San Francisco: The Jeep Wrangler is not your typical SUV that seldom, if ever,
ventures off-road. The Wrangler is designed specifically for off-roading and the
new-for-2003 Rubicon Edition is meant for very serious off-roading. Its name comes from
the famed Rubicon Trail on the California-Nevada border.
Off-road trails in the U.S. are rated 1 to10 according
to difficulty, and the Rubicon Trail gets a 10 rating. Wranglers are still also available
in SE, X, Sport and Sahara versions. The Rubicon, as well as the X, Sport and Sahara, are
powered a 4.0-liter, inline six-cylinder engine. The engine produces 190-horsepower at
4600 rpm and 235 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm.
The standard engine of the base SE is a new 2.4-liter Power
Tech engine replacing the old 2.5-liter four-cylinder. This new engine is rated at
147-horsepower at 5200 rpm and 165 pounds-feet at 4000 rpm providing 25 percent more
horsepower and 18 percent more torque compared to the engine it replaces. It is also is
quieter and less thirsty. Either engine can be mated to a new standard five-speed manual
and a new four-speed automatic is optional on all models. The manual is a new heavier duty
transmission with improved cold weather shifting and synchronized reverse.
The EPA numbers are:
2.4 L Four-Cylinder
4.0 L Six-Cylinder
The fuel tank holds 19-gallons and when properly equipped
Wranglers can tow up to 2000 pounds (1000 pounds with the SE package).
The Rubicon Edition: Jeep marketers looked at what the
best hardware Jeep customizers were using and decided to offer it right-out-of-the-box on
the Rubicon. It is easily recognized by the huge "Rubicon" decal on the sides of
the hood and heavy-gauge diamond plate sill guards bolted on the body to protect the
The Rubicon rides on 31-inch high Goodyear Wrangler MT/R LT
245/7516 FSW tires mounted on 16-inch MOAB five-spoke, cast aluminum wheels providing
10-inches of ground clearance. This, plus the short, 93.4-inch, wheelbase results in a
maximum 45-degree approach, 34-degree departure and 25-degree ramp breakover angles. It
comes standard with front and rear Dana Model 44 axles, driver-actuated locking
differentials and a 4:1 low-range transfer case. At low speeds a dash-mounted switch can
lock the two axles and then intermittently lock and unlock the front axle to keep power
directed to the wheels with the best traction. When not locked, the rear axle has a
torque-sensing limited slip feature for better road traction. The 4:1 low range delivers
more torque at the slow speeds for off-road travel. Other features include additional skid
plating for the transfer case and fuel tank plus upgraded shocks and springs.
The Rubicon lists for $24,485, but the bottom line on the
Rubicon we tested was near the $29,000 mark. It was fitted with an automatic transmission
($825), air-conditioning ($895), hardtop ($920), cruise control ($250), electrochromatic
rearview mirror with temperature, compass and map lights ($220), and an AM/FM/CD stereo
with 7 speakers for $420.
All Wranglers come with a fold-down windshield and removable
doors. A soft-top is standard and a removable hardtop is optional. Though we didnt
try it, Jeep says both tops are much easier to remove or install than on pre-2001
Wranglers. The hardtop comes with full-height doors, roll-up windows and the rear window
equipped with a defroster, wiper and washer.
Surprisingly, the interior is far from spartan though the
layout shows that the basic design is now almost 15-years old. Instrumentation is very
complete and the controls are easy to use. Seats are quite comfortable. A couple of years
ago, ride quality on paved roads was greatly improved when coil springs replaced the front
leaf-spring suspension system without any compromise in off-road capability.
Todays Jeeps have the best safety equipment like dual
front airbags, three-point safety belts for all four seats and redesigned higher seatbacks
with integrated head restraints for greater protection in an accident. The more easily
removable fold-and-tumble rear seat is equipped with the LATCH (Lower Anchors and upper
Tethers for CHildren) system thats for mounting child safety seats directly to the
structure of the seat. And softer trim pieces inside mean improved head protection too.
Four-wheel disc brakes are fitted and ABS is available on the Sport and Sahara models.
The basic SE at $16,825 is just that, basic. The
four-cylinder engine is not well suited for high-speed highway travel and if you start
adding options like upgraded cloth versus vinyl upholstery, rear seat and rear carpeting,
a stereo, hardtop and other item you quickly approach Wrangler X territory at $19,845. The
Sport lists for $21,655 and the Sahara at $25,245 rivals the Rubicon in price.
As expected, the Intense Blue Rubicon we tested was more at
home on the trail than the Interstate. At speed, wind and road noise are high and every
tar strip is felt. With the automatic transmission the engine seemed to be straining at
times, but off-road there appeared to be no limit to its capabilities. And more than one
Jeep owner waved us to a stop so they could take a closer look, usually crawling under the
Rubicon to see all the goodies.
Unless you plan to do some extreme off-roading the other
Wrangler models offer a better comprise between daily driver and weekend adventures. But
for the serious off-roader you cannot put together all the pieces for no more effort than
signing your name to a sales contract and a check. For 2003 the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is
the best off road vehicle in the entire industry for the price, period. By Bill Siuru
& Shawn Stewart © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Jeep Home Page
Byline: Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo ©
Column Name: The best off road vehicle in the entire industry for the
Topic: 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Word Count: 1019
Photo Caption: 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Photo Credits: Jeep Internet Media
Series #: 2003 - 22
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