The Best Used Jeep Wrangler Rubicons
Jeep itself has a rich and colorful history with many different models throughout the years. Jeep first spread its roots in WWII and gained popularity later on as a rugged and dependable vehicle. Chrysler bought Jeep in 1897 and began by making the TJ Wrangler in 1997, 10 years after Chrysler bought Jeep. This was Chrysler’s immersion into a lucrative and successful path that is still continuing today; you are bound to see one of the weathered and used Jeep Wrangler models in someone’s front lawn while driving around.
A popular model of the original TJ Wrangler is the Rubicon, which came about in 2003 and was a big success. This model has seen a lot of changes over the years, all of them bringing something to the table that made them stand out. The best years of the Rubicon, according to consumers, are between 2003 and 2007, and even today remains a staple as the off-road vehicle.
The Rubicon: Specs, Evolution and Niches Over the Years
The TJ Rubicon first came out in 2003 and getting that Rubicon package gave you a six-cylinder engine and choice of transmission, either the NV3550 manual or the automatic equipped with the new ’03 Wranglers. The drivetrain had changed though, and this model was using a new transfer case; the NV241OR which was a stronger T-case, had a bigger chain, factory slip-yoke eliminator, and 4:1 low-range was included in the package. This T-case was bigger and gave power to both the front and rear Dana 44 axles with 4.10 gears and air-actuated lockers.
The 2003 model is deemed to be one of the most popular from Jeep enthusiasts, both mechanics and consumers, and this is because of its original looks. This Rubicon was the first rugged off-road Jeep that Chrysler produced, so Jeep purists love this design for its originality.
The NV241OR also makes this a popular choice, this new T-case brought a much needed improvement in performance, especially the 4:1 low-range capabilities for off-roading. The bigger chain and air-actuated lockers (replaced later by electronic ones) would continue to be a mainstay for this T-case. Actually, the original model of this T-case would be used in many models in the future, because of how strong and reliable this case was in both performance and design.
Consumers and mechanics alike have said the Dana 44 axles are great axles to be equipped with this off-road vehicle. The axles can handle the power that this transmission puts out, and worked well with this model and many models in the future. In the 2007 JK Rubicon there were Dana 35 axles thrown in the earlier models and after testing they were immediately switched back to the 44s, simply because the performance was subpar.
In 2004 not much changed for the Rubicon, the T-case and front axle were the same as well as the air-actuated lockers, and 2005 kept the same T-case and axle options as well. What did change was the engine management system: additional 02 sensors were added along with another air intake sensor. Along with the addition of 02 sensors, a big performance change was the introduction of a six-speed manual transmission. The new NSG370 could be used with both four and six-cylinder engines. There was also a LJ Rubicon made from 2005-2006 that was a two door sporting a bigger wheelbase that increased cargo space on the inside of the vehicle.
2004 was another well-liked year for the Rubicon, it saw the installment of the NSG370 six-speed manual transmission. This was a huge selling point for off-roaders, seeing as the transmission could be used with both types of engines, and it was an upgrade from the previous transmission in terms of performance.
Another aspect that made this 2004 Rubicon popular with so many people was how the programming had not been changed. It had a new, stronger transmission and improved engine with some upgraded sensors, but the main electrical components remained untouched. One enthusiast said the reason it was nice to upgrade was the main programming/electronics were not changed like with the 06-07 models, since it was older technology it is easier to upgrade. It is more mechanical then computer work.
The bigger wheel base in the LJ Rubicon produced between 2005 and 2006 was valued for its capacity. The added cargo space was a popular feature because of the amount of extra space for supplies when going off-roading. Because of the longer wheelbase, consumers also like the vehicle for its looks. Many reviews say that the LJ looks better with a slight lift and bigger tires then the regular JK, which lacked the look of a longer wheelbase.
The Rubicon was now on the market as a JK model, and there was a sister model released that had four-doors and was commonly referred to as the JKU (U for Unlimited) that provided extra cargo space with the addition of a backseat and longer wheelbase. The only available engine in the U.S. was a 3.8L V-6 with a six-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic. The T-case was still bigger and stronger than the previous versions, and the Rubicon package was untouched with the same 4:1 ratio in the transfer case and 4.10 gears in the front and rear Dana 44 axles. Except for the air lockers, which are now electronically actuated and the front sway bars have a new electronic disconnect feature.
The speedometer no longer takes a signal from the T-case, it now takes it from speed sensors in the wheels. Many of the important systems are now computer controlled for safety. There is no throttle cable now, rather the throttle body butterfly is opened by an electronic stepper motor, and the gas pedal is attached by a wire. This new pedal system led to the elimination of erratic increase in speed while stepping on the gas off-road and on uneven terrain, even though it felt like there was a delay in acceleration when pressing the gas.
A Four-Door With a Longer Wheelbase
The JKU was the first Rubicon by Chrysler that advertised a four door vehicle. Not only did it have the increased cargo space from the longer wheelbase, but it now sported seats in the back with a decent amount of legroom to be used as a daily driver by families, or with friends on an off-road excursion.
While the longer wheelbase also provided increased passenger and cargo space, the wheelbase of the JKU also provided off-road enthusiasts with an increase in performance. The longer wheelbase allowed for a better grip while trying to slow-crawl up rocky areas and other forms of rough terrain.
All of these upgrades and changes that made 2003-2007 some of the Rubicon’s most popular years are still making them popular today. One thing that brings all of these years together though is the originality. Throughout the years the model had different cosmetic items changed, but the base model itself remained. Even now into 2015 people only have minor complaints about some of the models mentioned, and a lot of them are saying they would rather drive these over the newer models. Some are still driving in the original Rubicon with 180,000+ miles on them and say the vehicle is still going strong. That does not mean the models past 2007 are junk, it just means these models were built to last, and have become a trademark of Jeeps history as dependable, off-road vehicles.