Rubicon Wrangler SWB

An inside look at the

Mar. 01, 2005 By Alex Parker

Unless you?ve been living under one of the rocks the rest of us have been crawling on for the past few years, you?ve at least heard about the Jeep Rubicon Edition Wranglers. Myself, I had been driving my 2000 Sahara and was quite happy crawling along with the rest of the big boys after pretty heavily modifying my TJ. I had been noticing the trend as of late however, that there were several of these factory looking rigs on 31 tires keeping up with my TJ. These Rubicon owners were acting like they owned the trails right off the dealer lot. What was worse, is that they actually did.

Has the stance of a capable rockcrawler!

So after dropping my life savings into my 2000 TJ, I sold it and bought a 2005 Rubicon. Here?s were I get the emails from die hard ?pre-rubicon era? owners saying I?m crazy, and maybe so. So where?s my logic, well I?ll let the features of the new 2005 Rubicon?s show you the path as they did for me.





The 2005 Rubicon?s come with a choice of a new 6 speed manual tranny or a 4 speed automatic. I went with the latter after 5 years of wheeling a ?stick,? atop the stop and go freeway traffic of sunny California which resulted in my left leg begging for a break. So far, I?ve actually been pretty impressed with the shift points, and overall ?zip? this new 4 speed auto affords when matted to the trusty I-6 engine. Where this automatic really shines however is on the rocks. Wheeling an automatic jeep makes an already highly enjoyable adventure even better because at the end of the day, I can still use my left leg for such wonders as walking. You get much more control over where the rig is going in a rock garden because of the freedom of knowing you won?t ?roll back? a little before attacking the next obstacle.

Can?t go wrong with front and rear lockers right from the dealer lot

Another freedom affording feature found on the Rubicon?s is of course, the factory front and rear selectable air lockers. Where I live, we get snow. I?m not talking about a dusting of a inch or so, I?m talking we get snow by the feet. Not only do the lockers sound like an appealing feature in several feet of snow, but in the world of rockcrawling, lockers are known far and wide as being one of the best upgrades you can do to get ya though the nastiest trails. These lockers can be engaged and disengaged as you desire so long as you?re in 4lo. The rear locker, when not engaged, will act as a posi for those wet road conditions too.

A factory front Dana 44 w/ 4.11 gears and a selectable locker reside up front in the Rubicon Wranglers.

These nifty lockers are only half the story, you see, they?re stuffed into front and rear factory Dana 44 axles. You get the 4.11:1 gear ratio in the axles, as opposed to the usual 3.73:1 ratio earlier TJ?s came with, and the Dana 44 axles are a 30 spline shaft. That?s plenty for the factory 31? tires, and that?s probably enough for as large as a 35? tire safely with a heavy foot. You could even go bigger on these axles so long as you?re easy on the skinny pedal, just don?t forget to re-gear with the increase in tire size. Companies are already offering custom 4.88:1 gears for the Rubicon axles/factory lockers too which is a plus.


Here?s a pic of the flange styled driveshaft on the output side of the transfercase. Notice the air pump in the foreground, that?s what engages the lockers.

The Jeep Rubicon also comes with a factory 4:1 low range transfercase, known as the ?rocktrac? or the NP241J. This massive transfercase not only provides a super low range, but is also super easy to adapt on a CV shaft should you ever wish to lift your Rubi. Its much easier to covert the tail shaft to a yoke on the Rubicon?s that on any of the other TJ models which require a slip yoke eliminator kit. Some companies will make a driveshaft that will clean bolt right onto the factory output flange if you desire as well. The down side, if there really is one, to this nifty feature is that because of its size, you?re transfercase skid plate hangs down at least an inch lower than some of the ?pre-Rubicon era? TJ models. But there are plenty of aftermarket ?fixes? to that issue already available.


The Rubicon also comes with 4 wheel disk brakes. Another rare feature to the wrangler line, but one which is much appreciated for those of us whom have had to deal with the counter-logical set ups of drum brake systems in the past. This being strictly opinion, but my factory 2000 TJ never stopped on a dime like this Rubicon can. Those 4 wheel disk brakes are really a nice improvement and will only continue to prove their worth as the tires get larger and heavier on this jeep. 

The dash looks much the same as the 97+ model TJ

The interior changes compared to my 2000 TJ are subtle. At first glance you wouldn?t say much had changed, but upon further inspection you find a more refined layout of headlights, fogs, and high beams. Also, a better stereo has found its way into the newer jeep TJ?s in that a re-designed ?sound-bar? (as us earlier TJ owners may know it) equivalent is found above the head, and a much appreciated sub woofer has found its way into the center consol. For some, this may not be a big reason to up-grade, but to the 23 year old college student, this was well received. Again, not a necessity to you?re ?rough and tough? jeep owner, but an auto dimming, rearview mirror, with compass and outside temp gauge as also been slipped in under the radar with some reading lights.

The Interior isn?t much different than the previous TJ models, but is getting little revisions each year.

The rest of the features of the Rubicon are the same as the trail tested and trail proven previous models of the 97+ TJ Wranglers like factory tow hooks, fog lamps, coil suspension. Finally, the heart of the Wrangler, the I-6 motor remains with minor refinements because few are needed. It?s a tough, reliable motor and has been for some time even though we?d all love to see the Hemi make its way in as an option one day.





On Trail Performance:

Trying to get dirty, but there just wasn?t any good mud around to play in!

On the trails, the Rubicon performs even better than I had expected for an un-lifted wrangler. The front locker really helps in steep hill climbs, and general rockcrawling. In the mud, the flexibility of having a regular high range 4x4 or a super low range helps you find exactly what you need to pull through all types of mud, sand, snow. The only down side is the transfercase skid plate which hangs down just a little too much and tends to act as a scoop more than a skid.



On Street Performance:


Full size spare is of course standard.

The road manners of the Rubicon are just like that of the any factory jeep. I can?t say as it does anything better or worse overall compared to any of the other models I?ve owned or driven. You do feel a light ?lug thump? as you come to a stop because of the Goodyear MT/r Tires, but they seem to handle the road well, wet or dry, and they keep the road noise down plenty.



Overall Impressions:

Even with all these goodies, it still fits in parking spaces!

The Rubicon?s are only getting better with age. They were, and still are the most capable 4x4 on the market today no matter what other truck companies tries to put together, it just isn?t ever going to go the places a lighter, shorter Jeep will. While I can?t tow a boat, (they?ve got me there) at least when I go the store I don?t feel like a captain of a land yacht. Was it worth the change from my 2000 Sahara? The Rubicon has potential written all over it. It?s an even better platform for a build up than the previous TJ models, and I don?t know about you, but there is just something about these wheels. Its going to be a real tear jerker when they adventure into their first rock garden! Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!