If there's one thing that Jeep as a brand, and the Wrangler as a car, has in bucketloads, it's heritage. There's an argument that most of the conflicts that the USA was involved in from 1941 until the 1960s couldn't have been won without the car that started it all – the Willys. It was born into the Second World War and became an indispensable asset to the allies through the following conflicts, before it inspired the story of Jeep that would follow. The Wrangler, which debuted in 1986, made absolutely no pretence that it wasn't massively inspired by the original Willys, and ever since has continued to pay tribute to its legend. The Wrangler Rubicon, is the ultimate off-road version of the Wrangler, and was introduced with the latest JL version of the Wrangler in 2017 and carries logos of that original Willys pretty much everywhere.
The Rubicon is basically a Wrangler that's had the off-road parts bin opened, turned upside down, and emptied on top of it. Under the bonnet you won't be finding a big, thirsty all-American V8, but rather a torque-ey four-cylinder diesel. That 2.1-litre unit is good for 200PS (197bhp) and 450Nm (331lb ft) of torque (which is way more important than straight grunt off road), from just 2,000rpm. There's also an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and you can control the gear choice through a sequential setting on the stick, but don't expect to find any flaps behind the wheel. Inside you'll find plenty of trinkets, including heated seats, heated steering wheel, sat-nav inside a rather simple to understand touchscreen infotainment system, power sockets coming out of almost every orifice, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, cruise control etc. etc. But it's what features you find underneath that are more important.
The front and rear are both fitted with fancy Dana M210 and M220 (respectively) axles, which can both be locked independently, and they connect to some meaty suspension and high-pressure gas charged shock absorbers. Together that means that not only can the Wrangler Rubicon deploy the torque properly if a wheel is struggling, but also that you can take obstacles with a fair amount of speed to ensure get over, without worrying too much that your teeth are going to end up in the roof lining. But the important question is whether it all works.
Acceleration times and top speed hardly seem important for the Rubicon, but it will hit 62mph in 10 seconds and head on to 99mph. That's partly because of the torque, and partly because despite all its kit the Wrangler Rubicon still tips the scales at only a smidge over two tonnes. It can also just about manage to get over 30mpg in real life, although tests give an official combined figure of 36.
The Rubicon, certainly on these big chunky off road tyres, is not exactly at home on the road. That's not to say it's uncomfortable, but it feels more like a mate who's come round to a smart dinner, but would much rather be at the football. At very slow speeds you can feel the vibration of the tyres, and in wet conditions there can be a slightly alarming amount of understeer on the road. However the Wrangler can be put in rear-wheel-drive only mode, which solves all understeer issues. Those chunky tyres can't really handle the torque served to them, so gentle slides are easily achieved. Which must look absolutely ridiculous from the outside.
Take the Rubicon off the beaten track and everything is different. The tyres are a help rather than a vague hindrance, the big off road suspension makes much more sense as it soaks up the bumps and every impasse is dealt with with aplomb. The Rock-Track system provides a 4:1 gear ratio in low mode, allowing the Rubicon to conquer bog and high inclines without any real fuss. In fact the only thing holding you back when you leave the road will be your own bravery, rather than the Wrangler's ability. The Rubicon has an attack angle of 36 degrees and breakover of 31, and believe us when we tell you that you've probably never been in a car on a 31 degree angle. Those chunky tyres and torquey low ratio mode combine with those big mechanical locking differentials to provide a solution to what seems insurmountable at first and the diesel motor has plenty of torque to pull you out of trouble.
What could be more passionate about what it does than a big 4x4 with massive decals, a spare wheel on the rear door, massive chunky tyres, and huge bumpers? The Wrangler Rubicon will be bought by two types of people, those who want to go exploring on some really tough terrain, and those who want you to think they go exploring on some really tough terrain. Both of those roles it fulfils excellently. And despite having a quite old fashioned driving position, it's very well appointed inside. In fact the heated steering wheel may be the hottest that I've experienced, perfect for the moment the days began to turn colder again.
The Rubicon may be for a very specific audience but that audience definitely exists, even in the UK. Some of the driving tech might be a little agricultural, and the standard Wrangler might not be the most polished of machines in 2019, but in Rubicon spec it all begins to make a lot more sense, especially when you get it a bit muddy. And if that's not in your plans, shame on you.