2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon diesel review (video)

Here at PerformanceDrive we look forward to reviewing unique cars. Sure, the Corollas and CX-5s of the industry are great all-rounders that suit a wide variety of buyers. But it’s the creative and exciting stuff that really tickles our fancy. Enter the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. This is one of those rare vehicles that pops into the market that isn’t tethered by convention or restrained by conformity. It has not been designed to meet the needs of as many buyers as possible. Nope. This has one main purpose; to explore the wild, and put a smile on your face in the process.

Jeep Australia launched the all-new Wrangler last year. It comes in an assortment of body styles, trim levels, and vibrant colours, with a peel-back soft-top roof or removable hard-top. Buyers can also choose between a powerful V6 petrol (Overland V6 2-door review here) or a 2.2-litre (actually 2143cc) turbo-diesel four-cylinder.

Today we’re looking at the absolute cream of the crop. The Rubicon, or more accurately the Unlimited Rubicon, with the diesel engine option. Prices start from an eye-opening $70,950, or you can save a whopping $5500 by going for the petrol – yep, we don’t understand why the diesel is so much more either.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon – THE SPECS

Engine: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder
Output: 147kW@3500rpm / 450Nm@2000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Drive type: Part-time RWD/4WD, locking front & rear diff
Wheels: F & R: 17×7.5, 255/75
ANCAP: Three stars
Tare weight: 2160kg
Power-to-weight: 14.7:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 7.5L/100km
Economy during test: 9.0L/100km

Fuel capacity/Type: 81L/Diesel
Power efficiency: 19.6kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 4.80 seconds*
0-100km/h: 11.94 seconds*
60-110km/h: 9.26 seconds*
1/4 mile: 18.07 seconds at 122.8km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.769g
100-0km/h braking: 3.52 seconds at 45.32 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.047g
Decibel at idle: 53*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 82*
Priced from: $70,950

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

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2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon – THE PACKAGE

You only need to climb inside to see just how much character this offers. The interior is so animated and almost cartoonish, with chunky grab handles and massive buttons and levers everywhere you look. And then when you’ve finally done your leg workout and got yourself onto the driver’s seat, the theatre continues as you look out along the bulging bonnet, and peer over the comedically thin doors and low window sill. It’s fun just sitting in here.

The passenger space in the front is pretty vast. Taller drivers might find it a bit confined, mainly due to the thick roll bar system which is not-at-all neatly integrated into the interior. It’s actually blindingly obvious. But the headroom and legroom are good. The steering column also offers tilt and reach adjustment so you can find a natural driving position without trouble.

When you spend a bit of time inside you’ll notice it’s quite a practical place, despite all of that character and fuss. Down between the two front seats is a sizeable console box, cup holders, and a storage tray on the lower section of the dash. There are no bottle holders in the doors, not in the conventional sense anyway. Instead you have a netted pocket at your disposal, which can hold smaller bottles.

In terms of the main features, the Rubicon showcases Jeep’s awesome 8.4-inch Uconnect touch-screen system. It comes packed with everything, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, loads of different apps to play around with (including off-road pages), digital radio, and sat-nav. Your favourite tunes are pumped through an Alpine nine-speaker stereo. About the only thing that we would like to see is a multi-view camera system. There is a standard rear-view camera, but in these modern times a side- and front-view system would come in handy, on and off the road.

Rear seat accommodation is just as interesting. On the back of the centre console is a protruding set of adjustable climate vents, and down below you’ll find two USB and two USB-C charging ports, and a 12V socket. There’s even a tray to store your phone while it’s charging – many of the popular SUVs and crossovers don’t offer this much technological rear-seat convenience. A flip-down centre arm rest also presents two cup holders from the middle seat backrest, and you get those netted pockets in the rear doors as well. Check out the door handle levers. They look like hinges from the back of a truck. Very cool.

Jeep has mounted some speakers to the roll bar at the back to keep passengers entertained. They’re mounted there because, despite looking like a solid hard-top on the outside, you can actually remove the entire roof. Well, that’s if you have an allen key and a couple of hours spare. We didn’t bother taking the roof off during our test but we can see how this function would add another dimension of fun to the ownership experience. You’d just have to live somewhere where you can predict a decent period of sunshine.

Boot space measures in at 548 litres, which is plenty. It’s a boxy and straight-edge access too, so bulky and awkwardly-shaped objects should squeeze in without much hassle. A metal rail with sliding mounting points can help anchor anything hazardous or heavy, such as a mini fridge (which you can power by the 230V socket on the wall), although you do have to watch out for the sub-woofer on the side.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon – THE DRIVE

Yes, it feels a bit like driving a truck. But a smooth truck with light controls. Turning is easy and there isn’t as much body lean as you might expect. If you’re simply trotting around town and to the supermarket, the Wrangler is a great companion. The high view gives you a clear indication of your surroundings, and the flat windows and flat dash and door sills help you estimate the tightest of gaps. You probably won’t believe us but we enjoyed driving this machine just as much in the city as in the bush.

So, the engine. In terms of power and force, yes you should go for the 3.6-litre V6 petrol if you only like things in maximum size. It produces 209kW. However, this 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder provides some attractive traits as well. For one there’s 450Nm of torque available from just 2000rpm. This comes in handy in the city as well as out in the bush. Compared with the V6 petrol (347Nm at 4100rpm), the fuel consumption is considerably lower, no doubt thanks to the low-end torque. On the official combined cycle the Rubicon V6 four-door is rated at 10.3L/100km, while the diesel is stamped at just 7.5L/100km.

This diesel is also very refined and smooth. It doesn’t sound like a clattering truck engine. That’s because it is FCA’s latest Multijet II unit, and is actually shared in the Alfa Romeo Giulia luxury sedan. Although it was first introduced in 2015, which isn’t that long ago anyway, FCA revised the unit in 2016 specially for the Alfa, and then Jeep picked it up too. Take a listen in the video below. You’ll hear a sophisticated and bassy hum and very little knock and clack.

Matched up to the engine is an eight-speed auto. It’s based on the widely-used ZF 8HP unit found in a whole heap of cars currently on the market, from Audis, BMWs, Jaguars, and even some Porsches. Jeep calls it a Torqueflite 850RE, and it, like in those other cars, performs brilliantly. The shifts are fast and fluid and the ratios seems perfectly spread for progressive yet linear acceleration.

Speaking of acceleration, we did some of our usual 0-100km/h runs with the Vbox, because, why not? The best we saw was 11.94 seconds. That’s about the same as some diesel dual-cab 4×4 utes on the market at the moment. It doesn’t seem quick – it isn’t quick – in this specific type of test, but it’s one of those vehicles that once it’s up and going the acceleration doesn’t feel that slow. Overtaking isn’t a concern thanks to the big torque, and 147kW of power isn’t exactly low for this capacity.

Okay, so obviously if you’re looking to buy a Rubicon you must be interested in heading off road. If you’re not then all we can say is, you’re missing out. Because this vehicle, a standard factory-spec vehicle, can go anywhere. It charges over or through any type of terrain. And there’s enough component smarts here to ensure it rarely, if ever, gets stuck.

Firstly, you have a part-time four-wheel drive system with selection made via one of the manly levers inside. There’s also low-range for really tricky stuff, and then not just a rear differential lock but also one for the front axle as well. Both axles are rigid, by the way. And as a cherry on top the front sway bar can be disconnected at the touch of a button. Yes, you read that correctly. You can disconnect the sway bar for maximum wheel travel, and grab that fashionable ‘flex’ pose selfie.

During our test we played around in what seemed like a miniature 4×4 park, with a bit of mud, sand, some little-but-steep climbs, rutted sections, and clumpy mounds that really flexed out that suspension. In short, it didn’t stop. We didn’t even get close to getting stuck. It’s bloody fantastic. The diff locks basically make it impossible for single wheel wheelspin to slow you down, especially if a wheel is off the ground.

Also helping are the beefy 255/75 mud terrain tyres. These ripped up or through everything we could find to throw at them. A minor downside to these tyres is that they do roar on the highway. Although, that’s a given and probably not even a concern for serious 4×4 enthusiasts.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon – THE VIDEO

2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon – THE VERDICT

The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is a lot of fun to drive and not just out in the bush where it really exceeds. It’s enjoyable to drive in the city and suburbs too, purely because it’s full of character and always in high spirit; a lift-me-up drug that isn’t a drug. We love the macho interior details and the attention to detail that Jeep has infused, with hidden logos and so on. And we love the Uconnect touch-screen and the overall level of standard features. Granted, this isn’t a cheap car.

This vehicle isn’t for everyone though. If you’re in the market for a practical SUV then you’re better off checking out some of the popular propositions first. The fact that this only meets three-star ANCAP safety standards also means it isn’t the ideal family car. However, if you want a vehicle that’s exciting and interesting every time you get in, and obviously if you want to go off road regularly, we can’t recommend many others that do a better job than this.

PROS:
– 2.2 turbo-diesel is surprisingly smooth and refined
– Entertaining interior that’s also practical and well thought out
– Unstoppable off-road performance
– Fun to drive, even in the city
– Lots of heritage

CONS:
– 3-star ANCAP safety
– Chunky tyres not suitable for regular highway use
– Roof comes off, but takes ages

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

Brett is the editor and founder of Performance Drive. He's obsessed with driving, having played with Matchbox cars until he was tall enough to drive a real one. After initially working as a mechanic, Brett earned a degree in journalism and entered media as an editorial assistant at Top Gear Australia magazine. He then worked at CarAdvice.com.au. His dream is to live next door to the Nurburgring in Germany.