• Mar 24th 2009 at 11:58AM
  • 55
2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4x4 – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Jeep Wrangler is designed to be one of the most capable vehicles on the planet. It can climb a 45-degree grade, tread through 30 inches of water and crawl down a rock-filled hillside – all with the top down and the doors off. Its shape hasn't changed much over the years, primarily because Jeep owners like the way the Wrangler looks and its aesthetic exists to support this rugged off-roader's functionality.

The Wrangler has stood the test of time, but an influx of capable and comfortable SUVs meant that the tried-and-true Jeep was in need of an update. To appeal to Wrangler enthusiasts who need more interior flexibility, Chrysler finally decided to pull the trigger on a four-door model. To the surprise of nobody, the Wrangler Unlimited has been one of the few hits from Chrysler in recent years, at one point prompting a dealer waiting list for the longest-running Jeep. We wanted to try the four-door Jeep for ourselves, so we welcomed a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon into our garage for a week-long run.

All photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Our Deep Water Blue Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 carried a price tag of $35,165. Opting for the Rubicon will add several thousand dollars to the base four-door's sticker, but you get all the standard equipment necessary to become a bona-fide Rock Star. The only major addition to our tester was DVD navigation, which came in at a reasonably-priced (for an in-dash unit) $1,275.

The beauty of the four-door Wrangler Unlimited is that it still packs the rugged looks of the iconic two-door, but in stretched form. As long-time admirers, we enjoy the Wrangler's looks, especially sans roof, and after driving it in its natural habitat (off the beaten path), the Wrangler's capabilities never ceased to amaze. But what we didn't know was what life would be like with a Wrangler as our daily driver.

The second set of doors came in handy and the added storage space was more than welcome. Chrysler's navigation is also simple to use and very adept at getting the driver from point A to point B. From there, life with the Wrangler Unlimited can be a Protestant affair. The seats feel like you're sitting on frozen foam, the head rest is reminiscent of a concrete pillow, the dashboard is cobbled together from Fisher Price plastic, and the ride appeals to the most masochistic among us. So why does this vehicle have so many ardent fans? Well, it really is a Jeep thing, and not everybody understands.

To get a sense of why the Wrangler has such a die-hard following, it's important to look at the vehicle's war-time roots. The Wrangler's foundation was laid with the Willy's Jeep in WWII. The original Jeep performed so well in European operations that Generals were praising it as one reason the Allied forces won the war. Soldiers, who grew to love their metal mules, were clamoring to have one in their civilian driveways. Since then, the Wrangler name has been synonymous with the freedom to drive anywhere and everywhere, with or without roads.

After a couple less than comfortable days with the Wrangler Unlimited, this blogger felt compelled to complain to the Autoblog staff. Fellow scribe Jeremy Korzeniewski implored me to take the Rubicon off-road and said the experience would change my mind. Unfortunately, I had pictures to take and posts to write, so the fun would have to wait until the weekend. Then it happened. On the fourth day with the Wrangler Unlimited, the skies opened up and it began to snow. Two inches in about an hour, and right in time for the morning commute. In most vehicles, the ride would have been hell. In the Rubicon, snow is nothing but an appetizer.

The massive, knobby 32-inch tires, which stood for nothing more than added road noise the day before, were now chewing up powder and spitting it out onto less capable transportation. Before long I was aiming for snow squals and seeking the slightest hint of a grade... wearing a dress shirt and slacks, with my laptop and bag lunch in the back.

That night we headed straight for some open land with a "take all the dirt you want" sign posted at the entrance. Hills, dips, mud, ice and snow were all there to enjoy, and enjoy we did. For 45 minutes, the Jeep took everything thrown at it. Not only was the Rubicon free of complaint, but it actually seemed happy, and the driver's seat somehow felt more comfortable. This is what Jeep owners are on about.

Back on the pavement, the Wrangler is less than comfortable and even worse. Its 3.8-liter V6 is cursed with being both anemic and fuel-thirsty. A zero to 60 time in less than ten seconds would have to be run downhill, and at 17.4 mpg, the Wrangler achieves full-sized SUV fuel economy. The four-speed automatic transmission doesn't help in the Jeep's failed quest to hit 20 mpg on the highway and the Wrangler Unlimited can barely get out of its own way on dry pavement. When driving a $35,000 vehicle, most expect far better, but the powertrain isn't where Wrangler development dollars reside.

It's safe to say Chrysler didn't spend an inordinate amount of development dollars trying to pamper owners, but Jeep engineers made sure the four-door Wrangler was every bit as capable as its two-door sibling. When it comes to rock climbing tech, the Rubicon has got the goods. With a 44.4-degree approach, a 40.5-degree departure angle, and 10.5 inches of ground clearance, few things are an obstruction. The Wrangler's Rock-Trac 4WD system includes Tru-Lok front and rear lockers and a 4:1 gear ratio in low providing purposeful grip and incredible torque when the need arises. Further traction is provided by electronically locking front and rear differentials that balance speed between the left and right wheels. The flip of a switch on the instrument panel can lock the the front, rear axle or both, and you can disengage the sway bar while going under 18 mph in 4WD low, giving you more flexibility to climb and crawl to your heart's content.

The classic Jeep bumper sticker reads "It's a Jeep thing, you wouldn't understand." We may not fully comprehend the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, but we've gained a whole new respect for the most capable vehicle in the Jeep lineup. Its tough-guy looks, fat tires and removable top look like a lot of fun, and when you're away from pavement, it really is.

We get that the Wrangler is supposed to be rugged, and we understand that the Rubicon's off-road talents mean that on-road comfort gets compromised, but we'd like a more inviting cabin. The Wrangler doesn't need leather seats or soft-touch materials, but comfortable seats, a better arm rest and more visual appeal than the inside of a tool box shouldn't be too much to ask. If you're the outdoor adventure type who just happens to have a couple kids, though, the Wrangler Unlimited may be the answer to your prayers.

All photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I own one of this in dark green. I love it and drive it daily. I see a lot of unlimiteds around, but very few Rubicons, mostly jacked up X's. Only thing I hate about it is the powertrain (I have the 6 speed manual) and it needs a diesel badly. Oh yeah, the headrests do feel like concrete pillows, actually pointy concrete pillows and really should be replaced. They're useless and I usually drive around hunched forward rather than sitting back in the seat as a result.
      Mike Cumpston
      • 3 Years Ago
      I had hoped that this Jeep Wrangler 4 door would be my last-ever automobile purchase. I bought it a couple of years ago and it now has 20,000 miles on it. Twice, the transmission has given out sticking in low gear-apparently a design defect that Jeep is not willing or able to correct. . Currently the local dealship says that they are rebuilding the transmission. They have held it for two plus weeks with no indicatin that they are willing or able to do repairs. The dealership is Allen Samuels of Waco Texas. They were handed the Jeep franciise during ht economic crash of 2009 at which time Chrysler decided to abandon a reputable dealership in Waco Texas in favor of Allen Samuels- a concern that has uniformly negative reviews from customers and appears to have no interest in customer support or maintaining the integrity of the product. . I plan to dump the vehicle and search for an automobile that is well engineered and has responsible and honest customer support.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I always read these Wrangler Unlimited reviews and subsequent posts and am amazed at how often the obvious is overlooked. What you need to consider is the enormous number of people who aren't 4 wheel junkies (and I say that with affection) who can legitimately say that having a wrangler's capabilities is important to their day to day lives. There are people all over america that either live, work or travel regularly in/to places in which having a wrangler is just plain smart. Do these people spend a majority of their time on paved roads? Of course. The wrangler, contrary to what some hard to please folks may say, is more than good enough for that. But that doesn't mean that it isn't the best car for them overall. Then the is the other have of what gets missed - to the folks that get all balled up about so many wrangler owners being "Posers" - everyone chooses a car based on how they see themselves in one way or another. Why should wrangler's be any different? Even if a wrangler owner never intends to go off road - why can't they just like the way a wrangler looks? I don't need to defend those who actually do 4 wheel it all the time - their reason for owning one is obvious.
      • 6 Years Ago
      i love my jeep wrangler unlimited - i have the freedom top which poses a big challenge when i want to take the top completely off - is there a simple one man solution?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Let me start by saying I've driven a variety of 4WD vehicles. My first was a Jeep CJ-7. Second one was also a CJ-7. Then on to a Toyota 4-Runner, Ford Bronco II, full size Chevy Blazer (sport), and now a Hummer H2.

      I took both CJ's off-road whenever I could. Loved it, could hardly get enough of it. Never got stuck. Friends loved it. Ameneties were... sparse. But that's not what it was for. Heck, it didn't even have a roll cage. Only the rear bar.

      I did take the Bronco II off-road a couple times. But it wasn't the same. And the same is true of the Blazer (which was a bit too big).

      Now the Hummer H2, that I've taken off-road to extremes I never thought possible. Or could it have been the fact that I missed the Jeep CJ so much? The ground clearance, ability to climb up 16" concrete steps, 20+ inches of water, etc. I opted always for the hardest of trails for the Hummer (the ones where there is always the risk of damage, etc). I mean, why buy a 4WD off-road vehicle if you don't use it for it's intended purpose?

      Seems to me people in Jeep Wranglers are suffering from the same ills (in some respects) as those with H2's. There will always be those people that buy the vehicle, with no intention whatsoever of taking it off road. I can't tell you the number of times people seemed surprised that I would take something that costs that much off-road. Even when on events (such as the AM General proving ground used to test military vehicles), I've seen people go on the baby trails where there isn't even a chance of a branch touching the vehicle. And even then some were upset that mud got on it.

      Sure, the luxury inside an H2 differs from a Wrangler, But to be honest, it's not all that great, Some of it is nothing more than nicely painted plastic.

      I'll probably be moving back to a Rubicon soon. Not because I dislike the H2. I think both Wranglers and H2's are well respected and capable off-road vehicles. I remember one trip to the Badlands in Indiana where we had about 30 or so Hummers on the trails used by Jeeps, motorcycles, and other miscellaneous ATV's. What did people do? They stared. They would look and watch as these 6400lb machines did things that perhaps they thought weren't possible. But everyone respected one another.

      Even when I had my first CJ-7 I could have used a 4-door version. Without the top being off (which in my case it was for these little trips), it was hard for friends to jump in for the off-roading ride. Granted, the 4-door model looks a bit weird, but then again I've seen the Jeep go through a number of changes, and then back again to it's former way. In most respects, whoever builds Jeeps is welcome to change a few little things here and there, but the overall look and feel must always remain as it was intended. I welcome the sparse interior. I welcome everything about them when I return. Even the price tag isn't really that much different than when I bought my first one. Back then, even what I paid for the CJ-7 would be high compared to other cars of the same year.

      It is a Jeep thing. Or a Humer thing ("Like Nothing Else"). There are always those who will be posers, or soccer moms using the vehicles for little more than going to the store or taking kids to practice. Or others who want people to "think" they're off-roaders when they aren't. I love going off-road. And I'm missing it now from Hummer since the corporate sponsorship of events is gone (with GM close to bankruptcy and them trying to sell off that division). That's really the one big reason I'm looking to head back to Jeep. To get with people who share similar likes and dislikes, and share in the fun of off-roading. I don't care how much I have to pay for a Rubicon or H2. If I can't take it off-road, there's no point in buying it. If I could have afforded it, I'd have gone to an H1. But that's another story entirely.

      I look forward to being back in the Jeep fold in the not to distant future. And seeing other enthusiasts at off-road ventures.
        • 6 Years Ago
        New to Jeep: I've been reading quite a bit on the Jeep Rubicon. I was in the Marines, and a big fan of the Humvee. I've always wanted to get into some serious off roading, but I'm also big on camping/hiking/biking, etc... What are your views on the Unlimited Rubicon 4-dr verses the other Jeep Wranglers? Does the price stand up to its actual value? I am also reading a bit about the need for V-8 and/or Diesel engines for the Rubicon. Who has a response for the quality of this vehicle for some heavy duty off roading and power to support it?

        Any reviews are appreciated!

        -Potential Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Owner
      • 4 Years Ago
      Chrysler really blew it when they stopped production of the inline straight 6. The 3.8 V6 the Wranglers use is the exact same oil burning 3.8 that goes into the Chrysler minivans, which is designed for pavment. The torque the engine produces is at a much higher RPM where it is not needed. THe old inline V6 had stump pulling low end torque and was good for at least 250,000 miles. Dont buy a new wrangler until they come out with a diesel version or buy the previous TJ if you plan on taking it off road.
      • 6 Years Ago
      With a 116" wheelbase and 41+ foot turning circle, the stretched Unlimited isn't in a class of its own offroad anymore.

      But it retains all the other Wrangler compromises that make it a terrible onroad daily driver. Numb steering, noisy ride, awful mileage, archaic powertrain, etc.

      Seems to me the stretch exists primarily to let urban posers drive their friends from bar to bar more comfortably. The automatic transmission in this one completes that impression.

        • 6 Years Ago
        I thought the same thing about the auto trans. Can't imagine getting a Jeep without a manual trans. It's...UnAmerican!!! ;)
        • 6 Years Ago
        Considering I see way more of the new 4dr JKs on the trails than I do the 2drs, I'd hardly say the new "stretch" is for poseurs. And just about every off-road company that builds Jeep products has a built 4dr JK to show off their wares.

        The primary problem with the old Wrangler was that it was simply too small for a lot of people. Got a family and want to take your kids wheeling AND carry any gear? Forget it, the regular TJ was just too small for this. That's why they eventually came out with the LWB TJ Unlimited, and why they've now got the new 4dr JK Unlimited.

        Go flip through any 4x4 magazine or look at photos from someone's recent off-road trip. The type of JK you'll see most often is the 4dr.
        • 6 Years Ago
        What about the automatic makes it a poser? If you visit any Jeep forum you'll see that a lot of folks prefer it for off-roading, you've got enough to think about without managing a clutch and taking one hand off the wheel to shift, and the clutch really becomes a pain for water crossings.

        I've got a 2006 Rubicon Unlimited. Yes it's a pain in the ass on the highway, but on a warm sunny day with the top down, or on a trail, it's a blast. I don't own anything else that can put a big silly grin on my face every day. The comments about the drivetrain in the review are spot on though - I bought mine right as the 07s were coming out because I wanted to get the 4.0, not the minivan engine. It really needs the 4.7 V8 or the 2.8 or 3.0 CRD and a 5-speed automatic.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think a 4-door wrangler is a poser mobile. These were never about comfort or the ability to get in or out easier. They were hardcore trail rigs that you were supposed to drive on the weekends. Now Chrysler stretched it, made it slower and heavier, worse off-road, and added even more electronic gizmos to it. Now it's just a manlier looking grand cherokee. Now the soccer moms have NO excuse to not get one.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I can't wait until we get our Unlimited Rubicon. Only a matter of time and it will be in our garage.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is truly an American Icon.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Very handsome, very sensible car. I love the no-nonsense interior too.

      No wonder it sells.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yeah this and the Really fast Jeep are the only things Jeep should make. All the other models are stupid and really crappy.
        • 6 Years Ago
        This $35k uncomfortable off road toy is "sensible" to you?

        I can see it as a second car for weekend off-roading, but daily driving? No way in hell. Especially at that price.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hyundai-Mobis (Hyundai Parts Supplier) now make the Jeep Wrangler frames in Toledo for Chrysler. This was a big story a couple of years ago when the new design came out for the current Wrangler. I thought Chrysler would catch a lot of flak for outsourcing a major component of a real American icon (Wrangler) to a South Korean owned company, but guess not.
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