You could do better, but you might not want to
Your friends and family see it. Strangers see it and respond with their eyes. Deep down, even you have to acknowledge it.
You can do better. Sure, your significant other is a champion runner, but you haven't laced up a pair of Nike's since high school gym class. In every other way, that person underdelivers on all the key traits you're looking for in a partner. But you're hooked. Nobody else gets its, but frankly, you don't care.
That's essentially how we felt after our week with the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. As admitted fans of tight handling, seamless or bountiful power, sexy styling, and upscale interiors, Jeep's off-roading four-door should be keeping the seat warm at the bottom of our shopping list.
But it's not. Antiquated as it may seem, and unrefined though it may be, the Wrangler Unlimited is, in a word, fun, even when it's not clawing its way over rocks. This iconic utility vehicle is built for buyers willing to trade commendable handling and performance, among other things, for an off-roader of distinction. However, as we learned, this Jeep can get its tow hooks into pavement dwellers, too.
Photos courtesy of Jeep
Getting yourself into the entry-level 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4X2 will set you back $23,410, a price that includes a V6 and automatic transmission, traction and stability control systems, air conditioning, and Jeep's Sunrider soft top. Next up is the $25,700 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S Package 4X2, with features including alloy wheels, deep-tint rear windows, keyless entry, power locks and windows, cruise control, and a manual transmission. Rear-drive Unlimiteds can also be ordered as the $27,730 Sahara, a model dressed with body-color and silver exterior trim, side steps, and a 368-watt Infinity sound system.
Those are a few nice Wranglers, but that 4X2 deal is darn near sacrilegious in the world of slot-grilled off-roaders. These folks can choose from the $24,585 Sport 4X4, the $26,875 Sport S Package 4X4, the $28,905 Saraha, and a number of other variants. They include the $27,995 Islander, with its full console and its unique styling accents; the $28,695 Mountain, featuring gray and black exterior trim as well as taillight guards; and the Wrangler we tested, the $32,050 Rubicon, delivered with its own four-wheel-drive system and other bits that separate it from mere 4X4s. With destination charges, an optional hardtop and navigation system, our truck came in at $35,975.
Unlatch any 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited's hood, prop it up and what you'll find underneath is a 3.8-liter V6 that generates 202 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 237 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. Transmission choices include a four-speed automatic with a 4.10 axle or a six-speed manual with a standard 3.21 axle or an optional 4.10 ratio. The EPA suggests that drivers of Unlimited 4X2s will see 15 mpg around town and 20 mpg on the highway. Bolt on the four-wheel-drive system and the expect to average 15 mpg in the city 19 mpg when cruising the freeway, regardless of gearbox selection. Our week spent with a 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon included a good bit of highway driving as we traveled between destinations, with fuel economy consistently hovering around 17-18 mpg.#8. Rocks, prepare to be crawled upon.
Possibly more than any other mainstream vehicle, the Jeep Wrangler is expected to be almost unstoppable off-road. In an effort to meet that high standard, four-wheel-drive versions of the 2010 Wrangler Unlimited are fitted with the Command-Trac part-time, two-speed transfer case with low-range. For added capability, buyers can opt for a limited-slip rear differential.
And then there's the Unlimited Rubicon, to which Jeep has bolted on some serious hardware. At the core of this Wrangler remains a two-speed transfer case, but instead of the standard 3.21, this unit features a 4.10 gear ratio that provides the Rubicon with more throttle control at slow speeds. More off-road capability is delivered via electronic-locking front and rear differentials, with activation requiring nothing more than tapping a button on the dash. Not quite satisfied with that setup, Jeep also fitted the Rubicon with an electronic front sway bar disconnect. Operational at under 18 mph and with the four-wheel-drive system in low-range, this feature affords the front wheels more vertical movement and delivers the extra articulation needed when venturing far beyond the beaten path.
If you're thinking about a test drive of the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, set realistic expectations before ever stepping foot on a dealer's lot. First and foremost, this is a purpose-built off-roader, and that's the environment in which it truly shines. On city streets and highways, where we accumulated the most miles on our tester, the ride is stiff and bumpy, the steering light and uncommunicative, and overall responsiveness is about 9/10ths short of precise.
That being said, we grew surprisingly fond of our roaming Rubicon. Yes, highway drives required slight but frequent corrections to the steering wheel, and the macho John Waynes of tires - 17-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/As - simply added to the inescapable barrage of auditory stimulation. But, the brakes were easy to modulate, and compared to older Wranglers, this current generation tackles pavement like a Ferrari. After a week, the relatively antiquated vagueness of it all was like an old friend, one that, unlike most modern cars, made you feel as though you were hitting 60 mph instead of the actual 40 mph. Speeding, for us, was an uncommon occurrence.
Our 2010 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon test vehicle weighed in at more than 4,300 pounds. That's a lot of Jeep to haul around with only 202 horses and 237 lb.-ft. of torque. Thankfully, we had the six-speed manual gearbox that allowed us to get the most out of every gear, which was especially helpful when building speed to merge onto highways. Crank the rpm and the tach needle out of its lumbering comfort zone, and the V6 voices its unrefined displeasure, but the job gets done. Around town, there are no issues in terms of power, though an occasion of extreme stop-and-go traffic had us wishing for less resistance from the clutch pedal. For its part, the six-speed tranny was, like the Rubicon's handling, imprecise, which is likely fine by those genuinely interested in this Wrangler and what it's been built to do.#5. For a rugged box on wheels, the Unlimited is sufficiently comfortable.
Given our 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon's rough and rugged ride, we, and especially our backsides, were thankful for the front bucket seats, which were consistently comfortable, though our lower backs were a bit sore after a long drive. Without side steps, climbing up and into the Rubicon wasn't as easy as pie (the passenger is aided by the grab handle over the glovebox), but once in drivers may appreciate the commanding view of the road. Creature comforts are in short supply, and include a center armrest with usable storage, a couple of small cupholders, and a tilting, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Folks relegated to the Wrangler Unlimited's rear seat will likely look upon the folks up front with envy. The flat bench's thigh support is what we'd call woefully insufficient, while the backrest was too upright. That being said, we enjoyed plenty of overall room, and imagine that any complaints would fare poorly against a top-off drive on a warm and sunny day.
Compared to most top-trim vehicles, the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon's interior is fairly sparse. Among the features are a climate control system that offers simple operation, well-placed buttons with labels like Axle Lock and Trac Off, a handy net located below the instrument panel, a large glovebox, and storage pockets on the front doors. Because the doors are removable, the power window switches have been placed on the center dash, positioning that required repeated use for us to remember. They are illuminated, but not enough to be easily found at night. Second-row passengers are granted seatback pockets and a pair of cupholders.
That relative sparseness was offset by our test truck's UConnect navigation system. Unlike other units, including unnecessarily complicated examples in certain luxury cars, the Jeep's take on technology offered all the logical usefulness we needed. With a few taps on the push-button screen, we were on our way with clear directions, a 3D map feature, real-time traffic info, and voice-guidance that compensated for the Unlimited's noisy ride. This is also where you'll find the radio controls, which again, were simple and intuitive.
If you've shopped for a crossover, a small or midsize SUV, or a sedan lately, you know that there's no shortage of models to choose from. Nearly every mainstream, and sometimes not so mainstream, manufacturer has at least one of each in its lineup. And, yet, the Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited remain unmistakable. Outside, the classic lines solider on, capped by the slotted grill up front and the exterior-mounted square taillights out back.
Inside the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is a generous helping of hard plastics. Normally, we get on our soapbox and start preaching to the masses about the power of good (soft plastics) versus bad (hard plastics), but in a utility rig destined for dirty trails, an interior decorated with materials that can be easily wiped clean is a plus. Those hard panels and bits feel durable, and the cabin is dressed up a bit with full carpeting (including the cargo area) and mesh padding on all of the rollover bars.
Since we're not hardcore off-roaders, we ultimately chose to evaluate our 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon from a different perspective. We wanted to know how much fun could be had with a boxy, relatively unrefined trail-rated four-by...without ever hitting a trail.
As it turns out, a helluva lot. Drenched in bright Surf Blue paint (think smurf blue), the Rubicon garnered attention most everywhere it traveled, which was several hundred miles throughout northern New England. As previously mentioned, we grew to like the Jeep's imprecise handling, and found ourselves looking forward to time spent driving the most rugged of smurfs. With a couple of free days and good weather, we strapped a kayak to the roof and headed for Maine's Sebago Lake, alongside which we parked, folded the rear seat, and laid down for the night. After waking up (with a bit of a backache) and a peaceful morning paddle, the hardtop's two front panels were removed for the ride home (in hindsight, we should've removed the detachable doors at the onset of our trip and experienced one of the other benefits of owning a Wrangler). With wind and tire noise at its peak, the Infinity sound system, including its overhead speaker bar and rear subwoofer, was cranked to drown out all the commotion.
Fun was found in spades, even without steering the Rubicon off the beaten path.
One look at the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, and it's clear that this particular mode of transportation isn't for everyone. The styling, especially when accented by Surf Blue paint, is distinct, the handling and performance underwhelming by even commuter-car standards, the gas mileage poor, the noise levels high, and creature comforts almost non-existent.
But, somehow, the Wrangler Unlimited is fun, even when not driven off-road. Perhaps it grows on you like a clumsy but likeable puppy. Maybe its preference to stay out of the hectic passing lane helps its driver slow down a bit, too.
And, then again, there's a good chance that shoppers drawn to the Wrangler Unlimited don't give a hoot about such philosophical hogwash. They'd say, "It's a Jeep thing. You wouldn't understand." We can't explain it, but we tend to agree.