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2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

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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:           City MPG       Highway MPG

2.4 L Four-Cylinder
Manual                             18                      23
Automatic                         16                      20

4.0 L Six-Cylinder
Manual                             15                      20
Automatic                         16                      19

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 rocker panels.

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 didn’t 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.

Today’s 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 that’s 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

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  The best off road vehicle in the entire industry for the price
Topic:  2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Word Count:   1019
Photo Caption:  2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Photo Credits:  Jeep Internet Media
Series #:   2003 - 22

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Download the original image file here:  2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 29k

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Publisher - Editor:   Tony Leopardo
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City, State, Zip:    San Mateo, California 94403
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