Home / Auto / Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial REVIEW – Off-roading is effortless in this behemoth motor

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial REVIEW – Off-roading is effortless in this behemoth motor


Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Jeep Wrangler handled the Rubicon trial with ease (Image: PH)

Our guide motions us forward, giving us instructions to thread our way through this stony minefield. 

And then, just when we think we’ve escaped, one of the tyres side-slips on the dusty rock, we lurch sideways and there’s an unmistakably, nauseating sound.

We’ve been hearing it all day, but that doesn’t make it easier as the noise of a rock hitting the underside of the Jeep, then scraping along it, makes you involuntarily wince.

It feels, and sounds, like nothing short of someone having taken a giant can-opener to the bottom of the Jeep – the automotive equivalent of fingernails down a school blackboard.

“Don’t worry, it’s just the skid-plate, the car’s fine,” the instructor reassures us. Fine? As the scraping eventually abates as the Wrangler’s tyres scrabble and the car continues on its way, we could think of hundreds of other words to describe what just happened and not one would be ‘fine’. In any other circumstance, you’d be pulling over and on your hands and knees to check out the condition of the car’s underside.

This, however, is no ordinary circumstance. In fact, it’s about as far from ordinary as it’s possible to get. This is the Rubicon Trail in California, one of the toughest off-road courses in the world and the place where Jeep comes to test its new cars, including the likes of this new Wrangler.

This is no ordinary Jeep either. It’s no mistake that Jeep puts the Rubicon badge on its flagship Wrangler. Alongside the Trail Rated logo on the front wing, these are matters that Jeep takes very seriously indeed.

That’s not hard to see why either. Aside perhaps from Land Rover, no other manufacturer has its off-roading ability underpinning its image and reputation, to quite the extent that Jeep does.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail (Image: PH)

Just as a motorway service stations is a natural habitat for a Ford Mondeo, so this Wrangler belongs here on the Rubicon Trail.

All Wranglers are Trail Rated and Jeep uses it as a recognised standard for proven off-road ability. And, as its spokespeople proudly claim, just how many other so-called new off-roaders could you drive straight out of a showroom and down this challenging Rubicon Trail?

It only takes the first of those wince-inducing scrapes early on in our drive to prove that the answer is none.

Then again, aside from borrowing its name, Jeep is no stranger to the Rubicon Trail. Drivers have been taking their Jeeps on the trail since 1953, but the 22 mile route itself has actually been in use as an original stagecoach route from the 1890s, seeing its first motorised transport in 1908.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail (Image: PH)

Around 12 miles of those 22 are the 4×4 trail and today that’s what separates the proverbial off-roading men from the boys in transport terms.

As well as Jeeps in all shapes and sizes, the trail is regularly used by quad bikes and motorbikes and there’s no doubt that it’s not for the faint-hearted. In an automotive world where crossovers and more lifestyle 4x4s are now prolific, the Rubicon Trail is a fully-charged defibrillator shock to your senses.

Within a mile of beginning the trail there is terrain that would have 99.9 per cent of even serious off-roaders crying and running home for their mothers. And it only gets worse from there.

That we’re tackling the trail in the new Jeep Wrangler probably isn’t much of a surprise. That we’re tackling it in one that’s completely standard with a 2.0-litre petrol engine though, probably is.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail (Image: PH)

As diesel-sales continue to fall, Jeep has introduced this new 270bhp 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine alongside the existing 2.2-litre turbo-diesel.

Not so long ago, that would have seemed something of a folly, but when this petrol-engined model arrives into showrooms at the start of next year (the diesel launches this autumn), it will account for two-thirds of all new Wranglers leaving showrooms.

But can such a small engine cope with the challenges and harsh, boulder-littered reality of the Rubicon, especially when matched to an eight-speed automatic gearbox? Throughout a day of crawling at slower-than-walking pace, we get our answer time and time again.

In fact, as we follow our lead guide in another Wrangler, following his carefully chosen line through the sharp-edged rocks all around, it soon becomes clear where the weakest link of the Wrangler’s package lies – it’s staring back at us every time we look in the driver’s mirror.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail (Image: PH)

The scenario gets repeated so many times during the course of our day that it almost becomes comedic. We drive along the trail, slow up as we get to a particularly tough section, the dust settles and my co-driver and I both simultaneously swear at what lies ahead in the windscreen.

Despite knowing the Wrangler’s prodigious talents, we sit there, momentarily stunned as we both wonder how on earth the route ahead can be traversed.

It’s not that we struggle to see a route, it’s that we’re faced with a vista ahead that looks hard enough to cover on foot, let alone attempt to drive up.

Yet we follow the instructions given by the guide, engage low range on the gearbox enabling the Wrangler to creep ahead at a snail’s pace.

The BF Goodrich off-road tyres slip on the dusty slick rocks, before finding some purchase and then steadily, inexorably push the Jeep over the obstacle ahead for it to continue on. There’s barely any time to register its achievements either, as yet another challenge lies just past the next bend in the trail.

And this is how we progress down the trail, one obstacle after another, frequently scraping the Wrangler’s underside and with the Jeep shrugging off every upright rock and every tough section without even breaking a sweat.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trail (Image: PH)

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial (Image: PH)

By the end of the two days, we’ve finally finished the Rubicon Trail. On paper, our journey looks distinctly under-whelming – just over 15 miles over the course of two days and just under eight hours of driving.

However, the trail has certainly lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest off-road courses in the world. We’re mentally and physically exhausted and in sore need of a cold beer, a hot shower and a comfortable bed and also to rid ourselves of the inch-thick dust that coats us and the car.

As we climb out of the Wrangler, brushing ourselves down, we reflect on the most difficult and challenging, but also probably the most enjoyable two days that we’ve ever spent behind the wheel of a car.

Make no mistake, driving the Rubicon Trail has been brutal and we’ve been left battered and broken. The Rubicon Trail might be the toughest off-road course in the world, but this Jeep is tougher still. Our Wrangler looks ready to do it all again immediately, but we’ll definitely need to wait a little longer to recuperate.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial (Image: PH)

Boxout – Tackle the Trail yourself

As stated in our review, the Rubicon Trail is one of the toughest off-road routes in the world, but the great news is that you can tackle it yourself. No, not by taking your rented family saloon off-road while on holiday in California, we mean via numerous professional tour companies that are available.

These companies will do everything from provide a Jeep for you to tackle the Trail together with expert instruction and include as many or as little creature comforts as you want. The Trail itself is open to all vehicles for most of the year and can even be tackled on motorbikes, quad-bikes or on foot.

For driving tours however, prices start from £300 if you want to just be a passenger otherwise there are longer excursions including overnight stays that are more expensive with organisers such as Barlows Adventures or Jeep Jamboree. You need to be quick though, as this year’s Jeep Jamboree at the Rubicon Trail sold out in just four hours with almost 400 people on the waiting list. If you’re interested, just search for Rubicon Trail Jeep tours to see what’s on offer.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial (Image: PH)

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon trial (Image: PH)

Logbook Lowdown

Model: Jeep Wrangler

On sale: November

Price range: est. from £38,000

Engine range: Turbo-petrol – 2.0-litre; Turbo-diesel – 2.2-litre

Power: 0 to 60mph in 8.0 seconds, 111mph top speed (2.0)

Average fuel economy: 38.1mpg (2.2TD)

CO2 emissions: est 195-230g/km

Rivals: Mercedes G-Class, a mountain goat, Suzuki Jimny

Rating: 10/10



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