photos to enlarge
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
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.
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.
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.
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?