|The big news in 2003, as far as we're concerned, is Jeep's introduction of the Wrangler Rubicon. Never has a vehicle been aimed specifically at our market - the family, club and backcountry four-wheeling market. The Wrangler Rubicon is equipped "out of the box" with enough equipment to be competent on some of the toughest trails. No, the Rubicon still won't be able to traverse the most extreme trails in stock condition, but with a few minor additions, it will be able to take on even the hardest extreme obstacles.
The last generation of Series 80 Toyota Land Cruisers offered locking differentials front and rear. This was a very competent backcountry 4x4 that was, unfortunately, still too large for tight trails. The current Land Cruiser, with only a rear locker available, is too porky and too expensive to use on tough, tight, backcountry trails. Land Rover aficionados will be howling that their vehicles are, and for many years have been, the premier backcountry 4x4s. It's time to finally say, in print, that we feel Land Rovers are laughably incompetent, with electrical systems that remind us of the dark ages (literally). No Land Rover has ever come from the factory with locking differentials front and rear, either. Check out the resale value of Land Rovers. Their blue book values plummet as quickly as their reliability does, a sign that only die-hard fans stay Land Rover devotees for long. Hummers, after ironing out some Land Rover-like reliability problems, work well in the rough stuff, but only if you can pay the price of admission and only if they fit where you're trying to go.
Which brings us back to Jeep.
The 2003 Wrangler Rubicon takes an already competent TJ Wrangler and adds a few pieces of equipment. This equipment isn't gaudy "safari" junk, such as leopard seat covers, matching luggage bags and rock guards for the taillights, either. This equipment includes a four-speed automatic transmission, if you opt for the automatic, and front and rear Dana 44 solid axles with air actuated Tru-Lok locking differentials in both diffs. The rear 44 features a limited slip when the Tru-Lok isn't engaged. New Venture also designed the new extra
| heavy-duty Rock-Trac transfer case, which features a fixed rear output (hooray!) and a 4:1 low range. Finally, a Jeep with a transfer case that's low enough in low range! Buyers who choose the five-speed manual will especially appreciate the low gearing afforded by the new transfer case.
There's already been talk on the message boards and chat rooms, with some extreme four-wheelers scoffing at the Rubicon before it's even out. They seem to have trouble realizing what a major step this is for any manufacturer to take in a mass-produced 4x4. Of course, the Dana 44s aren't Dana 60s. But the 44s are a lot stronger than the Dana 30 and 35 front and rearends the Wranglers were offered with before. And, with what's available today in the aftermarket, the Rubicon can easily be built to handle the toughest trails.
I'm thinking about buying one of these babies if the Jeep dealers don't try to gouge us by raising the price way above list (which they may do). Anyway, if I'm able to get one, here's what I'm going to do to it. First, I'll find a well-engineered aftermarket suspension and install it, so I can run 36-38" tires. 36-38" tires tax the strength of Dana 44 U-joints and axles, so I'll procure heavy-duty axles and CTM U-joints. I'll also bolt on a set of 5 on 5.5 hub conversion kits front and rear, both for strength and the ability to run wheels with the 5 on 5.5 bolt pattern I already own. I will probably replace the new Rock-Trac transfer case with an Atlas II from Advance Adapters, not because there's anything wrong with the Rock-Trac, but because I like to be able to use front-wheel drive sometimes. The addition of a Ramsey winch up front is pretty much all that's left to do. It sounds like a lot, but really, when you think about not having to deal with aftermarket front and rearend fabricators and all that entails, in cost, trouble and time, starting with the Rubicon puts you way ahead when building an extreme 4x4.
Most buyers of the Rubicon will love the 31" tires that come stock and will have to do NOTHING to it to be able to explore 95% of what the backcountry has to offer. That's big news. That's GREAT news! Thank you, Daimler Chrysler.