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2005 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited
First Drive

By Michael Cohn
Photos by Michael Cohn, DaimlerChrysler

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Moab, Utah was the perfect setting to get our first drive in the new 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Home base was the beautiful Sorrel River Ranch Resort. Each day began and ended with breathtaking red rock butte panoramas, the likes typically only seen on postcards, and the resort’s restaurant staff made sure we were never hungry with their gourmet cowboy-style meals. Located 17 miles outside of Moab, down Highway 128, the resort was the perfect place for us to relax at the end of a travel day or a long hard day on the trails, without the distractions of downtown Moab.

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

The Wrangler Unlimited has been at dealerships now for several months as a 2004 ½ model and has proved itself a hit with buyers who want the capabilities of a Wrangler but need more storage space. The addition of 10 inches of wheelbase and 5 inches behind the rear wheels has allowed 2 inches more rear seat legroom and 13 inches of additional cargo space. The cargo space equates to 22.3 cubic feet of storage versus 9.5 cubic feet in a standard TJ model. The Unlimited replaces the long-running Sahara model in the TJ lineup for 2005.

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

There are two major new things that Jeep wanted us to experience in Moab. First, is that for 2005, the NV3550 five-speed transmission bids us farewell and is being replaced by a new six-speed. Second, we were to give the new Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon a spin on the Moab slickrock.

Before we talk about the new Unlimited Rubicon, let’s first talk about the new NSG370 six-speed transmission, which is available across the TJ 4.0L lineup. Our test vehicle for the Moab trip was a manual soft-top model, so we got to drive it on the highway for about 20 miles or so. The road took us along the Colorado River toward town and then over to the Hell’s Revenge trail.

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

What I immediately noticed was the lower 4.46:1 first gear compared to the outgoing NV3550, which had a 4.04:1 first. Going through the gears, there is an extra one smooshed between the old third and fourth gear. Then the final .84:1 sixth gear is also a little lower than the five-speed’s .78:1.

Highway 128 has many curves, rises and falls, so we got to play around with third through fifth gears a good bit. One thing I did notice about this new tranny is that it seems to work best when shifted around 3,300-3,400 rpm, as opposed to the NV3550, which preferred 3,000 in most Jeeps I have driven. If you don’t shift at the higher point, it can tend to bog down a bit. This is perfectly fine with us, as the 4.0L engines have always had a bunch of useless headroom up top that doesn’t really get used on the road (but is nice in the mud off-road).

On this particular trip, we did not have the occasion to use sixth gear all that much, despite our highway speeds. So driving it in our case was very much like having a five-speed but with an extra gear and no overdrive. We’ll be very interested in driving it on our own turf sometime soon to get a better feel for it.

Unfortunately, we also didn’t get to do much in-town driving so we’ll have to reserve our daily-driving opinions on the six-speed for later, but most noticeable was how different downshifting was, as the downshift points are very different because of the rpm difference that occurs as a result of the extra gear.

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

 

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