In some ways, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is hard to quantify in terms of a normal car review. Some will call it a dream machine of the highest order, others an impractical and expensive box on wheels. A vehicle of this caliber is purely an emotional decision, but if this is your unicorn, it will be worth every penny.
Safety & Tech Features
Spartan & Rugged
Not Overly Practical
Maintenance Cost Over Time
During my week with the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, I kept thinking about the book Never Stop Driving by Larry Webster. “We learned that passion for the automobile is very strong across America and across all age groups,” Webster said of his time while writing the book. “People are still obsessed with cars and engage in the car culture through various ways.”
The culture that surrounds Jeep is really something. I have friends who venture out to Moab for the Easter Jeep Safari every year and put thousands of dollars into their Jeeps. I have another friend, a retired Chrysler employee I go to church with, who is a loyal Jeep enthusiast. Almost every person you meet with a Jeep has some sort of emotional connection to it.
I felt that during my week with the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. I understand better what they feel and why they embrace Jeeps the way they do. Here is how my test drive went (not all of it was on paved roads either!).
Jeep Wrangler: What’s New For 2020
Engine availability has changed slightly across the Wrangler line.
The 2.0-liter turbo is now available with electronic start/stop for the Wrangler Sport and Rubicon. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with eTorque is now available for the Wrangler Sahara. Due to high consumer demand, the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 is now available for the Wrangler, which is what our Rubicon tester had.
Trim levels for the 2020 Jeep Wrangler include Sport, Sport S, Sahara (four-door only), and Rubicon. The Sport now offers LED headlamps and fog lamps as optional equipment.
2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: Standard Features
Our Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon was loaded with off-road tools from the factory. The Rubicon comes with a 4:1 Rock-Trac Heavy-Duty 4WD System; electronic front and rear locking differentials; Dana axles (M210 front, M220 rear); front disconnecting stabilizer bar; Hill Start Assist; and skid plates for the fuel tank, transmission, and transfer case.
33-inch BF Goodrich KM All-Terrain tires are standard because nobody thinks small tires are cool. Nobody goes to a steak joint for salad. This is a Jeep. Nothing against salad and small tires, but you get the idea . . .
Other standard features include a backup camera, keyless entry, and a universal garage door opener. The backup camera is especially nice with this larger Jeep.
Optional Equipment: Welcome To The Buffet!
Jeep piles it on with the Wrangler Rubicon, and the extra options make driving this off-road beast a joy. For our tester, it started with the Ocean Blue Metallic paint ($195), and leather trimmings for the seats, parking brake handle, and shift knob. The Customer Preferred Package 26R gave us tons of practical amenities, and things Jeep buyers will find value in.
The Customer Preferred Package includes the Trailer-Tow and Heavy-Duty Electrical Group ($795). That provides a set of auxiliary switches; 240-amp alternator; 700-amp battery; class III receiver; and seven- and four-pin wiring harnesses. The LED Lighting Group ($1,045) includes LED fog lamps, daytime-running headlamps, and taillights.
The Steel Bumper Group ($1,395) adds exactly that: front and rear steel bumpers.
Safety & Security
The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is standard with electronic stability control and roll mitigation; heavy-duty anti-lock disc brakes; front air bags; and front seat side air bags. The Safety Group ($895) and Advanced Safety Group ($795) are optional and both were equipped on our Rubicon tester. Together they include rear parking assist; blind-spot and cross-path detection; adaptive cruise control; advanced brake assist; and forward collision warning.
How Much Is The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon?
Base price for our 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon tester was $42,125, with the total MSRP coming in at $60,815 with destination. According to Jeep’s website, the 2020 Wrangler Sport starts at $28,295 with the Rubicon beginning at $38,625.
We recommend, given the number of available packages, pricing out your Wrangler ahead of time. For example, if you look at the base price of our tester, versus the final MSRP, there is nearly a $20,000 difference.
Interior Highlights: Spartan Is Better
Despite our Wrangler Rubicon being on the higher end, it still retained that spartan nature common to Jeep. It was, for all intents and purposes, one of my favorite things about our week-long drive. Our tester had no heated seats or steering wheel, few soft-touch surfaces, and little sound insulation. In a different vehicle, omission of these might serve as an egregious error; but this is a Jeep. And a Wrangler at that.
I started enjoying the cold seats when I jumped in early in the morning. I liked seeing the exposed body-color steel inside, and I loved hearing the engine and suspension. To me, it’s this spartan nature that really stands out about the Wrangler Rubicon.
Spartan as the Wrangler Rubican might be, it’s not all bronze age in the cab. Our press vehicle came with an 8.4-inch display with FCA’s Uconnect system (still one of the best on the market in terms of connectivity technology). Uconnect is compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and is easy to figure out. I hooked my phone up via Bluetooth in about 10 seconds, and found the navigation system was rather intuitive.
Our tester also had a number of optional SiriusXM services like Traffic, Travel Link, and Guardian. We just jammed with the SiriusXM radio but the extra services are useful for those on the go.
The Wi-Fi hotspot and Alpine audio system are nice additions for tailgating or camping. However, we were not overly impressed with the Alpine system. Perhaps the Rubicon doesn’t provide the best acoustics – maybe that is the case? I was a bit surprised, since the Alpine stereo in the Ram Rebel is a really nice system.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: Engine & Powertain
Nestled under the hood of our Wrangler Rubicon was a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6, which is the engine to have in the Wrangler. The plant, complete with a water-cooled turbocharger, variable geometry turbine, and low-friction bearings, cranks out 260 horsepower and a healthy 442 lb-ft. of torque.
Connected to the EcoDiesel is a TorqueFlite 8HP75 eight-speed automatic with more than 40 individual shift maps. These maps optimize shift points for fuel economy and 4×4 capability among other things. During our drive, the TorqueFlite was seamless as it shifted.
Body Like a Brick House
If you research Jeep, you will find a spotty record in terms of reliability. If you talk to Jeep owners, you may get a range of different thoughts on the matter as well. Unfortunately, we only had a week with our press vehicle, not nearly enough time to gauge long-term ownership concerns like reliability. Barring that, I do believe the EcoDiesel Wrangler can withstand the miles. I base this on (in addition to the Wards Automotive awards) what the engine is actually made from.
The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel has a number interesting features, especially from a material standpoint. The block is cast with compacted graphite iron while a compacted graphite iron bed-plate adds further rigidity. Steel is used for the crankshaft and connecting rods. Heat-treated aluminum makes up the cylinder heads, which have individual bearing caps to reduce friction. The aluminum alloy pistons, cooled on the underside via oil jets, feature a diamond-like carbon coating on the pin and compression rings to reduce parasitic loss.
This architecture and design is unique to the EcoDiesel, but it’s part of the reason why diesel engines tend to last as long as they do (provided you maintain them). In addition to better fuel economy and more power, the engine’s material design is why we recommend the diesel if you are seriously considering a Jeep Wrangler.
EPA fuel economy estimates for our Wrangler Rubicon were 22/29 city/highway and 25 combined. I have a lighter foot, so I was able to push 30 on the highway and even slightly higher than 22 in the city most days. I also left the electric start/stop on which helped.
The 5.1-gallon DEF tank is directly behind the fuel tank. According to Jeep, DEF refills should align with oil changes and last up to 10,000 miles. Levels are monitored via a gauge in the front cluster.
How Does The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Drive?
I don’t normally like a loose feeling in the steering wheel, and the Wrangler Rubicon is a bit lax in the steering to me. However, despite that being a pet peeve of mine, it works in the Wrangler Rubicon’s favor most of the time. It makes the larger Jeep easier to maneuver around corners, through traffic, and over some of the more abrasive obstacles you are likely to encounter off the beaten path.
The steering is like the spartan interior I mentioned above. In any other vehicle, such things would be a major oversight, but for a Jeep they work. While I would want a tighter steering wheel if it were another vehicle, I am inclined to give it a pass for the Wrangler Rubicon.
Road noise is better than you might think, even with the meaty tires and even over bumps. The assumption is a Jeep of this caliber is going to be loud and jarring, but the Wrangler Rubicon might surprise a few in this area.
Powerful & Punchy: The EcoDiesel At Work
Hearing the EcoDiesel punch the time clock never gets old. It’s not abrasively loud, but it’s not muted by a bunch of sound-deadening fluff either. Even a slight tap of the pedal will tell you it’s the real deal. The signature rumble and rattle garnered us a half dozen looks during our week-long drive, including one who yelled out “That’s a sweet ride!”
And a slight tap of the pedal is all it takes. While the EcoDiesel is a bit shaky from a standing start, once underway things become more streamlined. While heading out of downtown Detroit on several occasions, we had to merge onto M-10. By that point, we were doing anywhere from 25 to 35 mph, and hitting the pedal in that rpm range produces a lot of thrust.
Snow Days In The Mitten
The same day we received our Jeep Wrangler Rubicon a snowstorm descended on the Detroit metro. Talk about perfect timing and talk about peace of mind. Granted, the Wrangler Rubicon has more than enough gusto to deal with snow, especially on city streets, but we were still impressed. We only ran in 4×4 high, but it was something to really feel the 33-inch BF Goodrich tires bite down after being fed power from the EcoDiesel.
Up near Rochester and Lake Orion, we found some snow-covered gravel roads that had not seen a lot of traffic. We tossed our Wrangler Rubicon tester into 4×4 High and traversed the gravel roads, which had more snow on them than we thought. Some had a few sweeping turns and quick drops, which our Wrangler Rubicon handled with ease.
Every Jeep has those famous seven slots in the grille, a tribute to Jeep being capable on all seven continents. While winters here in Michigan are rough, we figure if a Jeep can handle Antarctica it can handle the Mitten. And for us, that was certinately the case.
Conclusion: Will Light Fires
Vehicles like the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon are for those who love to drive. Some have sports cars or muscle cars; some go for fancy trucks and luxurious SUVs; but others go for the rugged look and feel of a Jeep. I don’t blame them. After a week with the Wrangler Rubicon, I understand what all the buzz is about.
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is really in the eye of the beholder, and its value to a consumer is directly related to their lifestyle. To some, the Wrangler Rubicon will be the most practical and versatile vehicle on the planet. To others, it would be nothing but a headache. For some, the cost is worth it; to others, the money is better spent elsewhere.
In some ways, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is hard to quantify in terms of a normal car review. However, if you are an enthusiast of any kind, and you have been saving your pennies and dimes for something that will ignite your passion for driving, then consider putting the Wrangler Rubicon at the top of your list.
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He serves on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, is a past president of Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal Detroit Lions fan.