2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon car reviews

Review Notes: 2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, automatic
Personality The "real Jeep" with room for five
Gas mileage 16 city, 19 highway
Above Average Off-road capabilities, fun, ease of door removal
Needs Work Sun visors!, other odd inconveniences

Don't be fooled by the Wrangler Unlimited. It’s softer than the first generation, it handles better, and it has more room for passengers and for cargo; but it’s still better off-road.

Originally demanded by (and designed for) Egypt, a good Jeep customer, the first four-door Wrangler was all too clearly a “quickie.’ Off-road capability was compromised by the design, which lengthened the wheelbase but not enough to push the wheels to the edges. The new version was designed from the ground up to be its current length; the wheels are right at the four corners, and it appears that even with the softer ride, the new Unlimited has far better off-road capability than the prior generation - and may even be able to run with the prior "standard" Wrangler.

With this generation, the Jeep Wrangler has softened up considerably. The beloved, throwback, stiff automatic and torquey, noisy, durable straight-six engine have been replaced by a modern Chrysler automatic and minivan V6; the four cylinder is gone entirely; wind and engine noise have been cut back; and modern conveniences like power door locks and windows are finally available, with a quick-disconnect plug to allow owners to remove the doors as in days of old. As with the standard Wrangler, the Unlimited is unique in letting you lower the windshield and take off the doors by yourself.

The Wrangler is instantly recognizable, with the parking lights returned to their 1960s position, but the four-door Unlimited was mistaken by some bystanders as a Hummer; the side profile is more Hummer than Jeep, at least for the moment (that's changing as Jeep moves to more squareness). Even the Rubicon looks wide and low, though it isn't either one.

While the Wrangler Unlimited is always built with considerable off-road prowess, the Rubicon has special tires, a higher suspension, skid plates, and other modifications designed to make it easier to cross streams and drive over big rocks. The Rubicon is the ideal choice for those who are truly dedicated to off-roading or who live in inaccessible lands, but its optimization for forest and quarry make it somewhat unsuitable for living on land. While the EPA doesn't see a difference, we think your gas mileage will be considerably better in a standard Wrangler, as will your cornering and your wallet. The Rubicon costs quite a bit to begin with ($8,000 more!), but those special tires can put quite the bite on your budget too.

Without the Rubicon package, the Wrangler Unlimited is a bargain when compared with the Hummer H3, its nearest competitor. With the Rubicon package, it’s similar in price, with a less ergonomic interior but a considerably more powerful engine and 4x4 features unmatched in the TrailBlazer-based counterpart.

The standard Wrangler Unlimited includes more streetable tires, and is lower (but not too low) making entry and exit easier and improving cornering and presumably real-world gas mileage; and the suspension is more of a compromise between on and off road, but it provides pretty much the same level of fun while making driving easier. For those who need a Jeep to drive through heavy snow and over dirt roads with the odd mud-hole, the standard Wrangler Unlimited should be the more sensible choice.

With this new generation, which appears to be even more mobile than the previous Wranglers, owners will give up less on-road comfort and cornering to keep their boulder-climbing, river-crossing, agile Jeeps. Around town, even the Rubicon version of the Wrangler Unlimited is surprisingly civil, with a softer ride and a fairly quiet, well-behaved engine; even the off-road tires used on the Rubicon are only a bit noisy, and not ragged or uneven. Though busy, with minor bumps and jiggles transmitted through, the ride is cushioned, a far more pleasant experience than past Rubicons (washboard roads can still get through, and highway speeds over concrete pavement can make your teeth chatter). Confidence around turns is increased, though intelligent drivers will probably not test the Wrangler's road adhesion around sharp turns (at least not in the Rubicon model). On one sharp turn that didn't feel too dangerous we encountered the "ESP activated" light; the system adds a bit of extra cornering capacity.

Criterion Hummer
2007 Wrangler Unlimited 2007 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Running ground clearance 10” 9 10 8.7 - 10.2” 10.1”
Approach angle (degrees) 42 31 44 41-44° 44.4
Departure angle (degrees) 37 24 40.4 38-40° 40.5
Breakover angle (degrees)   28 25.4 18-20° 20.8

The engine will please and disappoint, depending what you want from it. The old straight-six was loud, rough, and brutish, giving a nice kick in the butt when provoked. The quiet, refined 3.8 liter engine, lovely in minivans, provides a much more civil experience, because torque is not instant, and sudden acceleration is not jarring; the transmission is smooth and modern, easily the equal of any foreign automatic, and it downshifts quickly on demand but without jolting. The engine can rev higher than the old one, so what you lose in instant-on torque you get back in sustained running; and, frankly, you don't lose much in torque, either.  Thus, the Wrangler powertrain has become much gentler and quieter, without losing gas mileage (which is unchanged) or acceleration.

Gas mileage is worth some note, considering how poor it is - albeit identical to the Hummer H3! Part of the problem is the shape and styling, which are not particularly aerodynamic; part is the weight of all the various four wheel drive gear. The stick-shift does provide a boost over the automatic, and slowing down to legal highway speeds can really boost the mileage. Also, unlike the Hummer H3, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited can actually go uphill - quite easily, too - even with the Rubicon package. The 3.8 liter V6 had power to spare, and never left us wondering what they were thinking. Hills were no match for the engine; whereas in our H3, even with a manual transmission, we found mild hills slowing us down to 55 mph or less, regardless of downshifting.)

Acceleration was always sprightly. When we stuck to gentle acceleration, our gas mileage shot up to EPA estimates, and the transmission was happy to keep shifts smooth and silent, acting almost invisibly; instant acceleration was still just a stomp away, with quick and firm downshifts helping the engine along.

In the end, for many people, it comes down to "Will this thing get me to highway speeds before I'm clobbered?" That question is easy to answer – if you have any sense, yes. The Wrangler accelerates quite well with the 3.8 V6. We do strongly suggest that no matter which engine you get, you consider the stick-shift. No, it's not needed for acceleration (it does add to the gas mileage), but it sure adds to the feel of the truck, and gives more of that authentic Jeep experience. This isn't a car for people who want a commuting appliance, and that extra effort of the stick-shift will be repaid with interest.

Inside, the changes will probably be welcome for most buyers. While the interior has also been modernized again, the Wrangler has had a contemporary interior for as long as we can remember, and the modern conveniences are sometimes, well, convenient. The four-speed automatic uses Chrysler's AutoStick display, showing the gear (when in first or second) as a 1 or 2 in the D box; third is also selectable by using the Overdrive Off button. The trip computer shows average or instant gas mileage, distance to empty, a compass/temperature; and the odometer/trip odometer is on separately on the other side.

The trip computer button is awkwardly positioned on the instrument panel, and reaching requires a stretch around the steering wheel and turn signal stalk; depending on your dexterity and positioning (including where the tilt-wheel is), using the trip computer to switch between, say, compass and gas mileage, is difficult or dangerous. On the other side, the end of the wiper/washer control stalk is blocked by the center stack barrier. One wonders whether the designers ever actually worked with a physical mockup before going into production, or if they just studied CAD/CAM displays.

The dashboard is basically bland-modern, though the Wrangler screams for a key-in-the-dash and a dash-mounted headlight knob. The door lock switch is a bit hard to find - black color in a sea of black plastic, not lit at night, and protected on each side by a same-color barrier - and the climate control, hidden in the bottom tier of the center stack, is partly cut off by the reverse steppes of the center stack. The controls were also a bit small for use with gloves.

Gauges are clear though small, with a sensible 100 mph speedometer and tachometer, a small gas gauge and thermometer on either side, and standard analog pointers with a plain, legible typeface and white backlighting (all other backlights are the traditional green).

The new corporate stereo is used, with a six-disk CD changer in our test vehicle; because an electronic mirror would be out of place, not to mention foolish on a car with a removable roof and fold-down windshield, the UConnect (cellphone integration) controls are built into the stereo head unit (though apparently UConnect is not available in the Wrangler!). Those in the hinterlands may well appreciate the optional satellite radio, neatly integrated into the system and providing over a hundred channels of high-quality music and standard-quality talk, often without commercials and with limited DJ blather. Sound reproduction is far better than in the prior generation, with a pair of tweeters poking out of the dash to provide stereo separation, and the woofers once again in the roll bar; we found on the Unlimited that reception of satellite radio often disappeared around town, though.

Beneath the stereo is a modern climate control with three dials, all easy to use with gloves, and separate buttons surrounding the bottom of the fan dial for air conditioning, recirculation, and the rear defroster – a sensible and plain arrangement that requires no thought to use. The fan is a bit noisy, but heat blasts out quickly after the engine is started, and quickly gets so hot that even on a cold day it hurts at full strength.

Beneath that is the feature bar, in our case including the power jacks, ESP defeat, hazard lights, sway bar disconnector (only for use at very slow speeds, and designed to increase wheel travel in extreme cases), and electronic axle lock. The four wheel drive system is activated by a traditional stick-shift, easy to move when rolling slowly; a 4:1 multiplier is used in low gear four wheel drive, for maximum mobility. Onroad drivers will generally not use the low gear.

Front and rear wipers are the traditional tiny size, which helps the blades to last a surprisingly long time without losing effectiveness, and also increases their ability to deal with snow and ice on the nearly (but not) flat windshield and rear window. The rear window has a defroster with a special heating element underneath the wiper blade; in the front, there's no special wiper defroster, but probably none is needed.

Sun visors are almost entirely for show; they only really work in one position, and the hinges are designed so that swinging them out doesn’t work well with the hard roof. The sun visors are undersized and don't pull out to block the sun; and despite their consistent uselessness, they still get in the way when you try to take off the Freedom Top roof segments. In short, the visors are an odd deficiency in a go-anywhere vehicle, especially one that has a removeable roof... and a considerable number of customers who live in the desert.

To get computer error codes for troubleshooting, move the key back and forth three times, and the codes show up on the odometer. For fun and to check bulbs and gauge functions, you can turn the key on while holding down the trip odometer button.

Storage includes the closing glove compartment, map pockets in both front doors, a big, deep center console, basic cupholders, and a compartment under the cargo area; the cargo area is nicely sized. The rear seats flip and fold, creating a fairly huge, mainly flat cargo bay for two-passenger operation; the headrests automatically swing away. To get to the storage, swing open the rear door, noticing that it swings in a way that blocks you from loading anything in from the sidewalk, and flip up the rear window, making sure you remember to flip it down again before shutting the door.

Jeep doors are designed to be removed easily, and while they now can have power locks and windows, they keep a simple hinge with a fabric stop to prevent the doors from opening all the way. The power cable can be unplugged if you want to take the doors off. Our Jeep still had manually adjusted mirrors.

You can choose your roof; the fabric is the most fun but it’s hard to take off and put on, and of course noisy. Visibility is better with the hardtop, though the usual pillar blind-spot is there, and the spare tire adds another. We had a removeable hardtop (the "Freedom" roof), which makes it easy to take off segments above the driver and passenger seats. Removing both parts takes less than a minute, replacing them around two minutes. They can be stowed behind the front seats, if the back seats are flipped and folded. The rest of the hardtop can also be taken off, if you have more time and a helper. 

The Wrangler is much more family-friendly with four doors (not so much in the Rubicon, with its increased height and stiffer suspension). The cloth seats make it easy to put in LATCH car seats, with the steel loops clearly showing. Some kids may need a boost to get in, and once there, the seat belt, a good distance behind the rear seat, may be hard to get on. Access to the rear seats is easy for adults, and getting kids into booster or child seats is easy.

The Wrangler Unlimited starts at $20,410, but the Rubicon model lists at a full $28,895, including destination and four wheel drive. The extra cash goes mainly to off-road gear, such as electronic roll mitigation, electronic front sway-bar disconnection to increase off-road front wheel travel, a Dana 44 heavy-duty front axle, a 4.1:1 axle ratio and two-speed transfer case, skid plates and shields, locking front and rear differentials, tow hooks, roll bars, swing-away mirrors, 32 inch tires on 17-inch wheels, and fog lights.

Frilly stuff in the Rubicon includes electronic stability control, cruise, radio-key theft deterrence, intermittent wipers, air conditioning, height-adjustable driver's seat, folding rear seat, Infinity CD stereo with subwoofer, tachometer, tilt wheel, metal doors with rolling windows, traction control, stain-repelling fabric, extra power outlet, and aluminum rims. The Rubicon comes with a soft top, with optional hard top.

Our test vehicle had a number of frills, including the Dual Top ($1,585), which includes a rear wiper/washer and defroster; power windows and locks with remote entry and an alarm ($800); side airbags ($500); the odd $50 for floor mats; automatic ($825); deep tinted windows ($300); DVD/MP3 changer ($350); satellite radio ($200); and locking gas cap ($15). The price ended up at $33,505 including destination, a bargain compared with Hummer H3.

Although the Wrangler has some flaws, it also still has some of the flavor of the original World War Two army Jeeps (especially if you get the stick-shift), while integrating modern technology. We miss the long throw shifter (we drove an automatic), but the four wheel drive control lever is satisfyingly tactile, and the overall of driving experience is consistent; on the darker side, we really can't understand some of the ergonomic compromises, particularly the sun visors, whose absence is odd in a vehicle designed to be driven without a roof.

The Rubicon is a great off road machine, but if your off-roading has not reached the point where you immediately said “wow!” at the ability to disconnect the sway bar, we think the standard Wrangler Unlimited X will make you happier. Just make mine with a stick-shift, please.

For photos and more information, see allpar.com’s Jeep Wrangler coverage.