The departure of our long-term 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon just a few weeks ago was bittersweet. A lot has changed in my life—all of our lives, really—since the firetruck-red, black-topped four-door Wrangler long-termer showed up at MotorTrend‘s offices in July of 2019. Like the long-term Ram Power Wagon before it, I had big plans for our Wrangler; aside from driving and living with it everyday, I was going to take our Wrangler on epic, Jeep-appropriate overland expeditions across the American Southwest, with my wife and our two dogs, Brooklyn and Rex, in tow.
For many reasons that didn’t happen. An endless stream of test vehicles (the very definition of a first-world problem, I know) from summer through fall delayed plans to go exploring Death Valley, or Moab, as well as tackling the Rubicon Trail. Come December, life seemed to slow down slightly. Until one day, after hopping out of the Jeep she loved to bark out of, we noticed Brooklyn was slightly dragging one of her hind legs. The Jeep rides she loved so much became less and less fun as they shuttled her from vet to vet and soon after, hospital to hospital. Cancer, they said. By Christmas, she’d passed.
I think it was Woody Allen who said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” With a 65-pound black lab/blue heeler-size hold in our hearts, the Jeep spent January close to home, driving in a rain-soaked Los Angeles, nose pointed nowhere in particular, its cabin quiet save for the pitter-patter of rain on the removable hardtop, the din of the Wrangler’s eTorque turbo-four, and the occasional jingle from our other pup Rex’s collar.
What-ifs and regrets were all we could think about. “What if we’d noticed it sooner?” “Why didn’t we take Brooklyn on more trips?”
In those regrets was a glimmer of peace. Although we hadn’t managed to crisscross the country as a family, we hadn’t failed to make memories together in our long-term Jeep, even if we were more likely to be found on pavement than off it.
We ate up miles of asphalt together driving to the far reaches of Northern California to visit Brooklyn’s favorite people, my in-laws. Although the Jeep’s old-school reciprocal ball steering got tiring on the nearly 600-mile slog north and back south again, Brooklyn had thoroughly enjoyed the spacious, upright rear bench (though not squeezing through the Jeep’s narrow rear door openings), while all 25 pounds of Rex loved the luxury of being able to see California zip by as it turned slowly from metropolis, to mountain, endless valley, and then forest—all thanks to the Wrangler’s massive greenhouse. Meanwhile, the humans enjoyed the Wrangler’s nine-speaker Alpine audio system and the responsive Uconnect infotainment system. With two solid axles and a suspension designed for rock crawling, the Wrangler wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel long distances on regular roads, but it got us there.
Like our beloved pup, MT’s long-term Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon was largely trouble-free during its tenure with us. It only needed a single regular service during its 14-month, 23,733-mile stay with us, an oil and filter change, tire rotation, and inspection that set us back just $83.55. There was but a single recall during that time, for the steering damper. The new steering damper, designed to combat the Wrangler’s tendency to wander at highway speeds, cost us nothing and took just a few hours to install at the dealer. Steering effort increased somewhat with the new part, making long hauls more of a chore. Further changes to 2020 model year Wranglers have slightly improved steering feel in my experience. It’s worth noting that among the more popular threads on JLWranglerForums.com is one concerning owner complaints about steering feel on 2018-2020 Wranglers and Gladiators; 2021 model year Wranglers are reportedly getting completely new steering boxes to hopefully eliminate the issue.
Our Jeep’s now-discontinued mild-hybrid 270-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine option under-delivered on the EPA’s 22 mpg combined rating, achieving 17.3 mpg during its time with us. Not great, but not terrible given the Jeep’s still bricklike aerodynamics and heft. We’d still opt for a turbocharged four-cylinder (now minus the hybrid bits) if we were ordering a new Wrangler today—it’s cheaper than the available six-cylinder EcoDiesel, and its 295 lb-ft of torque makes it feel spritely compared to the standard 3.6-liter V-6, which makes most of its 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque high in its powerband.
Where the Wrangler really came into its own were the unplanned trips, even though they didn’t take us as far afield as we initially planned when the Jeep first arrived. The most memorable was probably when we headed north one morning to hug the coast, rather than east toward the hot Mojave Desert. Our plan was simple: find some water for the dogs to play in. With plenty of ground clearance, knobby tires, locking diffs, and—my favorite—a sway bar disconnect, we always had the peace of mind that the Wrangler Rubicon would get us wherever we needed and back again.
In this case, it was a no-name, unmarked dirt trail in the mountains above Santa Barbara that dumped us out alongside a flowing stream. The trail was far from challenging, but that’s not always the point. The arc of water droplets glistening in the sun as they came off Brooklyn’s wagging tail at the watering hole. Her head and body buried in a towel in my wife’s arms as she attempted to dry her. Rex nipping Brooklyn’s furry wet neck. The sun shining. The water flowing. That is the point. That now memory is what the Wrangler helped make possible.
Goodbye pup, we’ll miss you.
Read more about our long-term 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon:
|SERVICE LIFE||14 mo / 23,733 mi|
|OPTIONS||Automatic transmission ($2,000), Steel bumpers ($1,295), Freedom Top ($1,195), 2.0-Liter turbo-four eTorque engine ($1,000), Active safety tech ($895), Adaptive cruise control ($795), Headliner ($525), Remote keyless entry ($495), Body-color fender flares ($495), Remote start system ($495)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$57,110|
|AVG ECON/CO2||17.3 mpg / 1.12 lb/mi|
|MAINTENANCE COST||$83.55 (oil change, inspection, tire rotation)|
|3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE*||$49,800 (87%)|
|*IntelliChoice data; assumes 42,000 miles at the end of 3-years|
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.7 cu in/1,995 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||270 hp @ 5,250 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||17.7 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Live axle, coil springs, adj anti-roll bar; live axle, coil springs, adj anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||12.9-in vented disc; 13.4-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.5 x 17-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||285/70R17 116/1130 (M+S) BF Goodrich Baja Champion All Terrain T/A K02|
|TRACK, F/R||62.9/62.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||188.4 x 73.8 x 73.6 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||10.8 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||43.9/37.0 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,766 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||52/48%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||4,755 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.7/40.2 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.2/38.3 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||55.7/55.7 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/R||72.4/31.7 cu ft cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.4|
|QUARTER MILE||16.0 sec @ 83.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||137 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.70 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||29.3 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,750 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$57,110|
|AIRBAGS||4: Dual front, front side|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||21.5 gal + 0.4 kW-hr battery|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||21.4/26.0/23.2 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||22/24/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/140 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.85 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium|