Moutain Wheels: Jeep’s Rubicon Hard Rock edition brings extra grit to Wrangler line
As perhaps the ultimate split-personality lifestyle product, the Rubicon edition of the everlasting and ever-transforming Jeep Wrangler isn’t necessarily the best in its paved road, civilized mode.
And that is a neck-jarring reality for that legion of poseurs who relegate what is still the most accomplished and capable off-road vehicle around, to urban duty. If you want to be even more miserable (but cool looking) while showing off in Urban Outfitters parking lots, upgrade to the Rubicon’s Hard Rock edition and its list of trail-smashing upgrades, including BF Goodrich KM 255/75R17 mud-and-terrain tires. With lugs so deep they could swallow up an infant.
But if you really are the kind of adventurer who spends the entire summer seeking out the gnarliest and nearly impossible mining roads possible in your DeLorme atlas, the Wrangler Rubicon is the tool you want. Absolutely. It will imbue you with instant hero status, which is a dangerous proposition.
I discovered this to be exceptionally true as I finally tackled the full Kingston Peak trail, a jarringly brutal but popular route that takes you from St. Mary’s Glacier and then up and over towards Black Hawk and Rollinsville.
Sure, a skilled (or perhaps somewhat cavalier) dude in a Silverado was also making his way across the miles and miles of unbelievably sharp, human head-sized shale shards that make up the above-the-treeline roadbed; everyone else on my entire trip was in a Rubicon. Texas plates abounded, with rugged-riding visitors crunching their way to rocky Nirvana with every mile.
Here, the ability to electronically disconnect the sway bars and give the Jeep a full range of articulation was critical, especially trying to gently clear rock slabs the size and height of a coffee table which lined the path.
In the Rubicon, no problem. Point the wheel, hold on, and ever-so-gently traverse any obstacle, climb any pitch and splash through deep streams, all to your heart’s content. And try not to get into too much trouble in the process, as terrain like that really is not as easy as it looks.
This special Hard Rock edition, available in both the two-door and four-door Wranglers, comes standard with a bunch of the stuff serious enthusiasts dream about in their aftermarket parts catalogs. If you’re not a gear geek, skip the next paragraph.
That means electronically locking Dana 44 axles, front and rear, with a special Rock-Trac transfer case, giving you a 4-Low ratio of 4:1. Tru-Lok locking differentials are standard, as is a 4.10 axle ratio front and back; the manual transmission version of the Hard Rock ends up with a 73.1:1 crawl ratio.
On the functional aesthetics side, the Hard Rock adds special steel bumpers on both ends, the front bumper ready for the easy addition of a winch. There’s functional breathing ports on the Power Dome hood, tow hooks and even bodyside rock rails; you also get special aluminum wheels with satin black outlining and unique emblems.
Indoors, however, that bipolar thing kicks in again, though the heated leather seats and nine-speaker Alpine stereo system help to explain how the total price, in my test vehicle, suddenly floated above $42,000. A five-speed automatic transmission, the reconfigurable Freedom Top hard top and the radio/navigation did play a reasonably big role in reaching that final tally.
Power was also never an issue, quite critically on those very steep and loose slopes, so kudos to the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, putting out 285 horsepower and a useful 260 lb.-ft. of torque — accessible at speeds ranging from a zero-mile-per-hour crawl to out on the highway on the road back home.
Sadly, that paved tarmac character is just a little unacceptably brutal, thanks mostly to the very offroad-oriented tires. But that’s part of the price of admission, and those who go full in for this most rugged of rugged vehicles probably dig that kind of thing already.
The two-door model’s rear seats, the backs of which did not in any obvious fashion fold flat, also pretty much fully negate any rear visibility, especially with the oversized wiper motor box, high-center brake lamp and rear-mounted spare. Rear side glass is huge, though, if you do end up in the back seat for an off-road romp.
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