2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon new car reviews

The Jeep Wrangler has amassed one of the most faithful followings of any road-going vehicle out there. For one week we were treated to Jeep waves and bending necks as we paraded a bright blue Wrangler Rubicon through Florida. And this wasn't just any Rubicon. This thing came with almost all the possible options, including the "Hard Rock" package for trail driving, a touch-screen infotainment center and the 3-piece "Freedom Top."

We could drive anywhere on the beach without fear of getting stuck. Rocks on the side of the road became little more than an opportunity to flex. We were doing it. We were Jeeping. So is this Jeep thing really worth it?

Other staff views

Joe Gearin Joe Gearin
Associate Publisher

You are either a Jeep guy, or you aren't. Some of us like the unique characteristics that have always made a Jeep a Jeep, and others just don't see the point. For those that find a Jeep's bouncy ride, and immediate steering response fun and endearing, it doesn't get much better than this Rubicon Unlimited.

I logged over 300 miles in this Rubicon last weekend, and by Monday I wanted one.

Yes, the ride is jouncy, but nothing like short wheelbase Jeeps of the past. This one has a lively ride, but it's also comfortable at 80mph on the highway, and it doesn't beat you up like your uncle's CJ-5. The unique hard-top design is fantastic. It's tight, and waterproof while up, and offers a massive opening to let the sun, or stars shine in when removed. It's almost a convertible type experience, and it adds a lot to the enjoyment factor of this rugged machine.

Speaking of rugged.....with an electronically detachable anti-roll bar, and locking differentials, there is seemingly nothing that this Jeep can't go through, or over. I had a chance to take it through some deep, soft sand within the Amelia Island State Park, and the Jeep laughed at me. "Is this all you've got?" it seemed to say.

Unless you live in Moab, chances are you will never really test this Jeep's capabilities. It's a beast.

Sure the $47K price tag may make you spit out your coffee, but as a good friend said......it's an American Range Rover--- and when taken into that context, it almost seems reasonable. Also, with Nav, heated seats, a rocking stereo, and leather--- it's pretty plush in it's own right. Of course you can still take the doors and top off--- try that with a Range Rover!

I figure in Florida, I don't really need the locking diffs, detachable bar, or fancy leather---- so the standard Unlimited is the one I've got my eye on. I'd be sure to look at 2012 and newer models though, as the later ones are equipped with Chrysler's Pentastar V6 which is plenty powerful, and returned a solid 19mpg during my trip, despite a fairly heavy foot.

Not even Porsche's 911 has remained faithful to it's original design as much as Jeep has, and that's refreshing in today's ever changing, ever complicated world. Jeep has done a great job carefully updating their most iconic model, without losing it's charm. It's as useful and relevant now, as it was 70 years ago.

Tom Suddard Tom Suddard
Associate Editor

Last time I drove a Rubicon, it was 2012 and it was a two-door model.

I hated it. Sure, it was good off road, but it rode like an ox cart and I couldn't understand why it cost so much money. I also complained about the expensive power options and fancy stereo, as well as a lack of visibility.

This one's $10,000 more expensive and has two extra doors, and for some reason I loved it.

I mean, like, loved it. Other staffers had to tear the keys away from me. The Unlimited's longer wheelbase turns a rough-riding compromise into a surprisingly comfortable vehicle. And yes, this one was stuffed with power windows, leather, a fancy stereo, a giant subwoofer in the trunk, and the "Hard Rock" package that mostly adds a fancy front bumper, rock rails, and a hood that I think is ugly.

Skip past all of that crap (which I still wouldn't order in a Jeep), and the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is a pretty decent deal for what you get. No, they aren't cheap, but there's nothing else on the market that has the same capabilities for less money. And yes, JK-chassis Wranglers are harder to see out of than your uncle's CJ-5, but compared to other modern SUVs they're in a totally different (and better) league.

I sat down to write an awesome review of this Jeep, but reading back through it it's more like a list of justifications for all of its faults. Still, though, I love it. I'd buy one. I'd drive one hundreds of thousands of miles. And I'm not sure why. This is pretty much the same vehicle that I hated in 2012, so the main difference must be the four years that have passed. SUVs have gotten bigger, heavier, more expensive, and harder to see out of. This Jeep hasn't, and I guess that's why I loved it.

So, what Jeep do I have an appointment to test drive next week? The Fiat Panda-based Renegade, of course. The Rubicon is Jeep's halo vehicle, and I'm just like everyone buying an Altima because they like GT-Rs.

David S. Wallens David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

I'm glad that some of my workmates are so excited about the latest Jeep. That shows that it still properly does its intended job. If you want to crush boulders or the bodies of your enemies, then the Jeep is perfect. Thank you, Jeep, for keeping your constituents so pleased.

For me, though, I'm still not a Jeep guy. For daily use it's just too cramped, too noisy and too crude--and not in an early Miata sort of way.

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Comments

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Klayfish
Klayfish UberDork
3/18/16 2:34 p.m.

We just went to the Atlanta auto show last weekend. Luckily for me, my wife likes cars quite a bit. After walking around all the show, when I asked her what car of all of them she would want, her answer was Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Not the CTS-V (which she loves) or a BMW or anything else, but the Jeep. When I looked at the window sticker, I heard my wallet scream in pain.

But if money were there, heck yeah I want one too.

mazdeuce
mazdeuce PowerDork
3/18/16 2:48 p.m.

With how much they cost, these must be a cash cow for FCA.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
3/18/16 3:26 p.m.

^^^ I was also taken aback by the $47K list price. Then I started to think about it....... and the price started to make more sense. It seems nearly all SUVs these days are $40-$50K. Now I know that isn't true, but most of the models we get around the office are in that price segment.

None of them have the versatility or ability of the Jeep. The only other vehicles that can even hold a candle to this Jeep's abilities would be a Range Rover (much more expensive), or a Toyota FJ ( if they are still making them). While the Range Rover is nicer inside, it also has a fixed roof, doors that can't come off, and a tiny aftermarket. The FJ's are cool, but have horrid visibility, and also a fixed roof, and doors. They also suck gas like pigs, where this Jeep averaged 19mpg under my foot.

Keep in mind the Rubicon Unlimited starts at about $36K---- which actually sounds pretty reasonable. In that price range nothing can touch it's versatility, and no truck is more fun.

Sorry if I sound like a rabid fanboie------ I spent last weekend in that beast, and I really was smitten.

irish44j
irish44j UltimaDork
3/18/16 4:18 p.m.
Joe Gearin wrote: ^^^ I was also taken aback by the $47K list price. Then I started to think about it....... and the price started to make more sense. It seems nearly all SUVs these days are $40-$50K. Now I know that isn't true, but most of the models we get around the office are in that price segment. None of them have the versatility or ability of the Jeep. The only other vehicles that can even hold a candle to this Jeep's abilities would be a Range Rover (much more expensive), or a Toyota FJ ( if they are still making them). While the Range Rover is nicer inside, it also has a fixed roof, doors that can't come off, and a tiny aftermarket. The FJ's are cool, but have horrid visibility, and also a fixed roof, and doors. They also suck gas like pigs, where this Jeep averaged 19mpg under my foot. Keep in mind the Rubicon Unlimited starts at about $36K---- which actually sounds pretty reasonable. In that price range nothing can touch it's versatility, and no truck is more fun. Sorry if I sound like a rabid fanboie------ I spent last weekend in that beast, and I really was smitten.

IDK, as a former Wrangler and XJ owner, I admittedly like Jeeps. But I would hardly call them the most versatile vehicles out there really. No question they can rock-crawl better than most everything (but 99.9% of them will never do that, and the Unlimited's long wheelbase hurts it in tight wheeling.....most off-road Jeepers run regular-length wranglers), And you can remove the top and doors for open-air, which of course pretty much nothing else offers. Otherwise.....not good tow vehicles considering their large size (3,500 lb max tow capacity is about what most minivans are rated for).....really not all that much cargo carrying capability vs. many other SUVs (though the Unlimited has more than a regular Wrangler)....lousy street ride and handling.....and (IMO) from a pure driving standpoint they are far from being "fun" to drive on pavement.

For 99% of off-roading most SUVs ever see (i.e. trail running), a 4Runner or Grand Cherokee is pretty much as good or better than a Wrangler, with far superior road manners, handling, interior quality, and strong aftermarket as well.

Jeeps are awesome (the best) for a few specific roles, and the only choice out there for open-air wheeling - but are far from being the most versatile SUV-type vehicles out there. I don't think even Jeep markets them as being particularly versatile.

Me and all my friends used to have Jeeps because they were tough and cheap, and those two factors made their serious shortfalls in other categories a wash at the time. At $47k though, you can get SUVs that are far nicer and more versatile in most areas than the Wrangler, IMO. YMMV.

Klayfish
Klayfish UberDork
3/18/16 4:53 p.m.

I don't doubt that they're worth the money, it just still is mind blowing that they have gotten that expensive.

stanger_missle
stanger_missle Dork
3/18/16 4:55 p.m.

As a current JK owner, I agree with all the points above. I bought a 2012 2 door Wrangler brand new in October 2012. I paid just over $23k out the door. I wanted a 6 speed but the 5 speed auto is worlds better than the old 4 speed. My 2 door is only rated to tow 2k lbs, which really limits it's utility. It's been loads of fun but I were to do it again, I'd spring for the 4 door with the max tow package. The 4 doors are much easier to live with.

With the Pentastar and 6 speed, I used to get 21mpg if I kept it below 75mph. Now, with the 33s, I'm lucky if I see 19mpg. A regear is in the very near future.

BUT... I think I'd buy something like a FiST and then buy an XJ or 4 Runner or something to run around the woods in.

mazdeuce
mazdeuce PowerDork
3/18/16 5:00 p.m.

A Wrangler unlimited sport starts at $28k. The current pricing model seems to be sell the lowest spec model close to cost and make money on options. With $20k in options, that's a pretty solid way to do business.

chiodos
chiodos Dork
3/18/16 5:09 p.m.

Seems to me this is how it goes, buy a new jeep for your daughter or kid to drive to college in, if you want to wheel buy an older wrangler or better yet a Cherokee.

Oh no, having owned 3xjs and a zj doesnt make me biased at all haha

airwerks
airwerks Reader
3/18/16 11:48 p.m.
Klayfish wrote: I don't doubt that they're worth the money, it just still is mind blowing that they have gotten that expansive.

FTFY

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
3/19/16 12:22 a.m.

Is it mall rated?

chiodos
chiodos Dork
3/19/16 12:49 a.m.

In reply to Appleseed:

Ohhh i wish i had a stack of those stickers to slap on jeeps i see around here.

rslifkin
rslifkin Reader
3/19/16 8:24 a.m.

At this point, the 4dr JK Wrangler is the closest replacement they've got for the XJ, ZJ and WJ Cherokee and Grand Cherokees. It's better on the road than any other Wrangler, fairly comfortable, still has solid axles at both ends, etc.

Only real downside of the 4dr JK is that the thing is huge. The wheelbase is 10" longer than a ZJ/WJ, which can make fitting it in some places a little tough.

As far as the price premium for the Rubicon, if you're not planning on building it beyond what the stock axles are good for, it's worth the extra money for an off-roader. By the time you buy a cheaper one, swap in the 4:1 t-case, re-gear the axles and add lockers, you've sucked up a lot of that price difference.

iceracer
iceracer PowerDork
3/19/16 9:43 a.m.

I can remember when CJ 5's sold for a dollar a pound.

Seems like they still do, plus you get more toys.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/19/16 9:45 a.m.
Appleseed wrote: Is it mall rated?

I took it to Cracker Barrel and survived. Close enough?

92dxman
92dxman SuperDork
3/19/16 10:46 a.m.

Don't ask why but I actually rode in the back cargo area of a Wrangler Unlimited and it actually wasn't bad (for how short the ride was).

mazdeuce
mazdeuce PowerDork
3/19/16 11:57 a.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens:

I don't think you can call it a Cracker Crawler in your part of the world.

Wall-e
Wall-e MegaDork
3/19/16 1:44 p.m.

I was impressed until I remembered I drove a Fiat on the beach down there too. I'd still love to have another Jeep though.

Cotton
Cotton UberDork
3/19/16 4:32 p.m.

My wife could have just about any new vehicle she wants within reason and she DDs a two door wrangler arctic edition. I asked her what she wants for her next new vehicle and her response was 'another wrangler'....she loves them.

octavious
octavious HalfDork
3/19/16 7:59 p.m.

Cotton, is the artic edition a manual? If so can I have it when she upgrades?

On days I don't ride a motorbike, I DD a 02 Jeep Wrangler, I love the ride, the manual windows and door locks, an actual transmission with a clunky shifter, etc. Is it perfect? No. Is it perfect for me and bring a smile to my face? Yes.

And that in the end is all that matters. Drive what makes you smile. Not what is "practical" or what the neighbors think. Drive for you, not anyone else.

Wall-e
Wall-e MegaDork
3/20/16 2:24 p.m.
octavious wrote: ... Is it perfect for me and bring a smile to my face? Yes. And that in the end is all that matters? Drive what makes you smile? Not what is "practical" or what the neighbors think. Drive for you, not anyone else.

More people should take your advise.

sesto elemento
sesto elemento Dork
3/20/16 7:41 p.m.

$47k builds me one Hell of an fj40, just sayin.

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
3/20/16 8:01 p.m.

After you spend a small fortune acquiring one.

The Rubicon offers an incredible value if you keep the options low. You might do more for less on your own, but that don't come with a warrenty.

Cotton
Cotton UberDork
3/20/16 8:21 p.m.
sesto elemento wrote: $47k builds me one Hell of an fj40, just sayin.

We have a 72 fj40 along with the wrangler. Ours is pretty nice and I have a hard time imagining the amount of time and money it would take to make it half as good as the JK.

rslifkin
rslifkin Reader
3/20/16 9:09 p.m.
Cotton wrote:
sesto elemento wrote: $47k builds me one Hell of an fj40, just sayin.

We have a 72 fj40 along with the wrangler. Ours is pretty nice and I have a hard time imagining the amount of time and money it would take to make it half as good as the JK.

That's a good point. Even compared to past Wranglers, the JK is VERY capable out of the factory. A Rubicon leaves the dealer with 32" MTs, 4.10s in the axles, lockers at both ends, front sway bar disconnects and a 4:1 t-case. It'll fit 33s with no lift, and getting 35s under one doesn't need much lift (2" or so is usually good).

Pretty much no other offroad vehicle will have that amount of clearance, etc. without a good bit of work and $$$ put into it.

BAMF
BAMF HalfDork
3/20/16 10:39 p.m.

It costs a lot of money to pack 4,400 lb of metal into the volume a 4 door Wrangler occupies.

fornetti14
fornetti14 Dork
3/20/16 10:40 p.m.

Hell Yes.
People are crazy about their Wranglers and why yes, I just bought a 2016 hydro blue Black Bear edition. It's a wild departure from anything I've owned over the last 25 years and I've wanted one since they went to coil springs back in '97.
I'm not rock climbing Moab, so I went with one that was way more civil to live with every day.
Notice the snow in the background but the top is off...  photo hydro blue black bear.jpg

nocones
nocones SuperDork
3/20/16 10:58 p.m.

Seriously we are bitching about the most capable 4wd that is available with a manual trans at every trim level. A sport 4 door 6 speed is a reasonable priced (relative to other new cars) way to get 4wd, manual, and 3500lb towing capacity. Even a Willy's Wheeler which is pretty capable off road will still be under 33k with hard top.

That's a lot when you think back to 1997 vehicle prices but inflation elevates a 20k (msrp for 1997 wrangler Sahara) vehicle to nearly 30k (which coincidentally is MSRP for a 2016 Wrangler 2 door Sahara) without considering options that didn't exist in the 90s or cost extra.

rslifkin
rslifkin Reader
3/21/16 8:24 a.m.
nocones wrote: Seriously we are bitching about the most capable 4wd that is available with a manual trans at every trim level. A sport 4 door 6 speed is a reasonable priced (relative to other new cars) way to get 4wd, manual, and 3500lb towing capacity. Even a Willy's Wheeler which is pretty capable off road will still be under 33k with hard top. That's a lot when you think back to 1997 vehicle prices but inflation elevates a 20k (msrp for 1997 wrangler Sahara) vehicle to nearly 30k (which coincidentally is MSRP for a 2016 Wrangler 2 door Sahara) without considering options that didn't exist in the 90s or cost extra.

That's a good point. I was looking at that for my old Grand Cherokee too. Jeep's pricing has actually tracked impressively well with inflation.

Sticker price on my top-spec Grand Cherokee from 98 was $39,215. That comes to about $57k after adjusting for inflation. Let's ignore the SRT Jeep, as that didn't exist at all back then and compare to a top-spec non-SRT 2016 Grand Cherokee. Sticker price on one of those with the diesel and every other expensive option thrown in comes to just a hair shy of $59k. Considering the extra stuff that wasn't available in 98 (including the diesel), a $2000 increase over 18 years is really not bad at all.

sesto elemento
sesto elemento Dork
3/21/16 9:20 a.m.

I don't hear anyone bitching, I'm just saying that personality, I'll stick with something I can build to suit my needs rather than writing an enormous check for a new car. I'm not hating on the rubicon, I think they're cool, an I commend jeep for building something so enthusiast focused, I'm just saying that I like to roll my own.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
3/21/16 9:32 a.m.

Ok--- sure, the Rubicon Unlimited may not be the most versatile machine on the planet--- I may have had my rose colored glasses on when I wrote my review.

To me though--- it's WAY more fun to drive-- even on the road, than a "regular" SUV. Most SUVs these days are so refined, so smooth, so damn boring. They are antiseptic. This Jeep has flaws, it has rough edges, it has character. I'd take one anyday over a 4-Runner, or Grand Cherokee, or really any other SUV. I have no desire at all for an SUV, but for some reason---- I have a ton of love for this Jeep.

Is my affection irrational? Yep---- but I don't care. I'd rather ride in a bouncy, jouncy funhouse, than an isolated reading room.

Klayfish
Klayfish UberDork
3/21/16 11:30 a.m.
Joe Gearin wrote: Ok--- sure, the Rubicon Unlimited may not be the most versatile machine on the planet--- I may have had my rose colored glasses on when I wrote my review. To me though--- it's WAY more fun to drive-- even on the road, than a "regular" SUV. Most SUVs these days are so refined, so smooth, so damn boring. They are antiseptic. This Jeep has flaws, it has rough edges, it has character. I'd take one anyday over a 4-Runner, or Grand Cherokee, or really any other SUV. I have no desire at all for an SUV, but for some reason---- I have a ton of love for this Jeep. Is my affection irrational? Yep---- but I don't care. I'd rather ride in a bouncy, jouncy funhouse, than an isolated reading room.

Couldn't agree more with every point you said. I have no desire to own an SUV (unless I got a dedicated race car that I use frequently), but I would love me some Jeep Wrangler.

Furious_E
Furious_E HalfDork
3/21/16 12:51 p.m.

The JK is definitely an anomaly in today's automotive landscape, regardless of how any of us feel about them. While they're not my favorite Jeeps, I still like them and they are probably one of the very few new vehicles I would consider buying, were I so inclined.

What I really find astonishing is how many of them FCA actually manages to sell. Given the specs, you'd think they would be a totally niche market vehicle, but they're as common around here as just about anything else.

And furthermore, I'd be willing to bet that a greater percentage end up modified in some relatively substantial way than just about any other new vehicle sold today. Lifts, wheels/tires, bumpers, racks, winches, ect - seems that half of the JKs I see on the road have some amount of aftermarket hardware on board. Even if they are just mall crawlers, I'm happy to see the owners have some degree of involvement with the vehicle greater than "Look, I got my phone synced into the blue tooth!"

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