We spend a week with the 2019 2.0-liter Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

By Jim Prueter

(January 13, 2019) It was just over a year ago that we first drove the significantly updated and refined Jeep Wrangler at its media introduction in Tucson, Arizona. Rumors of this “new” Wrangler had been the subject of speculation for years, with loyalists cautiously optimistic that the iconic off-roader would at the very least maintain its heritage.

Those fears were put at ease. Jeep not only honored its legendary history — removable open top, folding windshield, removable doors, seven slot grille and, of course, best-in-the-world off-road capabilities — it absolutely improved it.

At a modest distance, the Wrangler sheet metal won’t look any different from the outgoing model. Yet, every body panel is different and much of it changed from steel to high strength and lightweight aluminum. Even the rear swing gate has a magnesium frame with aluminum skin.

The rear swing gate has a wider opening, the rear license plate now sits on the rear bumper to accommodate the spare tire, which has been lowered to improve visibility. Relocating the rear wiper to the bottom of the glass, and equipping all models with a rear backup camera have also improved rear visibility. We also liked that designers ditched the hard-to-use push-button door handles in favor of simple pull handles.

Wrangler is also now loaded with advanced safety features and technology, with pushbutton start and six airbags standard. A seven-inch or available 8.4-inch touchscreen houses the fourth-generation Uconnect system, which now sits atop the center stack and includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Large, functional climate control and audio volume control knobs with media connectivity ports are directly below the touchscreen. There are five USB ports — as many as one for each passenger — located throughout the cabin.

The windshield drops with just four bolts, rather than 28 and a half hour of time; the soft top is a snap to retract and then put back up – no struggling with zippers or tough fabric that won’t slide in the right slot and plastic windows that fight you every step of the way. And, inside, there’s an all new instrument panel where the intention was to recapture the original Willy’s MB “horizontality” for the dashboard, where all round gauges and air vents are aligned horizontally and simply — a mix of old and new. Sport models feature Satin Silver panels, while Sahara models use Grillz Silver. You can even get the instrument panel wrapped in leather.

On the road is where the refinements are most noticeable. For the first time, this Wrangler has been completely engineered for an on-road dynamic that’s equal in quality to its legendary off-road capability. Steering, cornering, braking, and ride quality are pleasing and confident.

Powertrain options include Wrangler’s largely carryover 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s terrific if, of course, you can live with a combined city-highway EPA fuel economy of 20-mpg.

You can opt for an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged 270-horsepower four-cylinder, but the mandatory eight-speed automatic transmission is an extra $2000, making the 2.0-liter four cylinder fully $3000 more expensive than a V-6 with a manual shifter, and $1000 more than a V-6 with an automatic transmission.

We initially drove both models at launch a year ago and were impressed with each. I recently drove the four-cylinder Rubicon for a week and am less impressed than I was a year ago. It does offer a meaningful fuel-economy improvement of 22-mpg combined city-highway driving, however, more expensive premium unleaded is required for maximum power.

If I were building a new Wrangler for my own use, I’d definitely opt for the V-6, knowing I won’t get the fuel economy of the four-cylinder. But I didn’t like the performance of the four-cylinder, with its noticeable yet not horrible turbo lag and noisy engine under full acceleration.

Jeep has also indicated they will be offering an EcoDiesel V-6 early this year, but there is no information regarding engine size, power or pricing as of this writing.

A few other notable features on the Rubicon include removable outer front bumper sections to improve the approach angle for steep inclines, and steel rock guards outboard of the rocker panel to protect the Wrangler’s body from damage. The Rubicon also gets a 1.5-inch wider track, 33-inch all-terrain tires, and an electric front sway bar disconnect system that’s perfect for extremely slow rock crawling.

For 2019, the Wrangler lineup consists of four models: Sport, Sport S, Sahara (4-door only) and Rubicon. There’s also a new limited Moab Edition based on the Sahara model that features Rubicon hood and steel bumpers with removable end caps, aggressive 32-inch mud-terrain tires, LED headlights and tail lights, a Moab decal on the hood and 17-inch Rubicon wheels painted in low-gloss black. A body-color hard top is standard, but the Dual Top Group or Sky One-Touch power top are also available. The Moab starts at $51,200.

For those of you who have always had a desire to own a Jeep Wrangler for the appeal of driving a go-anywhere vehicle off the beaten path, fording rocky streams or to just look the part, it’s most likely the unrefined on-road ride and driving dynamics have held you back. But those drawbacks have been almost entirely eliminated, with massively improved ride, handling, an upscale refined cabin, improved modern tech features, and advanced standard safety features.

So my advice is, since you’re not getting any younger, just spec one out on the Jeep.com website, pick your model and color and do it. You won’t regret your decision but if you do, given its excellent resale value you have little to lose and much to gain.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $42,040
Price as Tested: $55,400
Powertrain: 2.0-liter 270-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder with an 8-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 22-mpg City – 24-mpg Highway – 22-mpg Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Safety Ratings: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 3 out of 5 stars for frontal collision

Where Built: Toledo, OH

Competes With:

Fab Features
Much improved on-road ride and handling
Improved interior, tech and safety features
Incredible off-road capabilities