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First drive: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (2024MY). Image by Jeep.

First drive: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (2024MY)
Little has changed for the 2024 Jeep Wrangler, but it remains a deeply charismatic 4x4 nonetheless.

   



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Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

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If you think the likes of the Land Rover Defender, Mercedes G-Class and incoming Toyota Land Cruiser have become too gentrified in their dotage, or you're worried about risking it all on the comparatively unknown quantity that is an Ineos Grenadier, or a Ford Ranger Raptor is a bit too extreme for you, then rejoice: the long-serving Jeep Wrangler continues, it's still a fundamentally terrific and unapologetically rough-and-tumble 4x4, and it has been tidily updated for the 2024 model year.

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Price: Wrangler range from 61,125, Rubicon from 63,125
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive with triple locking differentials (front axle, centre, rear axle)
Power: 272hp at 5,250rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 3,000rpm
Emissions: 269g/km
Economy: 24.8mpg
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Top speed: 99mph
Boot space: 533-2,050 litres

Styling

Given it has been around since 2017 in this format, you should know what a fifth-generation 'JL' Jeep Wrangler looks like by now - brilliantly set-square, only sold as the five-door 'station wagon' these days, still capable of being turned into the most unusual convertible we can think of on the market (if you're prepared to unscrew all the roof panels and then hoick off its doors as well), and just generally a strong, identifiable shape with oodles of presence. For the 2024 updates, all Jeep has done to it is revised the symbolic seven-bar grille upfront - it has bezels now, Platinum Silver on the Sahara and Grey on the Rubicon (more on specs in a bit) - grafted the aerial into the windscreen, replacing the mast-like metal affair that used to rise from the front wing and snag the surrounding greenery when it was off-roading previously, fitted strengthening 'rock rails' to the side sills of all models, added another body colour to the now-ten-strong palette (Anvil is the newbie), and slung another four fresh designs of 17- to 20-inch alloy wheel at the range.

Other than that, it's the familiar in-house spec split. The Sahara is the more civilised of the pair of trim grades, so its removable roof panels are body-coloured, as are the wider, flatter bits of its wings and its wheel-arch surrounds, while it sits on 18-inch alloys as standard with road-biased rubber. The rugged Rubicon, meanwhile, adopts its familiar tropes of black exterior detailing for the flared bits of its arches and the roof, as well as downsizing the alloys to 17s but wrapping them in knobbly BFGoodrich mud-rated tyres... oh, and then slathering enormous 'Rubicon' decals along each side of its clamshell bonnet, just for good measure. It is, predictably, our preferred aesthetic choice as a result, because it looks bloody brilliant in any colour you care to choose.

Interior

The main talking point within the 2024 Wrangler range is the new Uconnect 5 infotainment system, said to be five times faster than the old set-up and presented on a 12.3-inch touchscreen which has necessitated a redesign of the Jeep's upper dashboard layout. This Uconnect is powered by Android and has a configurable home screen, as well as having the ability to support two phones via Bluetooth at once. It is also wirelessly compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, natch, so even if you don't like Jeep's proprietary infotainment - and we happen to think this works well and looks pretty good - then you can bypass it with your own smartphone's layout and apps if you prefer.

All models now enjoy 12-way powered front seats, curtain airbags along the sides of the cabin, a greater level of side-impact protection, uprated seatbelt mechanisms in the rear, and additional front sound-deadening, acoustic front glass and thicker carpets, all as methods to make the Jeep quieter at cruising speeds. There's also the fitment of advanced driver assist systems in the form of Drowsy Driver Alert, Lane Departure Warning and Traffic Sign Information.

We like the pragmatic and no-nonsense layout of the Wrangler's cabin, what with its large switchgear and proliferation of grab handles so that passengers can keep themselves as upright as possible when the vehicle is venturing into the wilds, and we also think the general quality of the main fixtures and fittings is largely excellent, so the interior of the Jeep is off to a strong start.

Practicality

There's a decent amount of space in the back of the long-wheelbase Wrangler, although passengers accessing the second row won't have the easiest of jobs getting there in the first place, because the Jeep's back doors are relatively tiny and the whole vehicle (as a Rubicon) sits a whopping 252mm off the deck. Then, for such a physically big machine, there are further annoyances. There's a good, large cubby under the central armrest in the Jeep and it sports a couple of cupholders on the transmission tunnel, but the glovebox in right-hand-drive models is pathetically feeble and the door pockets, such as they are, turn out to be nothing more than a couple of meagre cargo nets tacked to the cards.

And while the boot is a healthy 533 litres as standard - with a nicely cubic shape with all seats in use - and rises to a goliath 2,050 litres with the 60:40 split-folding second row of chairs stashed away, accessing it requires you to swing open the Wrangler's enormous side-hinged tailgate. So while it might be OK to heft this thing ajar in the wilderness where there's (literally) acres of space to play with, and then you can load your muddy dog or lifestyle clobber into the 4x4's cargo bay while smiling at your impossibly pretty life partner in photogenic dappled sunlight, it's not so handy in towns and car parks as you need a lot of room behind the vehicle if you just want to pack some groceries in the boot when it's hammering it down with rain.

Performance

The same old 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol that was used in pre-facelift JL Wranglers is carried over here, which means you get 272hp and 400Nm; numbers good enough to punt the 2,028kg Rubicon from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. There is also a 4xe (four-by-E) plug-in hybrid drivetrain for the Wrangler, which is shared with the more luxurious Grand Cherokee and which sees this 2.0-litre engine augmented by a 107kW electric motor for a combined output of 380hp, but it's sadly not coming to the UK or any other right-hand-drive markets, even though it's apparently the best-selling PHEV in its native USA.

So this petrol engine it is, then, and thankfully it's not a bad unit at all, even if the Rubicon never feels anything like as quick as its on-paper stats might suggest. What with a trace of turbo lag, the machinations of the eight-speed autobox, the high-drag mud tyres and that wholly un-aerodynamic form, the Wrangler feels happiest on about half-throttle and no more, as flooring it seems to generate a lot of extra noise from the four-pot without much in the way of meaningful additional acceleration. You're better off relying on the midrange 400Nm than the redline-baiting 272hp, to be fair.

But it's a smooth and strong unit, and the throttle response is good enough that the big Jeep is easy to control both on roads, where it's best thought of as a laid-back cruiser, and off roads, where you want fine accelerator control for precision rock-crawling and the like. Perhaps the biggest bugbear of the otherwise-likeable powertrain here is that, on an amble around North Yorkshire, we were seeing something like 17mpg from it. Not unexpected when the official WLTP claim is less than 25mpg, granted, but... yikes!

Ride & Handling

The only mechanical change to any 2024 Wrangler comes for this Rubicon. It has what is known as a Dana 'full-float' rear axle, where instead of the full weight of the vehicle being transferred to the axle itself, it is now sent to the axle tube instead. This leaves the axle within to focus only on torsional loads and sending as much of the power from the engine to the wheels, making it a stronger item and even better for off-roading.

Float axle or not, as before the facelift, green-laners and those intent on staying away from the UK's network of public highways are going to want the Rubicon for its enhanced 4x4 chassis tech anyway. While both Wrangler models, Sahara included, proudly wear Jeep's 'Trail Rated' disc badge on their front wings, meaning they'll go far further into the rough stuff than any SUV could ever dream of, it's the Rubicon which has the most serious spec.

With the underlying ladder-on-frame construction and switchable four-wheel drive, the Wrangler Rubicon has better approach, breakover and departure angles than the Sahara (36, 20.8 and 31.4 degrees respectively), it has 10mm of additional ground clearance for a grand total of 252mm, it has a more intense 4:1 4Lo ratio crawler gear for off-roading, it wears those BFGoodrich mud-rated tyres with a chunky tread-block pattern as standard, it gains locking diffs on both its front and rear axles, bringing the total on the vehicle to three (to go with the standard centre diff that the Sahara also possesses), it has the new floating back axle, and it can still disconnect its front sway-bar for proper articulation work.

To prove just how majestic the Wrangler Rubicon is, Jeep arranged a kind of mini-safari around some of the steepest and toughest off-road lanes of the Yorkshire Dales' northern fringes, with a couple of river-fording opportunities mixed in for good measure (the Rubicon can wade through 760mm of water at up to 5mph, without the need to fit a snorkel to it). And it's almost anti-climactic to say it aced it. Absolutely waltzed around the routes with masses of ability in reserve. Indeed, on one mental and narrow rock-crawl up a ridiculous ascent near Reeth, the 4x4 experts shepherding us all around the tracks admitted that the Wrangler had managed to scramble up it in 2WD Hi on a test run, never mind having to deploy its more tractable 4Hi and 4Lo transmission options. Seriously, in the UK? Short of trying to drive up Ben Nevis, we're not sure how you could possibly catch the Wrangler Rubicon out. And even then, we're not 100 per cent sure it wouldn't simply gallop to the top of our tallest mountain without breaking sweat.

On roads, as you'd expect, the report isn't so glowing. You have to think of these ladder-frame 4x4s as being akin to a good one-tonne pick-up truck, rather than trying to compare their rolling refinement and ride comfort to a polished, luxe-SUV. Because if you don't, you'll find something like the Rubicon a bit raucous and uncouth. Its set-square shape results in plenty of wind buffeting around its cliff-like windscreen and gigantic door mirrors at speed, while those BFGoodrich tyres induce a lot of whoop at anything beyond 40mph. So if you're just chugging along a 50-60mph on an A-road, the Wrangler is quite a lot noisier than your average family SUV.

It also has more roll, dive and pitch from its body in the corners, while the steering is slower than you'd find on most modern machines. And why Jeep insists on leaving a left-foot rest out of the driver's footwell is beyond us. You simply never know what to do with your redundant 'clutch' leg in the Wrangler, because it's never quite comfortable with your foot flat on the floor or your left leg stretched out in front of you. Trust us, having driven a pre-facelift model for hundreds of miles at a time, we know this can be a highly infuriating omission on longer journeys that makes you want to do little short of sawing your own leg off at the knee. All it needs is an angled, sturdy piece of plastic in the footwell.

But these quirks aside, to suggest the Wrangler is actively bad to drive on the road is completely disingenuous, to the point of being a bare-faced lie. Its ride quality is actually pleasingly supple and well-enough controlled that you can amble along on even knackered road surfaces without too much discomfort. The steering might be lazy-feeling, but it's accurate and generally free from slop. The Wrangler brakes steady and true, the eight-speed gearbox is an accomplished self-slusher, and in truth with its immense driving position and wing-framed view out of the windscreen, it imbues in its driver an enormous sense of well-being and happiness when they're behind the wheel. It's even more idiosyncratic and likeable if you take its roof and all the doors off, too, leaving yourself driving something little short of a beach buggy on steroids.

All in all, what we're saying is that we will forgive the Wrangler Rubicon its few small on-road compromises for the insane amount of capability it has for going off-road. On balance, it's a very talented machine, dynamically speaking.

Value

Every Wrangler now comes with at least the updated 12.3-inch infotainment, a digital display in the instrument cluster, 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery, power-adjusted and heated front seats along with a heated steering wheel, a nine-speaker Alpine Premium Audio system, keyless entry and go, front and rear parking sensors with a reversing camera, and more. As a Sahara, with its mainly body-coloured exterior, the price for all of this is 61,125.

For another 2,000, the Rubicon adds its black body detailing, all the additional off-road kit including smaller 17-inch wheels in mud-plugging-spec rubber, as well as an off-road camera system with 360-degree views, auxiliary switches, and grander Nappa leather for its seats - which also wear 'Rubicon' logos. And while neither of these prices are cheap, at 63,125 the Wrangler Rubicon is a lot less money than most Defenders and G-Class models are these days, isn't it?

Verdict

A subtle but worthwhile programme of updates for the Jeep Wrangler keep it fresh for 2024 and beyond, and it remains one of our favourite big 4x4s of them all. While it's not inexpensive if viewed in isolation, when ranged up against the kinds of vehicles that offer its all-roads spread of serious abilities then it looks like a bargain. Get it as a Rubicon for the maximum of character and reward, and you won't regret buying a 2024MY JL Wrangler in the slightest.



Matt Robinson - 30 Apr 2024



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2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.

2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image by Jeep.








 

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