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ROCKCRAWLER.com
Living With Rubi

By Mike "TXJEEPER" Cohn

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Saturday, March 22, 2003
Today, we finally had a chance to get Rubi out on the trails. Ah yes...the trails...out in her element, at last!

We made a call to Keith Bailey at The Off-Road Connection here in town and he was good enough to let us in the gate at Gray Rock ORV in Mt.Olive, Alabama. Gray Rock is a new, privately-owned, 2100 acre park, with everything from bunny trails to break-anything-you-can-drive.

Heading to Gray Rock was myself in the Rubicon and my friend, Andy, in our ROCKBOX Cherokee. Little did Andy know what he had signed up for, as he became the photographer for the day. Thanks, Andy!

Once we reached the park, we found Keith, who was getting ready to head out to cut more new trails. After bribing him with home-baked cookies, he got us set up with someone named, "Peanut." Peanut would be our guide for the day and would give us a tour of what the park had to offer.

The trails at Gray Rock are rated from 1-5. We soon discovered that the 2 trails required plenty of ground clearance and lockers, despite their "low" rating. This was going to be a great test for Rubi!

Living With RubiIn the last year, I've gotten to drive the Rubicons with both 5-speeds and automatics. I've tackled 4+ trails in Moab and trails in the mountains of Missouri. But I was very eager to try the Rubicon on our home turf, where many of the rules I've grown to know and respect out west are tossed right out the window.

We spent the good part of a day out at Gray Rock, hitting different types of trails. The 2WD trails that interconnect the good stuff were scenic and enjoyable in the Rubicon. The suspension, like other TJs, is just soft enough to ride like an off-road Cadillac, yet firm enough to still jar your kidneys enough to remind you where you are. While on the trails, we did not disconnect the swaybars, and we ran the Goodyear MT/Rs at 20 psi.

Though Alabama may not be the first place to spring to mind when someone asks where the toughest trails are, they are, nonetheless, a force to be reckoned with. The rocks are hard, big, and offer little traction - especially if they are wet. The trails here are covered with these rocks and to make matters just a little bit worse, a lot of folks 'round these parts run 38-44" tires as a matter of course. Many of the trails are either cut by these monster rigs or rutted out and made tougher by them. This is one reason that even the 2-rated trails at Gray Rock are tough.

Living With Rubi2003 brought with it an all-new transmission for the TJ. This new tranny is bigger, and therefore, sits lower beneath the frame than previous years. Obviously, this has a direct effect on the break-over angle of the Jeeps. In addition, the automatic has an extra skid plate that covers the automatic's oil pan. Throughout the day, we continually referred to this skidplate as "the shovel."

You just can't buy a better-setup off-roader from the factory than the Rubicon. Period. With dual Dana 44 axles with disk brakes all around, dual air lockers, Goodyear MT/R tires, diamond-plate rockers, 4.11 gears and a 4:1 transfer case, the Rubicon is ready to rock. But, it didn't take long, though, to find Rubi's Achilles Heal.

The trails we hit had plenty of those nasty rocks strewn everywhere. Being that the area is heavily wooded, the trails are narrow and provide little in the way of go-arounds. If there are rocks on the trails, you had better be ready to either go over them - or hit them. Therein lies the rub for ol' Rubi. The tranny pan sits low and is coupled to the transfer case skid. Throughout the day, the shovel continuously got caught on the rocks, stopping progress. Time after time, we'd get momentarily stuck. You can see in the photo above that Rubi's pan has a bit of a bow to it now. Obviously, if it weren't there, the oil pan would have a similar bow!

Despite the shovel, the Rubicon kicked major tail on the trails. Not once did we need a winch or a tug. Choosing better lines and giving a wee bit more throttle proved that Rubi was not about to be denied forward progress. The Rubicon impressed us over and over, as it clawed its way through the trails.

One of the greatest things about the Rubicon is the amount of control the driver is afforded by the low gearing. Even with the automatic's torque converter, the Rubicon was easy to keep at just about any speed I chose. At one point, there was a three-foot drop-off on one of the trails. There was no going around and there was no going back. Already used to hearing the sound of scraping metal, I wasn't afraid. I knew that the low gearing and disk brakes would allow me to ease off of the ledge safely and under control. Once again, the Rubicon did not disappoint.

One "feature" the TJ Wranglers have is the plastic end caps on the bumpers. Like a fuse in an electrical system, these end caps are designed to sacrifice themselves in order to protect the rear corners of the Jeep's tub in the event of an impact. And sacrifice themselves, they did. Dropping off the ledge caused the back corner to drag on the way down, smashing one of the corners. Rocks 1, corner 0. The end cap did its job wonderfully. It was completely mashed up against the tub but did not cause any damage whatsoever. They worked as designed and will be a very cheap part to replace.

Finishing off the day we came away extremely impressed by the Rubicon. After driving it on three completely different types of terrain over the past year, we are confident that the Rubicon is on the way to the Off-road Vehicle Hall of Fame (should one ever be started). The Rubicon has got all of the goodies any Jeeper could ever ask for at a reasonable price. The only thing missing is height. Add the lift of your choice and some larger sneakers and the Rubicon should be just about unstoppable on most any trail you could point it at.

- TX -