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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Jul 26, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


By HARVEY SCHWARTZ All Photos & © by Harvey Schwartz California's Rubicon Trail is the most well-known and most traveled four-wheel drive trail in the world. The 10-mile trail from Georgetown to Rubicon Springs, near Lake Tahoe, is rated a Most Difficult "10". At an elevation of 6,000 to 7,000 feet, you transverse over, under and through large granite boulders, postpiles and slabs. Jeep borrows the famous trail to name their new, limited production, ultimate off-road rig. The new 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is engineered to take on the most demanding trails, including those previously reserved for only highly modified vehicles. While the new Rubicon adds a host of new off-road capabilities, it also comes equipped with new comfort, convenience and safety items. Jeep engineers tell me that the Rubicon features an off-road performance package allowing serious off-road enthusiasts the opportunity to drive over some of the most extreme trails in the country, the Rubicon Trail for example, and then drive it home!

© Photograph by Harvey Schwartz While beefy off-road tires and diamond plate sill protectors hint at the tremendous capability of Wrangler Rubicon, the underpinnings make it worthy of the Rubicon name. In response to hardcore off-road enthusiasts, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon model features locking front and rear differentials, front and rear Dana model 44 axles and a 4:1 low- range transfer case. The new Wrangler Rubicon features Tru-Lok locking differentials that can be driver-actuated when the transfer case is in low range with vehicle speed below 10 mph. A dash-mounted rocker switch allows the driver to lock the rear axle and toggle the front axle locker on and off for improved maneuvering. When engaged, this feature mechanically locks the axle shafts together to drive all four wheels at the same speed. When unlocked, the rear axle has a torque-sensing limited slip feature to provide better traction and handling off-road. Dana model 44 axles with 4.10:1 ratios front and rear provide the durability and strength needed for extreme off-road driving. The Rock-Trac transfer case with 4:1 low range slows vehicle speed to give you more control and increases the amount of torque available at the wheels. This fixed output NV241 Off-Road transfer case was engineered specifically for the Wrangler Rubicon to meet the demanding durability requirements of an intense off-road vehicle. For the same reason the model also includes heavy-duty driveshafts with 1330 universal joints. Goodyear Wrangler Maximum Traction/Reinforced 31 in. tall tires feature a beefy tread pattern that wraps around the sidewall to help grab ledges along the trail. This state-of-the-art off-road tire includes a three-ply sidewall and advanced silica compound for excellent durability and puncture resistance. The new tread pattern provides increased tread stiffness and uniform tread wear. The largest tires offered from the factory on Wrangler, these LT245/75R16 in. tires add an extra 1/2 in. of ground clearance over the 30 in. tires. The Wrangler Rubicon features unique exterior design cues and will be available in all 10 Wrangler colors. The Wrangler Rubicon that I tested came with the new Inca Gold paint. Reminiscent of legendary Jeep vehicles, a Rubicon graphic is prominently placed on each side of the hood. Heavy gauge diamond plate sill guards are bolted on the bodyside to protect rocker panels from damage in off-road situations. New 16X8 inch, 5-spoke aluminum wheels are designed with a dished face to protect the wheel from off-road obstacles.

© Photograph by Harvey Schwartz Providing plenty of trail-busting power to the Wrangler Rubicon is the standard 4.0liter Power Tech I-6 engine that is rated at 190 hp at 4,600rpm and 235 lb.ft. of torque at 3,200 rpm. This powerful engine is mated to either the new, NV1500 5-speed manual transmission, taken from the bigger Jeep Liberty, giving the Wrangler a synchronized reverse gear and improved shift quality in cold weather, or also new for 2003, the all-new 42RLE 4-speed automatic transmission debuts in the Wrangler Rubicon. This smoother shifting transmission provides better highway speeds compared to the older 3-speed auto. In addition to the standard fuel tank and transfer case skid plates, a new automatic transmission skid plate provides additional off-road protection. Also new for 2003 and standard in the Rubicon, are new, power-assisted, 4-wheel steel disc brakes with ABS. These more powerful brakes offer better brake feel on-road, with decreased stopping distance and reduced brake fade. Off-road, 4-wheel disc brakes are self-cleaning. Up front they measure 11.0in. with a dual-piston caliper, and 11.2in. in the rear with a single, sliding caliper. Underpinning all these new features is the rugged and strong Jeep Wrangler suspension system with, up front, a live axle, leading arms, a track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar and monotube high-pressure gas-charged shock absorbers. The rear also features a live axle, trailing arms, a track bar, coil springs and monotube, high-pressure gas-charged shocks. Steering is by a power-assisted, re-circulating ball with damper, setup that gives excellent feel, feedback and response when off-roading, when on road at highway speeds, or when getting around slow city traffic.

© Photograph by Harvey Schwartz An all-new interior gives the Jeep Wrangler several interior refinements, while still preserving the true essence of the Jeep brand icon. The new, high-back front buckets offer an additional 20 millimeters of rearward travel, allowing taller drivers to sit a more comfortable distance from the steering wheel, while taller seat backs provide a more comfortable ride, with a lever on the side of the front passenger seat for easier access to the rear. Also new is the 4-spoke steering wheel with buttons to control the electronic cruise-control, new electrochromic rearview mirror with map lamps, temperature and compass display, an additional 12 volt power outlet on the dash, and replacing the optional sound bar are new standard corner pods located just behind the b-pillar on both sides of the vehicle house interior lamps, providing theater lighting and optional speakers. A new fold-and-tumble rear seat can be more easily removed. Jeep Wrangler’s rear seat is also equipped with the LATCH system for mounting the new generation of aftermarket child seats. With the LATCH system, child seats attach directly to the structure of the rear seat, so they are easier to install. Safety features standard on all Jeep Wranglers include next-generation airbags, a driver’s side constant force retractor, self-adjusting low tension three-point belts, height-adjustable shoulder belts, and new for 2003, energy-absorbing foam is added to the sport bar and new trim is added around the windshield and on the back of the hard top. The Jeep Wrangler remains one of the world’s favorite vehicles for on-road and off-road fun and adventure. The all-new, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon also reinforces Jeep’s ability to conquer the toughest off-road trails in the world. That is why the Wrangler is sold in over 100 countries around the world, and available in right-and-left hand drive versions. My loaded version of the Wrangler Rubicon was sticker priced at $24,350.00.

© Photograph by Harvey Schwartz

More photographs from Harvey Schwartz can be found at More information on Jeep products can be found at

Manufacturer's Specifications Engine type: 4.0liter I-6 cylinder, SMFI Horsepower: 190 at 4,600rpm Torque: 235lb.ft. at 3,200rpm Drive configuration: longitudinal front engine, 4X4 Transmission type: 4-speed auto/5-speed manual Suspension: Front-live axle, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar, high-pressure monotube gas-shocks Rear-live axle, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, high-pressure monotube gas shocks Wheels/tires: LT245/75R16in. Goodyear Wrangler, 16X8in. cast aluminum wheels Brakes: front-11.0in. steel discs, rear-11.2in. steel discs, full ABS, power assisted Overall length: 150.1in. Overall width: 66.7in. Overall height: 60.4 hardtop, 70.9 softtop Curb weight: 3,437lbs. EPA: 15/18-5-speed manual, 14/18-4-speed automatic

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