Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: Review
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The Wrangler's Off-road credentials, especially in the Rubicon trim, stand undisputed. But can this off-road icon also be a capable urban lifestyle SUV?
The Wrangler has been in India for a while, but it was in March this year when Jeep began local assembly. And thanks to that, the Wrangler Rubicon now costs an incredible Rs 11.04 lakh less than the imported version. This, of course, garnered attention from luxury SUV buyers in the market. With a price tag of Rs 59.15 lakh and unmistakable road presence, the Wrangler suddenly seems lucrative to anyone considering luxury SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLC or the BMW X3.
While the Merc and BMW are conventional road-focused luxury SUVs that intend on pampering you, the Wrangler still is an off-road-focused SUV with tricks like the ability to remove doors and roof and wade confidently through Mumbai floods. But can the Wrangler Rubicon also be city-friendly to enjoy living with?
Many SUVs these days try to stand out from the crowd by featuring smoother shapes and design elements like fancy lighting. However, the Wrangler, by staying true to its iconic boxy shape and large dimensions, needs none of that. The seven-slat grille, protruding bumper, and round headlamps are synonymous with the Wrangler name. Plus, the Rubicon, compared to the Unlimited variant, gets an even longer bumper and the 'Rubicon' lettering on the bonnet to add to its road presence. Look directly at it, and the large dimensions make the front look intimidating. In traffic, it looks like it is standing over the other cars, and no one will mistake it for an…M&M.
Move along the side, and the size of the Wrangler really starts becoming evident. The long length and wheelbase combined with the squared-off design make the proportions look right. Unlike the 'Unlimited' (where all the cladding and the roof are body-coloured), the Rubicon has them in black, which helps it look more robust. The alloys are an inch smaller here - 255/75 R17 -- but are finished in a black dual-tone, which adds to the look. And, of course, you get all-terrain tyres as standard with the Rubicon, making its off-road intent clear. And it's because of this that you do not get side steps here to improve clearance.
Now, to the back. There's a large spare, and the boot gate -- flanked by rectangular LED taillamps -- opens sideways. The glass opens upwards once the tailgate is open to access the boot. The rear camera is nicely integrated into the spare wheel with its own housing, and this looks neat.
People turn and stare at it despite it being in the market for a while, and it's this sense of occasion that you won't get in any other luxury SUV. No matter what company the Wrangler has in the parking lot or on the road, it will easily stand out and get you noticed.
Getting in the Wrangler Rubicon can be a bit of a task without the side steps. And while the more physically fit will enjoy this element, the not-so-fit will see it as an unnecessary hurdle. At least they have sturdy grab handles to help them in, and the front passenger also has a grab handle on the dashboard to hold on to. Just saying, the door-shut sound is very satisfying.
The dashboard layout is as functional as aesthetically done. The highlight here is the ergonomics and the solid build quality. The layout is clean, and the quality of the switches is quite good. While this is far from a traditional luxury cabin, you won't be complaining about it either. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is nice to hold and gets red contrast stitching, silver accents, and the big 'Jeep' logo, making it feel apt for a Rs 70 lakh SUV. The steering can be adjusted for reach and height, and the driver's seat is also height-adjustable with lumbar support. Not that you'd want it raised as you already sit pretty tall. All these controls are manual.
The seats are wrapped in black leatherette with red stitching and the 'Rubicon' badging. The gear shifter is a chunky lever with the iconic 'CJ Jeep' icon on it, and next to it is the 4x4 lever to go into the advanced off-road modes, which we will discuss a little later. You can elevate the sense of occasion by removing the roof, which can be unmounted easily by moving just a few clamps. Then, the two-portion roof can easily be stored in the boot. This gives the Wrangler the ability to turn topless in a matter of minutes. And because the interiors are water-resistant and the floors washable, a drizzle won't dampen your spirits. And for the more adventurous lot, you can fold the windscreen as well.
The instrument cluster is a blend of modern and conventional, much like the rest of the SUV. It consists of two analogue dials with a 7-inch colour display in the middle. It has all the information you need like vehicle details, off-road elements like pitch and row angle, TPMs, and audio and call information. Toggling through the information is fairly easy as well.
The dashboard, with a raft of switches, seems like a geek's delight. While luxury SUVs nowadays try to go for a minimalistic layout, this Jeep is still true to the functionality it offers. And honestly, the aesthetics fit it just right. Sitting on top is an 8.4-inch touchscreen housed in a tough cladding. It works fluently, and the display is bright enough for sunny days. It features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity (not wireless), and is paired with a good music system.
Then come the climate control switches, and below are the connectivity options and power window controls. The Wrangler gives you the option of a normal USB and a type-C power along with a 12V socket up front. However, below these finished in red are the party switches - the off-road buttons. These control the differential locks and sway bars, exclusive to the Rubicon. The design is busy yet functional, making the switches easy to use while on the move. In the international variant, you even get auxiliary controls for light and winches. However, they have been skipped for India, leaving space for a nice key holder.
Other features in the cabin include dual-zone climate control, push-button start with keyless entry, auto-dimming IRVM, auto headlamps, cruise control, and steering-mounted controls. Cabin practicality is a mixed bag, really, with a large armrest pocket, two cup holders, and a decent-sized glove box. However, all door pockets are nets that can hold large bottles but need to be placed right, or they'll be hard to access while you're driving.
Almost the entire centre seat folds down for the rear passengers to make for a comfortable armrest, while the headrest makes for cup holders. While keeping items in the door nets can be tricky, there is no shortage of storage space in the cabin. For charging, the Jeep offers a 12V socket, a USB, and a Type C port up front. For the rear passengers, there are two USBs, two Type Cs, and a proper 220V laptop charger.
An area where the Wrangler will let you down, though, is the rear seat experience. The seat base is short, which reduces under-thigh support. The upright backrest angle and little knee and legroom only make the experience less than ideal. While you won't feel cramped for space, it certainly is not a luxurious experience. Even the windows are small, and visibility is average at best.
The cabin is wide enough to seat three at the back, however, the overall rear-seat space remains limited. Also, while rear AC vents keep you cool, the roof in summers does start to radiate heat as there is no inner liner, which makes the cabin hot. Overall, the rear seats are best for short city trips. On longer rides, you will start to miss the luxurious German SUVs.
The boot space of the Wrangler hasn't been compromised. The 897-litre boot is well-shaped and can take up the entire family's luggage. Fold the rear seats, and it makes space for a mattress on which you can easily spend the night. The boot opens in two parts - first the gate and then the glass. But the good thing here is that the door remains open even when the SUV is tilting the other way with the help of a simple mechanical linkage.
The Jeep Wrangler is available in two variants in India: Wrangler Unlimited and Wrangler Rubicon. The former is priced at Rs 53.90 lakh, and the latter at Rs 57.90 lakh, ex-showroom.
The Jeep Wrangler has scored 1 star in the Euro NCAP crash test, and that is its Achilles heel when it comes to being a proper family SUV. For features, you get electronic stability control, hill start assist, electronic roll mitigation, four airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, rear camera, and parking sensors.
Engine and performance
Ever since the Jeep Wrangler began being assembled in India, it has been provided only with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine making 268PS and 400Nm. Numbers apart, it's the way the engine delivers the power which is the most impressive. The refined unit offers excellent initial acceleration, making it feel effortless. And thanks to the precise throttle response, which isn't too sharp or jerky, keeping up with bumper-to-bumper traffic or going for gaps feels like a breeze. In fact, it feels as relaxed to drive in the city as many other urban SUVs. It's only when you go heavy on it that the Wrangler takes off.
Hit full throttle, and the weight transfer to the back adds to the drama. The acceleration is not just quick but entertaining too. The 0-100kmph sprint just takes 8.16s, which is reasonably quick for an SUV of its size and shape. The acceleration remains strong, with 0-150kmph coming up in 18.67s, and then the Wrangler hits its limited top speed of 155kmph pretty quickly. However, you should not try this speed or cruise over 120kmph, for that matter. Why? That has been explained in the next segment.
The transmission is also to thank here. The 8-speed unit is quick to shift, and the logic keeps the drive relaxed. The downshifts are fast when you want a sudden burst of power for overtakes and then get into the relaxed mode again. Even while cruising on highways, 100kmph rests at just 1750rpm, with the cabin remaining calm. Well, except for the minor wind buffeting noise (that increases exponentially from here) and the tyre noise from the knobbies.
While we did not do a full efficiency test on the Wrangler, the efficiency figures on the MID were not encouraging. Even while driving calmly in the city and cruising at 100kmph on the highway, the efficiency was just close to 6kmpl and around 10kmpl, respectively.
Ride and handling
The view from the driver's seat is of pure dominance. You sit over most other SUVs on the road, and the visibility all around is excellent. And this is why, despite the large dimension, it's effortless to place, park or drive the Wrangler even on a crowded road. Once you get used to it, the Wrangler lets you forget the size and makes driving even in heavy traffic a breezy affair. The light steering just adds to the ease of driving.
Off-road-focused SUVs tend to have a harsher ride on the tarmac, and that is because the suspension is tuned to withstand large rocks and ditches and not puny road undulations. While the Wrangler's ride quality is also firm compared to the urban SUV, it's not as harsh as you might think. On average road surfaces, it remains stable, and while there is a bit of cabin movement, it is not severe. Over speed breakers, you feel the level changes more prominently, but again, the suspension does a good job of eliminating harshness. While you would be a lot better isolated from the surface inside a traditional luxury SUV, the Wrangler will manage to cushion you just right. However, the rear passengers do feel more movement than the ones seated at the front.
One thing that the Wrangler is not good at is high-speed stability and corners. Beyond 120kmph, the cabin movement over not-so-well-paved highways can become a bit unnerving. And it's there you realise why the top speed is limited to just 155kmph despite the potent engine. Also, the off-road-focused suspension means there is a fair amount of body roll. Combined with the all-terrain tyres, taking spirited corners is not something the Wrangler encourages you to do.
While our review was focused on testing the Wrangler's urban capabilities, we could not resist taking the less-beaten path and making some mischief. And honestly, the Rubicon feels like a cheat code. All we had to do was to put it into 4-wheel Drive Auto, and the Wrangler became unstoppable for the light trails. It goes over rocks, ditches, bushes, and undulation like they aren't even there. The knobby tyres dig into the ground, and the Wrangler just starts to climb inclines without breaking a sweat. And this wasn't even in 4-wheel Low!
All this while still having a lot more capacity in reserve. The Rubicon, of course, gets the advanced AWD system with independently locking (front and rear) differentials and electronic sway-bar disconnect. While even the campers might hardly ever need these features, the confidence they give to approach any terrain head-on is incredible.
The Jeep Wrangler no longer has a singular personality. While it is still far from being a proper family SUV or the only car in your garage, there is a lot to like about it -- things that make a great case for it to be the second SUV in your garage. In this generation, while it has evolved to be even more suited for off-roading, its on-road manners might have also taken a bigger leap forward. It remains comfortable on the road for fun city drives, the powertrain is refined, highway cruising is better, and the features along with cabin quality won't make you miss the luxury SUVs. And then comes the road presence and tricks (like the removable roof), which make for a rather entertaining second car. All of these combined, the Wrangler is the perfect SUV for weekend drives and family dinners.
However, it can never be as polished as a traditional luxury SUV in its ride comfort, ingress-egress, second-row comfort, or driving manners, for that matter. And the difference in these aspects isn't small. Hence, for long road trips or regular use, it's the passengers who will start to complain much before the driver does. In a nutshell, at Rs 59.15 lakh, the Wrangler Rubicon does have the potential to become your favourite second SUV, and you will look to find more reasons to drive it more often.