Review: 2016 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon epitomizes offroad cred

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The Wrangler Rubicon is a rugged SUV in every sense of the term(Credit: Aaron Turpen/Gizmag)

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When it comes to getting wherever you want to go without worrying about whether your vehicle can get you there, the Jeep Wrangler is the vehicle that automatically comes to mind. The Rubicon is the most offroad-ready of the Jeeps and Gizmag thoroughly tested that premise.

The term "jeep" is filled with history and connotations in the American vernacular and has become universal for any vehicle that can traverse rough landscapes. The Jeep brand, of course, has been around for generations and when most people hear "Jeep" they think of the Wrangler, the direct descendant of the Willy's Jeeps of the Second World War.

The Wrangler Rubicon model takes its name from the famous Rubicon Trail that runs through the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe in California. That trail, it is said, takes its name from the Italian river (Rubico) across which Julius Caesar marched his armies during the Roman civil war in 49 BC. For as with Caesar's action, once you enter the Rubicon Trail, there is no turning back.

This is a perfect visualization of the Wrangler Rubicon and what legend and reality say about its capabilities. It includes 17-inch alloy wheels, 32-inch tires, a heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axle, a 4.10 rear axle ratio, a transfer case with a lower crawl ratio, front and rear locking differentials, a disconnecting front sway bar for more reach, and a lot of extraneous trail-ready equipment besides. The huge front bumper is prepared to receive a winch and like the Jeep of old, nearly everything on the Wrangler is considered optional and is likely removable or can be replaced with something that is. The Jeep Wrangler is also one of the most accessorized vehicles on the market, with aftermarket options for just about every need you can name.

For the second year in a row, I spent a week in the Rubicon Hard Rock edition. Last year, I drove the six-speed manual transmission option. This year, the five-speed automatic. No matter the Wrangler, a 3.6-liter V6 powers the rig with 285 horsepower (212 kW) and 260 pound-feet (352 Nm) of output. Towing in the two-door is rated at 2,000 pounds. In both years, a lot of mud, snow, ice, and fun times were to be had in the Wyoming hinterland.

With the interior of the Wrangler Rubicon, just about everything is about function rather than style. There are many little hints of Jeep-dom, such as little Jeep-shaped logos on the windshield, speakers, and so forth. Comfort is generally secondary to usefulness, however, and everything inside the Wrangler is designed to be robust and built to last.

On nearly all models, the roof can be removed with an included toolkit, but not stowed inside the Jeep. On some models, such as our 2016 Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock press loan, there are removable t-top-style roof panels that can be taken out without tools and stowed in the rear cargo area. A soft-top option is also available and most Jeep Wranglers sold in dealerships will include a "bra top" cover that can be installed when the hard roof has been removed.

This robust nature for the Wrangler means that there are a lot of compromises for those who may be hoping for a more modern, comfortable existence in their SUV. The Wrangler is definitely not your average daily commuter, offering a solidly fuel-sucking 18 mpg (13 l/100 km) combined EPA rating. For technology, a tiny 6.5-inch touchscreen with a decidedly outdated infotainment interface is offered. This screen flips out, 1990s style, to reveal a CD player slot. Basics like Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio are offered. To be honest, if you need more than that, you probably don't really need a Wrangler. Bear in mind that the base model Wrangler doesn't even come with air conditioning. It's a rugged SUV in every sense of the term. Coiffed man beards and over-priced lattes with six-syllable names need not apply.

For personal preference, I like the manual transmission for the added control it offers when out on the trail (or lack thereof). The Rubicon's low ratios and powerful torque delivery in low gear are beautiful for getting around no matter the terrain. I managed to drive through a 90-acre steer pasture, hopping frozen mounds of manure and bumping the occasional tree stump before blasting through a snow bank to cross a fence line into another field. My friend, upon whose land we were traversing, kept up a commentary on how great it was to do things in a full-blown SUV that he would get nervous about on a quad ATV.

The automatic transmission, though, does have its appeal. It simplifies the workload when juggling terrain needs, especially at speed. It's definitely easier when driving around town or on the highway to the wilderness. During my time with this model, I took my two girls (aged 5 and 6) out onto public lands that had recently seen massive amounts of snow melt, making them muddy and fun. Fording small impromptu streams, flailing through mud puddles like a kid in the storm when mom's been distracted, and climbing hills and descending valleys were all things the Wrangler Rubicon took without fuss. One thing about a Jeep with this kind of offroad equipment, you're very unlikely to feel that you may not be able to do what it is you're about to do. The word "capable" is weak when used to describe what the Wrangler Rubicon can do.

The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock is a very purpose-built machine that exudes fun even when it's just sitting in the driveway. It's not for everyone, of course, but there are certain breeds of human that want, nay need, the ability to go wherever they'd like without thinking too hard about the "how to get there" detail. For them, the Jeep Wrangler will always reign supreme.

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