2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: First Drive Review

Abhay Verma
The conundrum of making one of the best off-roaders better has been solved, it appears

What Ferrari and Lamborghini are to sportscar lovers is what Jeep is to off-road fanatics. And at least for us in India, the Wrangler Rubicon is pretty much the last word. It’s an SUV that will have you gawk at what it is capable of off-tarmac without even breaking a sweat itself. I’ve had the opportunity to do some amazing things with the Rubicon and when it comes to hardcore off-roading, few SUVs in the country come close. But I’m sure the good folk at Jeep’s HQ in the USA would’ve had a conundrum at their hands – how do they better something as good? They seem to have solved it, or at least so it appears, because as you read this, Jeep has just launched the updated, 2024 Wrangler in India, in both, Unlimited and Rubicon trims. 

The current generation Wrangler (JL) has been getting assembled in India for a couple of years and that helped make it more affordable than before. However, at its price, the Wrangler, especially the Rubicon, hasn’t caught the fancy of many outside of off-road clubs, because others still found it to be a little too utilitarian. So this time, Jeep has tried to turn the good old Wrangler into a more wholesome SUV by adding a list of features and tech to turn it into a more ‘lifestyle’ SUV whilst retaining its off-roading credentials. Think backroom brawler in Oxford brogues. How good is the makeover? Half a day driving the Rubicon, on the tarmac and off it, helped me assess. 

Design changes are not extensive, but these are significant updates. It starts with the trademark seven-slot grille. The grille isn’t new, but gets a black finish for the slots which looks more appealing and will also help distinguish this one from the outgoing version. The radio antenna sits integrated into the windscreen now and the Rubicon’s windscreen is now a slab of gorilla glass. Yes, the same stuff you have on most smartphones these days – it’s a first in an automobile! The idea is that with something like the Rubicon, you’ll be driving through trees, have stones and whatnot fly onto the windscreen when driving off-road, and the gorilla glass will help in preventing it from getting scratched. I’m just scratching my head thinking why didn’t anyone think of this before?

Coming back to the way it looks, the Rubicon looks apocalypse-ready. The current generation Wrangler Rubicon has that unmistakable stance that makes it stand out, wherever you go. It also gets different bumpers as compared to the Unlimited, smaller 17-inch alloy wheels with a machined finish that are shod with massive, 33-inch BF-Goodrich tyres meant to claw through sand, mud and pretty much anything. Then there’s the higher ground clearance which makes for a towering presence! We drove the Rubicon finished in white, sans a roof or the full doors and only with the ‘safety’ doors, which helped it look even cooler. There’s no denying this cool-looking SUV that gets you a lot of attention, with its design and size. 

There are a bunch of updates to the interiors as well – like I mentioned, the idea is to have the Rubicon feel more premium, more than just a hardcore off-roader. One of the first things you’ll notice this is the bigger, 12.3-inch touchscreen display for the infotainment system, which is a class act given its resolution, brightness and touch sensitivity. It isn’t just bigger but is also a huge step up from the previous screen. It adds to the cabin’s premium quotient, along with the new polyurethane finish on the dashboard that makes it even more durable and resistant to wear and tear when exposed to the elements. Jeep also claims to have lowered the Rubicon’s NVH levels to make for a quieter experience, in keeping with the intent to have the Rubicon feel more premium. 

Both front seats are now 12-way electrically adjustable but if you’re wondering what happens when you dunk the Rubicon into water, fret not. The switches (and the motor) are completely sealed, so you can drive through a river without a worry and even just hose down the interiors after an off-roading session! Now, this isn’t something we’ve seen before and bears testament to Jeep’s commitment to making the Rubicon feel more premium. To the same effect, you also get Nappa leather seats now, along with a heated steering wheel and heated front seats. The latter should certainly help when ploughing through snow, or simply driving around during winters in Chandigarh or Punjab, one of the biggest markets for the Rubicon.  

There are some big updates on the safety front as well. The biggest is the inclusion of ADAS. The Rubicon is a hardcore off-roader and you wouldn’t expect something like it to be equipped with ADAS, but Jeep has done that and you get adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning with active braking now. And that’s besides six airbags which can deploy even when you’ve taken the full doors off. The Wrangler also gets updated audio systems and the Rubicon gets a 552W, 9-speaker Alpine music system with a 12-channel amplifier, subwoofer and active noise cancellation exclusive to it. Jeep claims that including the music system’s active noise cancellation, noise levels are down by a significant 20dB.

The new infotainment system packs in the latest version of Jeep’s Uconnect system, offline navigation and supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, adding to convenience. Way to go, for something that’s been hailed for its off-road capabilities but not much beyond that, especially in our country. What has not changed is the engine. That means you get the same, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that puts out 270PS and 400Nm, mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. I’ve always been surprised by how quickly the Rubicon can accelerate, because it weighs over 2 tonnes, is meant for off-roading and is massive in size. Claimed 0-100kmph is a mere 8.1 seconds. Hail turbocharging!

In-gear acceleration is very quick too and with barely any turbo lag, a mere dab of the throttle has the Rubicon dart ahead with the nose getting lighter as the weight moves back. You break into a smile instantly and realise, it’s all part of the Rubicon’s theatrics. The engine also feels extremely refined, besides which there’s no dearth of performance throughout the revband. The permanent four-wheel drive system does a brilliant job too and overall, the Rubicon is sure to surprise you with its performance too. And while people traditionally relate diesel engine powered SUVs to off-roading, the Wrangler Rubicon breaks that norm with its performance, power delivery and throttle responses.   

Driving it on the road is thus interesting, except for the tyre noise which you cannot escape. Ride quality is impressive too as the relatively soft suspension ensures ruts, potholes and the like are taken care of. But off the tarmac is where the Rubicon comes into its own and the moment you show it a trail, it almost feels like the SUV is telling you to wait and watch what it can do. Heck, we even drove the Rubicon across a river – its water wading height stands at 34 inches or 864mm and that’s a lot, which meant crossing the river was a piece of cake for the SUV. Driving through trails it barely broke a sweat too – we got to explore some natural trails and these were places that you wouldn’t dare to take anything but a hardcore off-roader to. 

Admittedly, the Rubicon has gotten even better at its game now. There’s so much off-road trickery, you could be exploring it all for days, and still not be done. The one-touch Sway Bar Disconnect, Off-Road Plus mode and locking differentials all help immensely. I was also impressed by its hill descent control as not only does it work flawlessly, freeing you from the need to use the throttle or brakes, but also lets you increase or reduce the set speed using the drive selector lever in manual mode! I also like the fact that the front camera now offers a view that makes having a spotter stand in front redundant given the angle it is at and the view it affords, besides which, you get a spray function to clean the camera too! Another important update is the full-float heavy-duty HD44 rear axle from Dana which makes for a towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds. 

The bottom line is, with the Rubicon, you don’t need to think before climbing mountains or crossing rivers – it was engineered to do what most other SUVs can’t and our day out in Punjab was proof of the same. But the fact is, we’ve never doubted the Rubicon’s off-roading abilities. The highlight with the updated, 2024 Wrangler Rubicon thus is the fact that it feels more than just one of the most capable SUVs around. It feels more premium, thanks to the addition of more creature comforts and the higher equipment levels. Of course, it commands a small premium over the outgoing version, retailing at Rs 67.65 lakh ex-showroom for the Unlimited variant and Rs 71.65 lakh ex-showroom for the Rubicon variant.

But once you look at what the SUV is capable of, you don’t look at the price tag, because what you’re looking at is one of the most capable SUVs in the country!

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