My first experience with a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was very nearly a traumatic one. It occurred during the 2015 What’s New event at Chrysler’s own proving grounds in Chelsea, MI when I laid my eyes on a very unused Wrangler Rubicon. Unused because heavy rains had closed the Lyman Trail, Chrysler’s own off-road obstacle course, leaving only the high-speed handling course open for testing. I, rather foolishly, decided that the Jeep couldn’t possibly be that bad on track. I built up speed as I sighted Turn 1, a 90-degree right-hander. But as I deftly heel-towed down into second and got hard on the brakes, the Jeep protested. The nose dove down and the off-road tires required significant correction to keep braking in a straight line. As the Jeep under-steered mightily, requiring additional trail braking to return to safer speeds, I decided that the Rubicon might actually not be so good on track. I’ve waited two years to be able to experience the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon in a far more appropriate setting. As the JK generation heads for the history books, I took this opportunity to redeem myself.
The Recon is Jeep’s newest and most off-road-focused Wrangler model available in 2017. Based on the Rubicon, the Recon starts by adding a strengthened front axle, heavy-duty differential covers, off-road steel bumpers, and new off-road rock rails. Visually, a half-inch lift, 17″ dark graphite aluminum wheels shod in 32″ BF Goodrich KM off-road tires, and Power Dome hood differentiate the Rubicon Recon from other models. The combination of extra ground clearance, larger tires, and removable front bumper end caps give this Wrangler the best approach angle in the Jeep lineup. The low-gloss accents add to it’s heavy-duty appearance.
With summer temperatures persisting well into September, the first order of business was to remove the top. The optional three-piece Freedom Top has two easily removable front panels to give the Wrangler a targa vibe. Two fastener knobs and several latches release the two panels, which fit snugly into a storage bag that can be stowed behind the rear seats. But for the authentic Jeep experience, 6 more screws and two quick disconnects for the rear wiper power and washer fluid connections are all it takes to go completely topless. It’s a process that takes a bit of forethought and a place to store the top, but we weren’t going to get though the week without committing to it at least once. And once the top was off, we headed straight for our favorite off-road trail.
We knew none of the logging paths or seasonal roads we had access to would challenge the Wrangler’s capabilities. Loose gravel, rocky inclines, and impressively photogenic mud puddles are no match for Jeeps’ four-wheel drive system and off-road tires. Had we encountered any real obstacles, the Recon is equipped to with locking front and rear differentials and an electronically-disconnecting sway-bar. When disengaged, the front suspension benefits from increased articulation, which means that all four of the Wrangler’s chunky tires stay powered and on the ground in situations where other vehicles would be balancing on three wheels. The transfer cases’ low range gearing combined with the 4.10 axle ratio gives this Wrangler a crawl ratio of 73.1:1, meaning the engine’s torque is multiplied by a factor of 73 at the wheels! That’s certainly an enormous amount of force to keep you from getting stuck.
After we finished what the Jeep probably considered to be playing in the mud, our week also consisted of a long highway drive. Predictably, this is not the Recon’s forte. The off-road tires, high ground clearance, and uninsulated top mean road noise becomes a problem after a while. The cabin isn’t conducive for passengers to stretch out. This lead to frequent stops on our road trip. We also found that the sun can reflect at just the right angle off the Power Dome hood to occasionally blind the driver. But we overlook these limitations because the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Recon makes no pretenses about being a long-hauler or a track toy. Around town and on the ride to the office, the Jeep is livable. It has its quirks, but they don’t wear on you quickly.
There’s definitely a cult of Jeep; I lost count of the Jeep waves after the first day. And people tend to pick the Rubicon Recon out of the crowd more often due to its unique looks – a combination of serious off-road equipment and the “blacked-out” visual cues. 2017 marks the last year for this “JK” generation Wrangler, the all-new 2018 “JL” is on the cusp of being debuted. Jeep is sure to have kept the Wrangler’s off-road focus while modernizing the rest of the experience. We didn’t overlook that this current model, in 2017, is still equipped with a 5-speed automatic. But the 2017 Wrangler Rubicon Recon will go down as the JK’s most factory-capable version ever offered, which made this week of closure all the more redeeming.
|2017 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Recon 4×4
|Rubicon Recon Edition “24Z”||$5,500|
|5-Speed Automatic Transmission||$1,400|
|4.10 Axle Ratio||$695|
|Freedom Top, Black||$595|
|Alpine Premium 9-Speakers w/ All Weather Subwoofer||$945|
|As Tested MSRP||$45,070|