning radius makes the Unlimited Rubicon X easy to snake into tight city parallel parking spots even with the Rubicon X’s tough suspension with heavy duty Tru-Lok front and rear axles. And Jeep makes standard the heavy duty (Next Generation) Dana 44 axles in both the front and the rear on all Rubicons. There’s a automatic front sway bar removal/attach dash button and a button to lock/unlock the front and rear axles on all Rubicons – on the X these buttons are bright red. Even though the Rubicon X’s suspension and tires are as heavy duty as you are going to find on a production SUV, surprisingly the ride quality is very good even at highway speeds – so much so very few would have any issues taking one on a long trip. The heavy duty tires are quiet at highway speeds unlike those found on the first TJ platform Rubicon models which tended to sing at speeds over 40 mph.
Like all Wrangler models the Rubicon X is standard with the DOHC 3.6 liter V6 engine. This wonderful motor has been on Ward’s 10 best list for the last few years. It has 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Rewind back to 1987 and the best engine available on the Wrangler was the 2-bbl 4.2 liter inline-6 which produced 112 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. Back then the Wrangler was considered zippy. The 4,500-lb Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon X with the modern 3.6 liter bolts from 0-60 mph in very quick 7.7 seconds. The V6 with its generous helpings of horsepower and fantastic torque curve feels more like a V8. However well this V6 moves the Unlimited Rubicon X, one can’t help but wonder how much fun it would be if the 2014 Grand Cherokee’s 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque 5.7 Hemi V8 was on the option list. Pulling out the tape measure in the Rubicon X’s engine bay confirms the space is there but those darn Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards ensure that a Hemi V8 will never see its way into a production Wrangler. However AEV will do this transplant for you – you can chose from the the 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque 6.4 liter Hemi V8 or the 360 horsepower 390 lb-ft of torque 5.7 liter Hemi V8.
The Unlimited Rubicon X is standard with a smooth shifting 6-speed manual transmission. Most buyers however will opt for the $1,295 5-speed automatic transmission which is by far the most popular Wrangler transmission – oh how things have changed. The Unlimited Rubicon X equipped with the automatic transmission has a standard 3.73 rear axle ratio, optional is a 4.10. With the 6-speed manual transmission a 4.10 rear axle ratio is standard. Even with these low gear ratios, big factory off-road tires, and heavy duty 4×4 hardware the Unlimited Rubicon X still manages an EPA certified EPA city mpg rating of 16 and a highway rating of 20.
In an era when most cars and SUVs look the same, the Wrangler is a breath of fresh air. For Wrangler buyers who want not only the best and most capable off-road Wrangler along with the ultimate status symbol Wrangler, the 2014 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon X is the perfect Off-Road Wrangler.
Written contents in this article – © 2013 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved