Mountain Wheels: Fourth-generation Jeep Wrangler set to debut | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Fourth-generation Jeep Wrangler set to debut

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

One of the most iconic and certainly Colorado-focused vehicles on the market is up for a significant retooling in its fourth-generation model — which is a bit of a spoiler alert for Jeep aficionados.

Later this month, you'll get a chance to see the newest rendition of the long-lasting Jeep Wrangler, that most purpose-built and bipolar of automobiles, as the all-new JL line is introduced at the annual L.A. International Auto Show.

I can't make it to the event this year, but from the looks of things, the all-new Wrangler appears to remain true to its long-running traditions, with adaptability and flexibility certainly staying true to the machine's original purposes.

In the meantime, let me tell you about my very recent experience with a 2017 Wrangler Unlimited — the four-door variation of the Jeepiest Jeep of the family.

My ride was not only the upgraded and really, not-kidding "trail-rated" Rubicon model, but further differentiated as the Recon special edition — with a plentitude of dark exterior features and bright red highlights on the inside. That includes a laundry list of mechanical upgrades for off-road prowess, plus a solid, weather-beating hard top.

It was also very close to $50,000 ($48,870, to be precise), which may strike some observers as a hell of a lot of money to spend on an arguably rudimentary vehicle whose on-road dynamics are often less than desirable, especially during any full-speed interstate highway travel.

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As Jeep enthusiasts will tell you, however, that's all a matter of perspective, especially considering the off-road prowess the Rubicon demonstrates — and pocket change, considering the amount of money some will spend on modifications to their Jeeps.

Folks who are serious about trail riding can use the Rubicon to tackle nearly every trail possible in four-door comfort, with the vehicle's electronically detaching front sway bars adding ridiculous levels of articulation and flexibility over rocks, trees, boulders and the regular Jeepy list of obstacles.

The Wrangler Unlimited also shows more promise as an on-road, around-town automobile, with 60-40 split rear seating, and a comfortably carpeted and largely finished interior (plus gigantic, tire-tread mats in my upscale Rubicon Recon) that will please folks who aren't necessarily joining you for a boulder-crawling weekend, but instead heading to a movie.

The Rubicon's dual personality does still cause a few issues, especially considering the off-road-focused model rides on very aggressive 32-inch BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tires on 17-inch dark-but-glossy aluminum wheels.

Up to about 65 MPH, you're golden — the ride is a little bumpy but the extended wheelbase adds an additional feeling of stability and the 3.6-liter V-6 seems entirely comfortable in mixed traffic conditions.

At speeds higher than that, the Rubicon becomes downright uncomfortable and bouncy, and you'll notice the all-around fuel efficiency dropping considerably below the 20 MPG highway rating issued by the EPA.

Is that a deal killer? For those seeking serious off-road credentials, probably not, as they're likely to put even bigger and less comfortable tires on theirs. The Rubicon's heavy-duty suspension and those big tires also give the vehicle a good ride height, though access is not impossible (and newer, loose-hanging fabric grab handles on the frame do help when hoisting yourself aboard).

Off-road, it's unbeatable, and can provide a relatively safe platform for testing your sense of adventure. Here, the 285 horsepower and an admittedly old-fashioned but functional five-speed automatic transmission help channel the precise sort of pull required for hoisting yourself over rocks and running through spots more suited for a motorcycle.

In the Recon upgrade, the mechanicals are very much suited to serious trail work. In addition to an upgraded front axle (Dana 44 axles there and in the rear), plus an upgraded two-speed transfer case and a very aggressive low-range gear ratio.

You also get upgraded rock rails along the body that serve as step-in running boards, plus extra armor for the differential. In addition to the electronic sway bar, there are also electric locking differentials in the front and rear, when power and pull are required on the trail.

The existing Wrangler family has four different models — Sport, Sport S and Sahara included — plus specialty models including the classically inspired Golden Eagle, plus Freedom and Altitude editions.

2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Recon 4×4

MSRP: $37,445; As tested: $48,870

Powertrain: 285-HP 3.6-liter V-6 with five-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 18 combined (16 city/20 highway)