First drive: new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon tackles the Los Angeles outback
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It takes a lot to turn heads in the showbiz-centric, opulent place that is Los Angeles — where every second vehicle is a luxury sports car — but the latest Jeep Wrangler Rubicon garnered so much attention that it nearly attracted paparazzi.
With the code name JL, the all-new Wrangler arrives in New Zealand in June and is on sale now from $67,990.
The New Zealand distributor for Jeep, Ateco, is bringing in three models: the Sport S, Overland and Rubicon with both two- and four-door versions.
Ateco sales and marketing manager, Lawrie Malatios, told Driven: “We’re looking forward to the highly anticipated arrival of the fourth-generation Wrangler in New Zealand. The JL offers even more of what New Zealanders love than the previous model.”
It has a 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine, producing 347Nm of torque and 209kW of power, paired with a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission.
The latest Wrangler continues to offer a body-on-frame design, front and rear five-link suspension system, solid axles and electronic lockers.
It also comes with more than 70 standard and available safety features, including autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, front and side airbags, electronic roll mitigation, adaptive cruise control and speed limiter.
In 2018, the new Wrangler had an embarrassing one-star Euro NCAP rating, but the addition of adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning (that works impressively) should see that rating improve when it comes to Ancap testing (to be announced).
But the new Wrangler also keeps its record as a tough off-roader. It has class-leading 4x4 systems across the range, with Rock-Trac 4x4 System as standard on the Rubicon and Selec-Trac 4x4 System available on all other models.
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It also gets advanced technology that includes new LED headlamps and tail lamps, Apple CarPlay and a new 7in touchscreen.
Driven has had the chance to drive the two-door Rubicon with soft-top roof around Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Malibu.
In a land where there are exotic cars at every traffic light, I was surprised by the interest in the red Rubicon that sat on humungous 32in off-road tyres.
Stopped at traffic lights heading out of Malibu, I noticed two guys in a 1970s Camaro taking photos of the Rubicon and giving me the thumbs up.
Just driving through Santa Monica, pedestrians would smile as they saw the Wrangler — maybe as they were thinking, “how the heck is she going to park that Jeep in the tiny car spaces around here”.
Little did they know that there have been significant improvements made to the driving dynamics of the Wrangler, with steering at low speed reactive. But hit the freeway and that “loose” feel takes a while to adjust to, and I’d have a preferred a firmer sport mode.
When it comes to looks, the Wrangler has a slightly tilted windscreen, a new tilted version of the iconic Jeep keystone-shaped grille, vented hood and a tapering C-pillar. These modifications have considerably reduced wind noise and improved fuel efficiency by more than 13 per cent but staying the recognisable as a Wrangler.
My Rubicon had the addition of a bonnet decal, and a winch-capable steel front bumper — and add “those” tyres and I had an impressive, head turning off-roader.
Okay, there was the practically of getting in gracefully — and as you can see from the photo above, my head came up to the top of the side mirrors. But there were multiple hand grips to haul myself into the two-door Rubicon.
Jeep says the doors “come off with ease” but I didn’t want to attempt that in my Santa Monica hotel car park. Instead, I literally tackled the optional folding Sunrider soft-top roof during the photo shoot in the Malibu canyons that was attracting attention due to the wild flowers blooming post-Malibu fires.
To fold down the roof, I unlatched it and then, being a weakling, had to open the driver door, step on to the running board, pull the roof backwards as much as I could, step back into the cabin and, kneeling on the driver’s seat, push it into place.
But, being realistic, in southern California you need to do that manoeuvre only a couple of times a year because the weather is so convertible-friendly.
Navigating around Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West Hollywood roads was easy at low speeds — but on the highway the soft-top roof let in road noise although there was plenty of torque available for overtaking.
Driving around the winding roads inland of Malibu, the Wrangler easily handled diving into tight, narrow bends at speed and swept over rough bitumen.
But I know from experience that the Rubicon version of the Wrangler is born to dominate rocky trails so I turned off Mulholland Highway near Malibu Lake and drove down a few dirt roads that were frequented by mountain bikers. This was still easy going for the Rubicon due to the off-road tyres.
Back in New Zealand, the Rubicon four-door will be available, priced from $92,990. Malibu wild flowers not included.