On the Trail

Jeep's "Trail Rated" badge, which signals a host of off-road capabilities, seems superfluous here. With locking front and rear axles, a disconnecting front stabilizer bar for additional up-and-down wheel travel, a heavy-duty Dana 44 front axle, and a two-speed transfer case with a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio, the Wrangler Rubicon blazes trails that would leave other SUVs slipping, stalling or just plain stuck. I took a Rubicon on a serious off-road course a few years back, and it clawed through slop I thought impassable. I've driven pickups and SUVs that ground to a halt or dug themselves in when traction gave out at all four wheels, but when you lock the axles via a dashboard button in the Rubicon, it sends mud, sand or rocks flying as all four wheels move in unison. And eventually it moves forward.

Hard-core off-roaders will want to get the two-door Rubicon. Though its approach and departure angles are similar to the Unlimited's, the two-door's 20.6-inch-shorter wheelbase contributes to a higher, 25.2-degree break-over angle than the Unlimited's 20.8 degrees.

With either setup, non-Rubicon Wranglers lose the axle lockers and employ 2.72:1 low-range gearing — still respectable — as well as a Dana 30 front axle with a fixed stabilizer bar. They have the same array of underbody skid plates and, depending on the trim, at least 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Even with the Wrangler Sport's 16-inch wheels and smaller tires, approach and departure angles exceed 37 degrees. Throw in an optional limited-slip rear differential, and I suspect the Sport, Sahara, Islander and Mountain are still capable of some serious off-road shenanigans. (The rear-wheel-drive Sport and Sahara Unlimited, on the other hand, would be able to do little of that.)

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