You can’t call yourself an automotive enthusiast if you haven’t wanted to put a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon in your garage. It the last of a breed of elemental automobiles that will — in pretty short order — be eradicated from the planet. You’ve been warned. This may be your last chance to get one.
The Jeep Wrangler is now in its third generation. The YJ Wrangler appeared in 1987 as the successor to the legendary CJ-7, and was the last vehicle that AMC built from the ground up. Chrysler wrung it out for all it was worth, producing nine years worth of the square-headlamped Jeeps before returning to round headlamps in the TJ, which appeared in 1997.
The TJ was still a rough and tumble Jeep, but it truly pointed Jeep in a new, and much more successful direction. It still utilized the venerable 4.0-liter inline six, but the frame connected to the suspension via coil springs, for much better on-road manners. The Unlimited stretched the Jeep out for more cargo room, and the Rubicon appeared, adding a ton of serious off-road equipment for a lot less than you could buy those components individually.
The JK arrived in 2007. Wrangler sales have been off the charts since the economy started to improve. In 2009, JK Wranglers hit their low of 82,044 sold. In 2014, Jeep almost doubled that, with more than 175,000 new Wranglers sold. Even considering the pent up demand for new cars after the economic downturn, that’s an amazing sales number for a vehicle getting awfully close to its expiration date.
There’s not much new for 2015 that would get people clamoring to the showroom: A couple of new audio options, a new standard tool kit, a few new wheel and tire options. People are buying these things in record numbers because they love them, and there’s a sense that they’re not going to be around forever.
The one we drove this time out was the top of the heap Rubicon, in Wrangler two-door form as opposed the Unlimited four-door. I was fundamentally opposed to the two-door JK Wrangler when I first saw it, because I had two kids in car seats at the time, and the earliest JK passenger seat didn’t move forward very easily. Now, my kids can climb in and out and buckle themselves, and the seat moves more freely, so I’d buy a two-door in a minute before the four-door. It just feels more like a Jeep.
As always, if you’re interested in spending a lot of time off-road with a Wrangler, there’s hardly an argument not to get the Rubicon trim, because you’re eventually going to buy a ton of equipment, pay more for it, and not get the capabilities that the Rubicon offers. The Rubicon provides world-churning Dana 44 front and rear axles, as opposed to the lighter duty Dana 30 on the lesser trims.
From the dashboard on the Rubicon, you can lock the front and rear differentials. You’d spend $1,500 just buying the parts to get an Eaton Dana 44 E-Locker, and then you’d have to pay somebody to put them in. You’d easily eat up the $3,000 price difference between the Sahara and the Rubicon on that alone.
Also from the dash, you can disconnect the front sway bar. You can do that on your own, too, but you’re going to be getting out of the vehicle to do it. It’s nice to know that much greater front wheel articulation is just the touch of a button away. Then there’s at least a grand worth of wheels and tires, LT255/75R17 BF Goodrich Mud Terrains. A set of four is just a few clicks away at Tire Rack, but you’d spend $700 before a mount and balance.
So the math is totally in favor of the Rubicon on the front end. But the key is that it’s there on the back end, too. The Wrangler Rubicon enjoys as close to a gold-plated resale value as you’ll find in the automotive industry. Even the Wrangler Sport is consistently rated as having one of the top 10 resale values in the business.
Consumer Reports hates it, though. It called the Wrangler the “Worst Value” for the 2015 model year, based on things like fuel cost and its on-road manners. If you’re buying a Wrangler Rubicon, you’re not buying it for its on-road capabilities, or its fuel mileage. But the Honda Accord would probably rank pretty low if you decided to take it cruising through the deep woods in Maine, so the rating doesn’t make any sense at all. Dismiss it completely.
The Long Term Quality Index provides a better picture of overall issues you’re likely to have with a Wrangler. Reading from the top, the peak in the curve is well over to the left, indicating that there are typically more low-mileage Wranglers in the market than the industry average. That’s good for used car buyers. The dials further down indicate numbers of issues on Powertrain, Transmission and Engine issues on a sample of almost 4,000 Wranglers. Every rating is in the single digits, indicating that over time, Wranglers have given their owners very few problems.
Add that to the estimate that Jeep Wranglers hang onto 70 percent of their value after five years, and there’s hardly an argument you can make about a Wrangler as an investment. And that’s a bottom-feeder Wrangler Sport. Order up a Rubicon and you’re walking in at trade-in time with a full wallet.
Complaints? If I was forced to, I guess I’d gripe that I liked the inline six better, but it was impossible for Jeep to continue building that engine. It made all the sense in the world to swap to the V-6, and the 3.6-liter Pentastar is a much better engine than the 3.8-liter EGH minivan engines it replaced. I wish it got better fuel mileage, but I also wish I had more hair. It is what it is.
Last but not least, I’ll complain that the Wrangler’s days in its current form are numbered. For now — RIGHT NOW — you can run down to your Jeep dealer on a Friday night and drive one of these awesome holdovers home. But the clock is ticking. Jeep’s history of unveiling new versions of the Wrangler on years ending in 7 should indicate that we’re only a year from a significant overhaul. If you can trust anything Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has to say, that overhaul could mean a Wrangler that’s made of aluminum, without a solid frame, built somewhere other than Toledo.
It’s like finding out your next apple pie is going to be made of Ritz Crackers.
2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Base MSRP: $31,695
Price as Tested: $35,075
Connectivity Group: Includes Uconnect, Tire Pressure Monitoring Display ($495),
Trailer Tow Group ($395)
Power Convenience Group: Includes Power Door Locks, Power Windows, Heated Exterior Mirrors ($1,495)
Legendary off-road performance
Tons of off-road equipment for less than you’d pay for it individually
Outstanding overall value