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Jeep Rubicon First Impressions

Story and Photos By Mike "TXJEEPER" Cohn

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2003 Jeep RubiconAfter a quick lunch our caravan made it over to the Moab Rim trail. Moab Rim is a very steep climb up a cliff-side next to the river. It's a long way down and the trail hugs the edge closely - too closely for some folks' taste, in fact. Like Hell's Revenge, I've run the rim in my own TJ in the past. It's high center of gravity and rear weight made for some pretty scary moments the last time I hit this trail. Putting the Rubicon into 1st gear Low and locking up the differentials, I let the Jeep do all the work this time. Keeping my eye on the trail and watching spotters along the way made this trail an easy one for the Rubicon. Being able to crawl slowly with both ends locked, the TJ eased its way easily up the trail without incident.

Once we reached the top we got some group photos and swapped vehicles. This time I would be riding with Craig Love, who is the Vice President -of the Activity Vehicle Product Team at Jeep.

I don't typically prefer automatics when four-wheeling but I figured I may as well give this one a try so I could check out the new four-speed tranny. Compared to the manual's 66.4:1 crawl ratio, the automatic's 46.7:1 (not including the torque converter) quickly revealed itself as we began our descent. No longer could I sit back and let the motor hold us as we crawled down the hill. The automatic's higher 1st gear was a different animal, entirely. The brake pedal was used almost the whole way down the rim, as the gearing just couldn't hold me back as much as I would have liked it to. However, if you like automatics and the simplicity they offer when driving, the new 42RLE will be a great improvement over the 30/32RH three-speed previously offered through 2002. The 30/32RH had a first gear ratio of 2.74 compared to the 42RLE's 2.84.

2003 Jeep RubiconCraig and I headed toward the Devil's Crack, which is below the infamous Z-Turn. Craig told me about his ride the day before where his driver stood the Jeep straight up. I laughed and assured him that we'd be just fine. As we got to the crack, I eased up to it and tried to hold the brakes as much as I could. As the Rubicon dropped over the edge, the front end went straight down, putting all of the Jeep's weight on the front end. I stood on the brakes as Craig stood up in the footwell. The front end was practically buried and one wheel was in the air. This was a great test for the Rubicon's new axle joints which are said to be about eight times stronger than the 297 joints found on the Dana 30 axles. I looked over to Craig and said, "we're totally fine. No problem. Under control." Craig's worried face soon relaxed as I eased forward and leveled the Jeep. "Is that what happened yesterday," I asked him, as I laughed.

Once we reached the bottom of the rim, we put the Jeeps back into 2WD and headed back to town. I got only a short feel for the automatic's street manners and it seemed quite smooth. The 0.69:1 fourth gear should really be a welcome to previous 3-speed owners.

During Camp Jeep in late July, we once again had the opportunity to drive the Rubicons for a short time. This time, instead of on slickrock, we were in the Ozark Mountains near Branson, MO. Having low gears, full rocker panel protection, dual lockers, and Goodyear mud terrain tires on 16" wheels made a huge difference in how the TJ handled the long, steep, loose gravel hills, both going up and coming down. The control gained from being able to go as slow as you'd like without having to use the brakes is worth the price of admission alone - especially with the 5-speed NV3550 transmission.

2003 Jeep RubiconIf you are in the market for a new 4x4, the Rubicon should be at the top of your list. With a base price of $24,995 a fully-configured Rubicon would run around $29,825 MSRP. Compare the price of adding the upgrades of the Rubicon to a TJ Sport, for example, and you'll find the money to be well-spent. The advantages of having all the goodies installed at the factory and rolled into your monthly payment is almost too good to be true.

If all the goodies aren't enough to get you going, Jeep's 7/70 Powertrain Warranty, which includes the engine, transmission/transaxle, transfer case and axles and 3/36 warranty on all other components should get you running right over to your dealer.

We were told that the Jeep brass doubted the ability to sell more than 3,000 units of the Rubicon. As of this writing, over 3,500 have already been pre-ordered and production is set to start on August 5th. If you want one of the 8,000 Jeep plans to build in 2003, the time is now to place your order. What are you waiting for?

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Michael Cohn

Michael "TXJEEPER" Cohn is the Editor and founder of Rockcrawler.com.

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