Review: 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock

Mar. 09, 2015 By Josh Burns
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock is a mouthful, but just know this an off-road-ready Wrangler that’s ready to hit the trails straight from the dealership.

The Jeep Wrangler went from fun-time weekend vehicle to a realistic family SUV when the four-door JK was introduced in 2007. The JK made accommodating five passengers possible while still offering plenty of rear cargo space. More space for passengers and gear represented a significant improvement by addressing some of the major shortcoming of the previous generation TJ Wrangler.

Now many years into its lifecycle, the JK Wrangler is as popular as ever, in spite of the fact that there haven’t been many major updates since the addition of the Pentastar V6 for 2012. Still, Jeep has done a great job of offering cool packages for its iconic off-roader each year, and in 2015 there’s another great package available for serious off-roaders, the 2015 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock. We recently got our hands on one to get reacquainted with our long lost friend the Wrangler, as we were curious to see exactly what the Hard Rock has to offer.

The greenish “tank” color of our Rubicon Hard Rock is a rich, bold color that nicely compliments the red accents of the Rubicon Hard Rock.

Rock ‘n’ Roll
The Rubicon Hard Rock trim is a new option for the Wrangler in 2015, though it’s basically the same setup as last year’s Rubicon X, which was a 10-year anniversary Wrangler Rubicon outfitted with some extra features above and beyond what’s found on the standard Rubi. The Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock is available in two- and four-door options, and it is powered by a 3.6-liter 24-valve VVT Pentastar V6 engine that produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. We tested the five-speed automatic version; there is also a six-speed manual option available.

The Rubicon Hard Rock features all of the features found on the Rubicon model, including Next Generation Dana 44 front and rear axles that are each fitted with Tru-Lok locking differentials for added off-road traction. The Rubicon comes standard with 3.73:1 gearing front and rear (up from the base 3.21:1 gearing), though our vehicle features the optional lower 4.10:1 gear sets. Our Hard Rock also features an electronic sway bar disconnect for improved off-road handling, and the 4:1 Rock-Trac part-time 4WD transfer case that provides an impressive 73.1:1 crawl ratio

The Rubicon Hard Rock features the Power Dome hood with vented slots to improve airflow to the 285-hp Pentastar V6 engine. .

What separates the Hard Rock from traditional Rubicon models is the addition of more unique trail-worthy parts. Replacing the plastic units are front and rear steel bumpers on the Hard Rock, each featuring removable end caps for additional clearance when the trail gets tight. The front bumper is ready to receive a winch, and it features integrated fog lamps for additional trail visibility. Both the front and rear bumpers feature heavy-duty red tow hooks for extraction and recovery. Although the standard Rubicon features rock rails, the Hard Rock offers extended Mopar rails for added protection, and there’s also a step for easier vehicle entry and exit. The standard hood is swapped out for a Power Dome hood that features dual air intake slits to improve airflow to the engine, which helps reduce underhood temperatures. Additional features include a black Mopar fuel filler door, snazzy 17 x 7.5-inch polished, semi-gloss black wheels, unique red Rubicon lettering on the hood, silver interior accents and heated leather front seats with embroidered Rubicon logos.

The upgraded Mopar rock rails not only provide added side rail protection, but they also offer a nice ledge for hopping into the Jeep.  

The Rubicon Hard Rock Jeep also offers a few interior extras that some might not expect on a Wrangler, but rest assured the brand still hasn’t jumped the shark with too many flashy upgrades. Black leather-trimmed bucket seats are found up front, while a leather 60/40 split bench seat is found in back. The Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth upgrade offers touchscreen controls for the stereo, navigation and paired phone capabilities. The Uconnect system will play CDs, DVDs, MP3s, and it features a USB port and an auxiliary jack for hooking up devices such as phones and iPods. The system also features a 40 GB hard drive with 20 gigs of available space. An available remote start system can be equipped on the vehicle as well.

Featuring a touchscreen with Chrysler’s Uconnect system, the Rubicon Hard Rock is well into the 21st Century in terms of its electronic offerings.

A lever mounted to the center console shifts the Wrangler into Drive, Neutral and Reverse. When the Jeep is in the Drive position, the lever moves in a side-to-side motion to up and downshift the transmission manually while in 4WD Low. Purists will appreciate the fact that Wranglers still rely on a lever-operated transfer case shifter, which is found on the left side of the center controls closest to the driver and features settings for 2WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low.

An upgraded steel rear bumper is found on the Rubicon Hard Rock, which features eye-catching red tow hooks should a fellow off-roader need recovery, or should you get in over your head!

When on the highway, the driver can easily control the cruise control settings from the steering wheel. The steering wheel buttons also control a host of functions for the instrumentation cluster, such as fuel economy, trip meter, and more. Mounted on the dash to the left of the steering wheel are the off-road controls, which are highlighted with red buttons so they can’t be missed. These buttons include a rocker switch to control the front and rear lockers as well as another switch for the sway bar disconnect.

Whether driving on windy country roads or navigating Octotillo-filled trails, the suspension on the Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock feels great in every situation.

From the Week to the Weekend
After a week behind the computer, we found a good excuse to escape the city in the Rubicon Hard Rock. One of the largest off-road gatherings in Southern California is the annual Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari that entered its 53rd year in 2015. The event is held at the Truckhaven Hills area of the North Ocotillo Wells SVRA, and thousands of off-roaders venture to the event for a weekend of organized trail rides, vendor displays, camping and trail adventures. We loaded up a few items for camping and traveled the few hours south to the event, arriving early on Friday afternoon to explore some crowd-free trails outside of the TDS event before the weekend.

The steel front bumper features removable end caps should additional clearance be needed, but we’re most impressed with the bumper being fully ready to accept a winch.

Over the years, we’ve spent our fair share of time in the JK Wrangler, and we previously owned the last-gen TJ Wrangler. Even though we don’t own a JK, every time we hop behind the wheel of one it feels like catching up with a close friend. The Rubicon Hard Rock may offer a few more plush amenities like leather seats and some additional badging, but at its core this is still a Wrangler. The Rubicon sits just a little higher thanks to its larger 32-inch BFGoodrich tires, and although the BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KMs have a more aggressive tread pattern than a typical all-terrain tire, they still aren’t so loud as to impart a great deal of road noise. Sure, they’re slightly louder than a road tire, but in our opinion it’s still a very acceptable level.

The Rubicon Hard Rock features unique 17-inch wheels that are fitted with LT255/75R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM tires.

Although the Rubicon Hard Rock is fitted with off-road worthy suspension, it still feels composed and confident on everything from wide-open highway driving to windy country roads. With suspension a little more focused on off-road performance, the Rubicon might impart a softer feeling when first getting behind the wheel of the Jeep and hitting your first set of speed bumps or driveways, but where it really counts, like in tight turns and windy roads, the Jeep doesn’t waver in its stable attitude.

Getting the Wrangler Rubicon in the dirt is like returning it to its natural environment. It feels right at home rolling over rutted, rock-strewn roads where its suspension can really stretch is legs and soak up the terrain with confidence and ease. When the trail got tougher and speeds slowed down, we popped the Hard Rock into 4WD Low and just let the Wrangler do the walking. Thanks to its NV241 Rock-Trac transfer case, the Hard Rock has an impressively steep 73.1:1 crawl ratio. When creeping up or down rocky slopes, the driver can simply use the shift lever to find the ideal low-speed gear for the terrain, allowing the Jeep to effortlessly creep over obstacles while the driver focuses on steering the Jeep. 

With an impressive 73.1:1 crawl ratio thanks to its Rock-Trac part-time 4WD transfer case, crawling up or down rocky trails is a breeze in the Rubicon Hard Rock.

Our Rubicon Hard Rock features the upgraded lower 4.10 gearing, which we would recommend to those looking to hit trails littered with low-speed obstacles. For those who spend more time in the desert bouncing around wide-open terrain at higher speeds, the 3.73 gearing on the standard Rubicon might be a better fit. Even though we’d want the Wrangler to feel at home in any terrain, we’d opt for the 4.10 gearing because of the steeper crawl ratio it provides – pretty impressive for a stock vehicle!

There are a few extra that stood out to us on the Hard Rock. The upgraded nine-speaker Alpine stereo system with All-Weather Subwoofer (located in the rear cargo area) is a great feature, as it gives the stereo enough life to drown out road or trail noise versus the standard stereo system. We did not remove the end caps on the upgraded steel bumpers, though it’s nice to know we could should we need to, and the fact that the front bumper is winch-ready means there won’t be a need to upgrade it in the future. As is, our Wrangler has an impressive approach angle of 44.3 degrees and a departure angle of 40.4 degrees, so chances are the Jeep will clear most moderate obstacles without scrubbing, but the transfer tank skid plate and fuel tank skid do provide added peace of mind on rocky trails. We really like the extended Mopar rock rails as well, which will ensure the Wrangler won’t get beat up by rocks and ledges.

The instrumentation panel on the Wrangler doesn’t have a ton of frills, but the speedometer does include modern functions such as average fuel economy and trip meeter that can be cycled via the buttons on the steering wheel.

On the dash to the left of the steering wheel are controls for the front and rear lockers and the sway bar disconnect.

The EPA fuel economy rating for our Rubicon Hard Rock is 16 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, with its combined rating splitting the difference at 18 mpg. We observed a slightly slower combined fuel economy of 17.2 mpg during testing. Obviously driving and weather conditions impact fuel economy, and since it was quite windy during much of our highway drive time we believe the Wrangler can hit a slightly better overall number.

The Jeep Wrangler has a long and storied history, and it’s no revelation to those who enjoy the outdoors that you’d be hard pressed to find a better off-road vehicle straight from the showroom floor.  The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock we tested is definitely on the upper end of the price scale at $46,345, but the Rubicon starts in the mid $30s and options up from there, so it certainly can be had for less than our Hard Rock version.

Fording small rivers is no chore for the Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock.

The Wrangler is one of the most customized off-road vehicles ever, and although many will buy one and immediately peruse the Mopar catalog and scour the aftermarket for upgrades, Jeep took that hassle out of the equation by offering a handsomely equipped Rubicon with the Hard Rock. Like all Wranglers, it’s backed by a five-year or 100,000-mile Powertrain Limited Warranty, a three-year or 36,000-mile Basic Limited Warranty, and it comes with a five-year or 100,000-mile roadside assistance coverage. 

The JK Wrangler Unlimited is one of the best off-road vehicles available today, and the Rubicon Hard Rock puts an exclamation on that statement by making it even more attractive.

Specifications – 2015 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock
Engine: 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, DOHC 24-valve VVT
Horsepower: 285 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 260 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: W5A580 5-speed automatic with overdrive
Height: 70.1 in. (as tested wo/roof rack)
Track Width: 61.9 in. (front and rear)
Length:  152.8 in.
Width: 73.7 in.
Wheelbase: 95.4 in.
Approach Angle: 44.3 degrees
Departure Angle: 40.4 degrees
Breakover Angle:  25.4 degrees
Ground Clearance (suspension or axle to ground): 10.5 in. front, 10.2 in. (rear)
Claimed Curb Weight: 4,269 lbs.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 5,400 lbs.
Max Towing Capacity: 3,500 lbs.
Payload Capacity: N/A
Fuel Tank: 22.5 gal.
Seating Capacity: 5
Axle Ratio: 4.10:1
Aver. MPG (tested): 17.1 mpg overall
Price: $46,345*
*Sticker price as tested, includes destination charges Newsletter
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