Some vehicles come with a built-in fan club that you automatically join as soon as you roll off the lot. Think of it as a common thread between automotive outliers: groups of people different from the crowd but alike to each other in terms of their unusual choice of transportation, a gathering of individuals who were inclined to put their dollars down for reasons not necessarily listed on a window sticker or spec sheet.
Under this heading, one can find owners of the Mazda Miata, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and of course, the Jeep Wrangler. It was the latter cohort that I spent a week impersonating under sunny Los Angeles skies behind the wheel of the two-door 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, the ne plus ultra edition of Jeep’s unique off-roader.
With the top – and occasionally the windshield – down, I gratefully reciprocated the waves, nods, and general enthusiasm from other Jeep owners, as well as total strangers who felt the need to approach me in parking lots or on the sidewalk to let me know just how cool my ride was.
I know, everyone. I know.
Yesterday Meets Today
Although completely redesigned the previous year, so much about the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon remains archaic. Up front, you’ll find a solid axle to match the one at the rear, Dana 44 lockers that are paired with an ultra-low rock crawling gear set found in the vehicle’s four-wheel drive system. Gigantic 33-inch rubber also makes knobby, momentary contact with the asphalt as you drive, contributing to the weaving-and-bobbing nature of the Rubicon’s freeway cruise, and even with the soft top up it’s a bit blustery inside the cabin in terms of noise.
And yet, paired with these callbacks to days gone by is a surprisingly high level of hi-tech. Those diffs are electronically controlled, as is the forward swaybar that can disconnect at the touch of a button to improve suspension articulation. The Uconnect infotainment system is present and accounted for (if a bit fussy about staying connected to my phone via Bluetooth), and the new Wrangler even comes with the availability of adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, and forward collision warning.
Of course, there’s also the matter of the Jeep’s latest drivetrain: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s good for 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. While it may come matched exclusively with an eight-speed automatic transmission (whereas the V6 can be had with a six-speed manual), it one-ups its larger sibling by a full 35 lb-ft of twist while promising 24-mpg in combined driving – nearly 20% better than the larger motor.
Turbo Jeep Is Best Jeep
It may sound like sacrilege to prefer the tiny turbo four to the Wrangler’s standard Pentastar V6, but I was regularly impressed with how well it surged forward through gaps in L.A. traffic, snail screaming, the eight-speed never letting me down or tripping itself up trying to find the correct gear. A fair portion of the unit’s initial thrust is provided by another Wrangler-first, a 22-horsepower electric motor that’s married to the vehicle’s 48-volt electrical system. It’s only active for the faintest of half-seconds when getting on-throttle, and it’s also tagged in as the starter for the automatic start/stop system, but it’s a big part of why the four is less thirsty than the six despite being 0.3 seconds (6.5 in total) quicker to 60 mph.
This fab forward momentum is tempered, of course, by the quirks of the Rubicon’s designed-for-the-Outback suspension and chassis. Although this is by far the most civilized-riding Wrangler to have ever left the factory, the previously mentioned highway wander, the eagerness of the short-wheelbase two-door to skitter and hop through tight turns over broken asphalt, and a general disconnect between the driver and the position of the front wheels are all part and parcel of the Jeep’s old school character.
Join the Club
I’m perfectly willing to forgive the Wrangler its vices for the sole reason that it offers an experience completely unlike that of any other current SUV. I say this without even having taken the Rubicon out into the bush where it best displays its bonafides, because even around town the reactions to its bright red paint, open top, and general adventure-friendly demeanor makes you the star of your own mini-movie about what exciting escapades might be right around the corner. Every outing in the Jeep is an event, to the point where I didn’t much mind sitting in the surprisingly spacious back seat, wind tearing the skin off of my face, while a friend got her own Rubicon fix one evening blasting down I5.
Is it the most comfortable commuter? Definitely not, unless your drive to work includes boulders, streams, or post-apocalyptic urban decay. There are vehicles like the Toyota 4Runner TRD that will match 80 percent of the Rubicon’s off-road cred with a 120 percent softer approach to the pavement, but then again, they can’t equal the Jeep’s character (or parking-friendly short wheelbase).
The Verdict: 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Review
Then there’s the matter of price. While I wholeheartedly recommend the turbo, you’ll pay not just $1,000 for the privilege of the more advanced motor, but also an additional $2,000 for the eight-speed auto that goes with it (regardless of which trim level you select). This comes into play when considering that the sticker for the Rubicon I drove surpassed $50,000 (after a starting MSRP of $38,045).
If that might seem a bit too steep a joining fee, then don’t worry – you can still get into Club Jeep for under $30k in the form of the base Wrangler Sport, and bask in nearly the same level of camaraderie from almost every other owner you meet. And the ones who would look down on your from their jacked-up Rubicon tower? You wouldn’t want to be their friend, anyway.
This article originally appeared on AutoGuide.com