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2005 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited
First Drive

By Michael Cohn
Photos by Michael Cohn, DaimlerChrysler

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What we did get, though, was a great big helping of off-road testing on Hell’s Revenge. One of the most popular trails in Moab, Hell’s Revenge features plenty of steep climbs and descents, giving us more than enough chances to play with the six-speed.

Common to all 4.0L TJ models, the NSG370 should perform similarly in both long wheelbase (Unlimited) models and standard TJ-X, Sports and Rubicons. Where it will really shine, though, is in the Rubicon models, which feature the Rock-Trac transfer case. The Rock-Trac offers a 4:1 low range. Couple this with the Rubicon’s 4.11 axle gears and you get a 73:1 crawl ratio, which is about 9% lower than the outgoing five-speed’s 66:1 ratio. Crawl on, baby!

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited RubiconSpeaking of Rubicons, that brings us to the Jeeps we were driving on this particular visit to the land of the red rocks. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is the perfect marriage between the Wrangler Rubicon and the Wrangler Unlimited.

Essentially, they have taken a Rubicon and given it the stretch treatment, so you now have the extra-long 103” Unlimited wheelbase instead of the 93” standard TJ and you have all the off-road goodies of the standard Rubicon. The Rubicon, of course, adds dual Dana 44 axles with Tru-Lok air lockers, retuned monotube shocks, four-wheel disc brakes, a 4:1 low-ranger Rock-Trac transfer case, rocker guards, and LT245/75R16 (30.5” x 9.6”) Goodyear MT/R tires.

Both Unlimited models feature the optional Sunrider soft top, which offers up a huge 45 x 23 inch sun roof opening. Despite this, we promptly put down the whole top as soon as we got to the trailhead. We are Jeepers, afterall.

What we noticed right away on the ride from the ranch with the top up and windows shut, though, was that we were having a just barely above normal speaking level conversation while on the highway. The combination of the thicker material used in today’s Wrangler tops and the Unlimited’s additional under-hood padding, new dash pad and thicker rear carpeting, really made a huge difference in the noise levels at cruising speed. And don’t forget, the Rubicons ride on mud terrain tires, too!

So there we were, on Hell’s Revenge. Moab-legend, Dan Mick, was on-hand to guide us through the trail in his built-up Rubicon. Dan has been leading four-wheelers through Moab's canyons for years and is considered to be the best guide in the area. He also had his daughter there as an extra spotter. If you've never been to Moab and are going on your own, be sure to look up Dan and hire him out for the day. Money well-spent.

With the transfer case in low range we headed out for our day of fun. The lower first gear immediately made an impression on us. Going up and down the first couple of slickrock hills, our passenger asked if I was idling or accelerating. At the time, I had chosen first gear out of habit, but it was actually too low. Yes, I was accelerating! This is not to say that first is too low in general, however, as we found further into the trail, where we really used it to hold us back on some steep declines. Who needs brakes when you can crawl this slow?

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

The six-speed really – well – rocked on the rocks. Having the lower gears made a huge difference when going down hills and made the more technical stuff just that much more controlled. Second gear became our default crawling speed on the flatter sections of trail that were covered in rocks. During the opened up areas with sandy trails, we tossed it in fifth gear, which is a 1:1 gear, meaning it was like first gear high. Perfect.

Alright, so this is what a 2005 Wrangler Rubicon would feel like on the trails, albeit just a bit a lighter, due to less sheet metal. But these were Unlimited Rubicons.

This was our first time out on the rocks in any Unlimited, so we were all smiles when it came to negotiating these trails. The extra wheelbase means more stability, both on and off-road. On the highway, the Unlimited was very tight and held the road wonderfully. The additional length made it less prone to wandering and it had very good on-center feel.

As many four-wheelers already know, adding ten inches of wheelbase means more stability on the trails. In many cases, a bit of extra length can be better, but not always. After all, Wranglers are well-known for being able to get through some of the tightest trails out there. But what the Unlimited did on this trail, was give an extra comfort level not found in the regular TJs – mostly on the steeper sections and diagonal climbs, where the extra length kept the Jeep pointed in the right direction. This was also evident on steep downhill sections.

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

Looking at the Unlimited Rubicon, it has a much more proportional look to it than the standard Unlimited, due to the slightly larger Goodyear MT/R tires. To our eyes, the standard Unlimited looked like it had training wheels compared to these. The slightly taller height and more aggressive look to the Goodyears made this Jeep look ready to play.

Compared to a standard Rubicon, the Unlimited Rubicon’s approach angle is the same at 43.7 degrees. Break over angle suffers just under two degrees at 22.8.

Departure angle is where the Unlimited Rubicon does show its Achilles Heel just a little bit, having a 28.4 degree angle, which is about 5 degrees shallower than a standard Rubicon. This became apparent early on Hell’s Revenge. We were out for fun and to really feel this new Jeep, so we took the toughest angles we could find. The result, was a lot of rear bumper and gas tank scraping. Like any other Wrangler, there is a skid plate under the gas tank and the bumpers are what we consider to be disposable, so the scraping didn’t worry us a bit. We could see how in certain situations, though, the rear bumper could hang you up on the trails. Ah, the price you'll pay for more cargo space.

But those angles and hang-overs are very minor details compared to all the other things you gain with the Unlimited Rubicon. Extra legroom, extra storage space and extra length overall, mean that you and your family can ride a lot more comfortably now and still traverse the toughest trails you’re likely to hit in a Wrangler.

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

Pricing starts at $28,825 including destination charge (standard Rubicon is $27,825) and you should start seeing them at dealers in December, 2004 or January, 2005.

Jeep has a huge winner on its hands with the Rubicon Unlimited. They have a real-life rockcrawler and family hauler all in one and at an extremely fair price. If you’ve got a family or stuff to haul or just want a more stable ride, it’s $1000 well-spent to get the Unlimited Rubicon over the standard Rubicon. And don’t forget that 7/70 warranty!

Now the only thing left to do is add some swaybar disconnects, a little more lift, taller tires…


Michael Cohn

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

Contact Michael at





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