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Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon – 2007 Review: There are few adventures in life that aren’t made more enjoyable when experienced with friends and loved ones. It’s why we invite each other to weddings, rally the troops for a trip to Vegas, and setup double blind dates.
For those who hate their couch, find happiness in numbers, and have an affinity for the unpaved path, Jeep hopes you’ll find the 2008 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon to be your chariot of choice. With room for five, the option of open-top motoring and four-wheel-drive capability that promises to tackle most any obstacle, you and your crew will only have to worry about the ponderous and unrefined ride to that secret oasis.
by Thom Blackett
Photo credit: Jeep
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What We Drove
So much for cheap thrills. Our 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4x4 test truck came well-equipped, though it also carried a rather lofty number on the window sticker. Priced at $31,270, this off-road brute featured Jeep Green Metallic paint ($150), front-side airbags ($490), floor mats ($50), a four-speed automatic transmission with a dedicated skid plate ($825), deep-tinted windows ($300), an upgraded sound system ($350), Sirius satellite radio with 12 months of service ($195), and a locking gas cap ($15). The destination charge was $660. Our week together included regular commuting and a memorable, and unfortunate, off-road adventure.
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Planted under the hood is a coarse 3.8-liter V-6, but engine refinement isn’t exactly expected from a Wrangler. Most buyers won’t cry about the lack of off-the-line response, the ho-hum highway passing power, the dismal 14.6-mpg average fuel economy, or the antiquated four-speed automatic transmission that’s slow to downshift. They will, however, appreciate plenty of torque for off-roading. In addition to the V-6 that pulls the Wrangler over most obstacles, brakes actually provide decent modulation on- and off-road, and the transfer case is easy to click into gear. Couple 4-Low with the transmission’s low gear, and you’ve got yourself an instant crawler.
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Highway handling feels like something from the 1970s – vague, sloppy, and ponderous. Still, it’s an improvement versus the previous Wrangler. One can cruise at speed with some semblance of control, though the BFGoodrich tires whine and there’s the sense that with one sudden move the party’s over. Off-road, the Unlimited sports a tight turning radius and the suspension provides a decent amount of travel for weekend warriors, but not serious trail riders. Our rig featured electronic controls for the sway bar disconnect and front and rear locking differentials. Nevertheless, one of our editors managed to get the Rubicon high-centered, ultimately turning the front driveshaft into a pretzel.
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Inside the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, pillars and roll bars are narrow enough so as to not limit visibility, but the plastic soft-top windows have a tendency to distort, and they can be especially hard to see out of after a bit of romping on dusty trails. Large side mirrors do a nice job of painting a clear rearward picture. Despite any shortcomings, the Unlimited provides a clear view of traffic, making for stress-free merging, and the mirrors afford drivers a good sense of placement, whether mired in traffic or slicing through a narrow off-road path.
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Fun to Drive
Sophisticated champagne-and-caviar types will surely look elsewhere for their kind of fun. But for those who like adventure, the kind that entails gettin’ dirty and laughin’ with good friends, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon just may pay for itself in spades. It’s all about off-road enjoyment, as the highway ride is bearable but not this SUV’s selling point. Nor is the Wrangler about grin-inducing speed. That being said, spend some time with a Jeep climbing boulders and you just might discover more fun than you thought possible at three mph.
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Before walking onto a Jeep dealer’s lot, shoppers need to understand that the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is not the most comfortable rig. There are vehicles better suited for long-distance highway hauls, though this dirt-loving SUV does its best with seats that are soft and spacious, if not terribly supportive. On second thought, those who find themselves bouncing along rocky trails would likely opt for overly soft padding any day. A tilt steering wheel is a welcome touch, whereas the hard front center armrest is not. Metal doors with plastic panels are no place for resting forearms, and the lower body lip adds a degree of difficulty to entry.
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As is the case with the front buckets, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon’s rear split bench seat is a fine place for sitting…as long as the ride isn’t too long. Doors open wide, but the high lip requires passengers step up and into the Unlimited. Padding is generous, though too soft to be supportive. Dual outboard head restraints add a level of comfort and safety.
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WHAT’S THAT? YOU WANNA KNOW HOW LOUD THE UNLIMITED RUBICON IS?
OK, so it’s not that bad. Our ears aren’t still ringing, but not even a reject from the dictionary factory would define this vehicle as quiet. The 32-inch BFG off-road rubber adds all kinds of noise, even at slow speeds. The V-6 is unrefined and loud regardless of where the tachometer needle happens to be pointed. Hardly a surprise, wind noise is also a major offender, though the audio system does a commendable job of drowning out all the sources of noise pollution with songs of choice from the optional Sirius satellite radio service.
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Placed at the tail end of the Unlimited Rubicon is a gate that swings open easily and bears an exterior-mounted spare tire. Inside, there’s a flat rear load floor that extends when the split rear bench is folded, and is covered in hard, durable, and easily-cleaned plastic. Our tester also featured a right-side subwoofer that absorbed some valuable space. Though useful, storing cargo in the Wrangler is risky business – you’ve got a soft top with clear windows that’s only a Velcro strip and zipper away from being opened.
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We’re talking a Jeep Wrangler here, people. Heck, the top comes down and the doors off in a matter of minutes. Tight tolerances and interior refinement are not the primary concerns. So, no one should faint in disbelief at the sight of rough edges around many of the cabin’s bits and noticeable gaps along the body panels. Out on the trail, we wouldn’t give any of this a second’s thought. But during the daily slog, snarled in traffic with time to ponder that $31,000 price tag? That’s when we’re betting buyers might feel a bit cheated.
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In this rare case, the generous use of durable, shiny plastics is actually a good thing. After getting our test truck as stuck as stuck can be, and subsequently filling the interior with pounds of dirt and dust while attempting extrication, a local detail shop was charged with returning the Unlimited Rubicon to its former glory. The cloth seats and the rugs were shampooed; everything else was tackled with a bucket of soapy water and a rag. The lesson? You can spend a day in the dirt and bring the Jeep back to new with little more than some suds and a Shop-Vac.
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Attractive as the 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon may be on the road, there are certain styling elements that come into question on the trail. Plastic bumper covers, admittedly more suitable than painted parts, are sure to become roughed up as soon as you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, or if you get stuck and need to use a high-lift jack. Same goes for the snazzy alloy wheels, which look great until they start spinning against hard dirt, all in an attempt to reach freedom. Deep-dish rims would fare better. Of course, this is all purely hypothetical…
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Corner stores are hard to find on the trail. Thankfully, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon offers enough space to carry stuff when an excursion looks at the civilized world and then heads in the opposite direction. There’s a decent glovebox, dual front cupholders, and an ample cubby under the front center armrest. The trunk, easily capable of swallowing all your camping gear and a large cooler, measures 46.4 cubic feet, expanding to 86.8 cubic feet with the split rear bench seat folded.
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Audio controls in the Unlimited Rubicon are simple. The Sirius satellite-provided tunes meant we could enjoy the audio system even when we were well out of regular radio range. Dials and buttons are well labeled, and a couple of tweeters, positioned atop the dash on each corner, blast sound in the direction of the driver and front passenger. There are no steering wheel-mounted controls, and we noticed that it was impossible to scan and adjust volume at the same time – adjusting volume mid scan would lock in the current station.
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No quad-zone, electronic climate control systems in this SUV. Instead, the 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon features the usual trio of dials responsible for fan speed, temperature, and mode. Multiple dash-mounted vents offer thumb indents for easy opening and closing. The cabin reached the desired temperature quite quickly, but we usually just cranked down the driver’s window for a breeze of fresh air. Of course, for the ultimate dose of outside air, all one has to do is roll back the soft top (if equipped).
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This is another area where shoppers need to consider how they’ll use the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Even at more than $31,000, there are no power windows, power door locks, or power mirrors. They just don’t make the cut on a truck with removable doors, so don’t plan on simply hitting a couple buttons on the driver’s door when closing things up for the night. Standard cruise control can be found on a small stalk behind the steering wheel. Electronic sway bar disconnect and power front and rear differential locks are operated by buttons located on the lower dash, with engagement lights in the gauge cluster.
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For hard-core off-roaders who buy new instead of building up their own creations, the brands of choice are Jeep and Hummer. Nearly every manufacturer sells something billed as four- or all-wheel drive, but these are the badges truly capable of heading from the showroom to the Rubicon Trail. The most direct competitor from Hummer is the Chevrolet Colorado-based H3, packing a 242-horsepower five-cylinder engine and a new 300-horse V8 Alpha model for 2008. The 2007 Hummer H3 is priced from the low to high $30s; the 2008 Alpha pushes the envelope to the low $40s.
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2ND Opinion –
I'll preface this by saying that I didn't hit Moab in this Jeep. I didn't even accidentally run over part of a lawn during my time behind the wheel; this was a strictly on-road drive for me. Hey, I live in Los Angeles, and this place was pretty thoroughly paved over some decades ago, so cut me some slack, m'kay?
Anyhow, while bumping along in this Jeep along one of Southern California's glorious stretches of federally-funded concrete parking lots -- the 405 to you and me -- I was struck by how this Jeep is a lot like a Mazda Miata…
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2ND Opinion –
Remember Lassie, that faithful collie that came through no matter what the circumstances to save Timmy from yet another weekly peril? Overcoming fear of fire and rushing into burning forests, suffering through porcupine quills in the snout, and trudging on even after inadvertently stepping into bear traps, Lassie, man’s best friend, persevered and always managed to help. Well, hop in the backseat Lassie, Timmy’s got a new best friend. The 2007 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is the most reliable friend you can have when traveling in the...
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