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The 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Rubicon Has Plenty of Old-School Swagger

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 9/13/2018 Joe Lorio

What It Is: The redesigned JL-series Jeep Wrangler in its dimensionally maximized Unlimited (four-door) body style and off-road-optimized Rubicon trim. Backing the standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 in this test truck is the new eight-speed automatic transmission.

For even deeper coverage of the Wrangler, view our Buyer’s Guide in-depth review.

Why We Tested It and How It Performed: We've previously tested the four-door Rubicon with the standard six-speed manual as well as the Sahara trim level with the V-6/automatic combo, but this is our first test of the Rubicon with the automatic. There are four-cylinder versions, too, and also an upcoming diesel, none of which we’ve tested in Rubicon guise yet.

a truck is parked in front of a house© Bradley Fick - Car and Driver

Shedding pounds was one goal of the Wrangler redesign, but this maxed-out version crushed the scales to the tune of 4629 pounds. That's 50 pounds heavier than the manual Rubicon and 80 pounds more than the Sahara automatic. More surprising, it's also 121 pounds porkier than a JK Rubicon Unlimited we tested back in 2012.

Although the automatic has the benefit of two extra gears compared with the manual, that made almost no difference at the track, where this Rubicon ambled to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds (exactly the same time as its manual counterpart) and through the quarter-mile in 15.9 seconds at 87 mph (versus 15.9 seconds and 85 mph for the manual). It also wasn't much different from the previous-gen Rubicon with a five-speed automatic, which hit 60 in 7.6 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 16.1 at 85 mph. Without as much hard-core off-road gear, the Sahara with this same powertrain was 0.7 second quicker to 60 and through the quarter.

There also wasn't much daylight between the two Rubicons on the skidpad, with the automatic pulling 0.68 g to the manual's 0.69, both on the same BFGoodrich AllTerrain T/A tires; with more pavement-friendly footwear, the Sahara managed 0.73 g. The Sahara's tires also enabled much shorter stopping from 70 mph: 176 feet, versus 203 for the Rubicon manual and a long 212 feet for this Rubicon automatic.

a truck that is driving down the road© Bradley Fick - Car and Driver

What We Like: No Wrangler is going to excel on the test track, particularly not the Rubicon, which is set up for off-road use even more than other Wranglers.

On pavement or off, one of the great joys of driving a Wrangler is doing so al fresco, and the JL version makes it so much easier than before. Despite having what must be the biggest convertible top in the automotive universe, it's not hard to strip the Wrangler Unlimited to its waist. Removing the rear quarter-windows and backlight no longer involves zippers, the header unlatches easily, and, critically, the whole thing can be folded down-and, later, put back up-without a glance at the owner's manual. Jeep also has made it easier to remove the doors and fold down the windshield.

The Wrangler interior, historically a narrow penalty box, makes a great leap forward with this redesign, too. The materials are far better, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' large touchscreen UConnect infotainment system is excellent. Joining it on the dash are plenty of physical switches and buttons and chunky knobs, which seems fitting for a vehicle of this ilk.

a motorcycle parked on the seat of a car© Bradley Fick - Car and Driver

What We Don’t Like: Despite all the work Jeep did to curtail the Wrangler's thirst, this Rubicon still quaffs unleaded with gusto. And our automatic, despite its additional gears, returned fuel economy that was considerably worse than we anticipated: 15 mpg overall is the same figure we got for the five-speed 2012 Rubicon Unlimited, while the new stick-shift Rubicon returned 18 mpg in our hands. (The manual, however, did spend a much greater proportion of its test miles cruising on the highway in top gear.) This Rubicon achieved 19 mpg in our highway fuel-economy test, falling far short of its 23-mpg EPA highway estimate.

We're also not fans of the aggressive tip-in Jeep has programmed into this Pentastar engine. It strikes us as exactly the wrong approach for delicate trail work, and it's merely obnoxious in around-town driving. Overly light steering seems inappropriate for this vehicle as well, in which you don’t want to dial in more steering lock than necessary. Also mildly disappointing is the lack of a left-foot dead pedal, which makes for a somewhat uncomfortable driving position, even though the high-back seats themselves are fine. And, of course, the ride on the Rubicon’s giant off-road tires and beefy suspension is still plenty stiff-so banish any thoughts that the Wrangler has gone soft with this latest redesign.

Verdict: New-school Wrangler with old-school swagger.

The Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Rubicon Has Plenty of Old-School Swagger: The Rubicon dials back some of the newfound refinement of the JL-series Wrangler, offering max swagger with its top V-6 engine paired with a new eight-speed automatic in the four-door Unlimited.© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc The Rubicon dials back some of the newfound refinement of the JL-series Wrangler, offering max swagger with its top V-6 engine paired with a new eight-speed automatic in the four-door Unlimited.

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