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year, I was trying to decide whether or not I should go to Easter
Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah or not. Being 1,750 miles from home,
it would mean three days of travel in each direction and a lot
of cash for hotels, fuel and expenses. One day my phone rang and
I was given an invitation to join the gang from Jeep for a very
special get-together during the safari. The event would include
a full day of seat time in the 2003 Jeep Rubicon. Roughly, only
about a dozen auto writers were invited and I was to be the only
"short lead" (web, newspaper, etc.) writer to go. Decision
made! Honey, we're going to Moab!
a snow storm in Kansas and Colorado, we made it to Moab just in
time for the pre-event dinner. I showed up only 20 minutes late
and was introduced around to all the folks from Jeep who came
out. The Jeep group included public relations people, engineers,
mechanics, and big-wigs. They were all here. If anyone knew about
the Jeep Rubicon - these were the people.
quickly and we all met again for breakfast at the Moab Diner -
my favorite. It was time to hit the trails and we headed for the
parking lot, where several Rubicons awaited us. Jim Repp called
me over and put me in the seat of one of the original, hand-built,
test mules. Jim is one of the main guys driving Rubicon development,
along with Dave Yegge, who was along for the ride in his extended
wheelbase TJ. If you ever run into these guys at an event, give
them a big thank you!
of Rubicons we had out for the ride included both hard and soft
top models and both manual and automatic transmissions. Two of
the Jeeps were hand-built test mules, while two actually came
off the assembly line as a test run in Toledo. At the time of
the event, the four-speed 42RLE automatic had not officially gotten
the ok for production yet (it has now).
inside the 5-speed soft-top, I immediately noticed something different
- the seat. I asked Jim whether the seat went back further than
previous models or if I was just imagining it. Jim confirmed that
the seats do, in fact, go back another 20mm than before. Nice!
I noticed other things, like the switch to actuate the locking
differentials, the new electrochromic rear-view mirror with map
reading lamps, compass and temperature, the "sound pods"
instead of a sound bar, the new radio, and a few other changes.
This was a new Wrangler, indeed. But what about the Rubicon part?
The part that's all about going off-road?
trail of the day would be Hell's Revenge. This was a perfect choice
for me, because I have driven the trail in both stock and heavily-modified
TJ's, so it would make for a nice comparison. Being that Dump
Bump was blocked off at the time, we entered the trail from the
bypass, which itself is a great way to determine whether or not
a rig and its driver are capable of handling the 4+-rated trail.
Once in low
range, Jim explained to me how the air lockers worked. When in
normal 2WD or 4WD High, the Tru-Lok™
differentials run normally, with the addition of torque-sensing
limited slips. The limited slips can be a great help when the
weather turns sour or if you get into some mud or other slippery
surfaces. The real excitement, however, kicks in when you enter
4WD Low. If you are under 10mph, pressing the switch once will
engage the rear air locker. Pressing it a second time engages
the front, thus locking both front and rear axles. Lifting the
switch or shifting out of 4WD Low will disengage the lockers.
Running at only 5 pounds of pressure, the air lockers are completely
silent, unlike other aftermarket models available.
shifted the Jeep into 4WD Low and engaged the lockers. The specially-built
NV241 Rock-Trac™ transfer case is
equipped with a 4:1 low range, as opposed to the 2.72:1 NV231
Command-Trac™ found in the SE, Sport,
X and Sahara models. The NV241 was developed with New Venture
exclusively for the Jeep Rubicon. In addition, the new transfer
case includes a fixed yoke on the rear (long overdue) and the
driveshafts now use 1330 u-joints instead of the previously-used
1310 joints. The combination of the gear reduction, the standard
4.11:1 differential gears, and the NV3550's 4.04:1 first gear
(42RLE automatic is 2.84:1), gave us a crawl ratio of 66.4:1.
That's a great ratio for any Jeep, let alone one straight from
I eased up
to the obstacle and pointed my Goodyear Wrangler "Maximum
Traction/Reinforced" LT245/75R16 (30.5" x 9.65"
x 16") tires where I wanted them. With the slighest bit of
throttle, the Rubicon grabbed on and lifted us up onto the sandstone
fin without so much as a tire chirp. "This is going to
be a fun day," I thought. I could tell right away that
though this was a TJ at birth, this Rubicon was much more. This
thing was built to rock.
As we headed
out onto the main trail, the Rubicon did not disappoint. I tried
as many obstacles as possible with the air lockers switched off
to get a feel for how much they were contributing to the overall
performance given by the Goodyears and the 4:1 transfer case.
I got the feel quickly and the operation of the switch became
more natural after a short time.
Rubicon really shines is in giving control of the vehicle back
to the driver. With a standard Sport model, for example, you might
have a 3.07 or 3.73:1 axle ratio and the NV231 transfer case.
With this setup and the 30" tire package, both the accelerator
and brake pedal get a whole lot more use while on the trails.
By having the lower gears in the Rubicon, the driver is able take
his time over obstacles and not only take more time to make good
decisions on his line, but also to actually feel the rocks beneath
going up and down the many fins on Hell's Revenge, the four-wheel
disc brakes (no ABS) got very little use, due to the great crawl
ratio of the Rubicon. In first gear and Low range, I went down
even the steepest decents on the trail with little or no brakes
at all. Compression (engine) breaking was phenominal. In fact,
on some hills we were just plain too slow and I had to accelerate
to get to the bottom!
As the trail
ambled on, we came to several more of the tougher obstacles, including
the hot tubs, and Tip-Over Challenge. Lining up at the bottom
of one of them, we stared upward toward the sky through the steep
and long V-notched run. As a group of Xterra owners watched from
the top, we went one by one up the hill. Dan
Mick was our guide for the day and did all the spotting. Having
been led by Dan before, I had complete confidence in him. As you
head up this particular obstacle, you see mostly sky. It is extremely
important to stay on the line and watch your spotter. Even the
slightest variance can cause you to fall in the crack and violently
roll back down the hill. I pointed the Rubicon toward the hill
and slowly climbed up it. As I mentioned before, having the luxury
of low gears allowed me to feel every slight bump in the terrain.
The Rubicon eased me up the notch to the top, again, without even
chirping the tires. Wow!
next big stop would be the hot tubs. We each took our turns driving
through the first one and then arrived at Mickey's Hot Tub (named
after Dan Mick). Since we were running way behind schedule, only
Jim Repp was allowed to take a run at it. With a large crowd gathered
around, Jim dropped in, studied his line for a moment, and headed
toward the near-vertical exit. There is a very specific line in
the tub and Jim got off it slightly. I don't know if it was panic
or excellent intuition, but Jim gassed it and popped right out
the end of the hot tub. The crowd cheered as Dan screamed "that's
a stock vehicle, folks!"
was the last big obstacle on the trail and the Rubicon, again,
did not disappoint. This is one obstacle where the Rubicon really
shined, not only because of its equipment, but because of its
center of gravity. On trails like Hell's Revenge, sometimes having
too much lift can cause problems because of the off-camber situtations.
In addition, we did not disconnect our swaybars at all. This also
helped us out on Tip-Over Challenge. The Rubicon walked right
up the wall. Excellent!
to Moab Rim --->>>
Preview - (Published 4/29/2002)