2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon first drive review: Peak off-roader

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is back for 2024 and is more capable than ever to take on the harshest trails you can throw at it
The Jeep Wrangler has been in production for 38 years!
The Jeep Wrangler has been in production for 38 years!Shot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

We were deep in the forests of Punjab exploring a trail that would send shivers down the spine of most ‘hardcore’ 4x4s. The ruts and climbs would have sheared off bumpers and claimed radiators faster than you can spell J-e-e-p, but the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was gobbling them up for breakfast. No surprise, though. The Wrangler is the OG. The original go-anywhere vehicle — designed for war, but evolved to a lifestyle of adventure and freedom. Today, it is in its most capable avatar yet — this MY24 version brings a host of aesthetic and interior upgrades but there are changes under the skin as well. Changes focused on making it go further off the beaten path. The Wrangler is available in India in two variants, the Unlimited and the Rubicon. The latter is what we’re driving and it is serious business — it gets a more capable 4x4 system with mechanical diff lockers, as opposed to the electronic lockers on the Unlimited. It also gets chunky BF Goodrich mud tyres straight from the factory. It is the more off-road focussed of the two, and that is very apparent the deeper I go down the trail.

2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Styling

We were now gaining altitude. The forest was slowly being left below us, as we scaled a sheer mountain face — a vertical wall was on my left, a just-as-vertical drop was on my left and I was navigating a trail less than a metre wider than the Wrangler as it snaked around the contours of the mountain. The Wrangler is a wide car and its aggressive fenders didn’t particularly help here, but manoeuvring the 4x4 up this trail was easier than I anticipated. I had good visibility out of the flat ’screen (made of Gorilla Glass!), big windows that I could stick my head out of and wide mirrors that ensured the trailing end of this beast didn’t clip the rock face. Eventually, we found ourselves on a ridge with a glorious view of the forests around, and on the horizon, bathed in the golden morning light were the foothills of the Himalayas. What a sight!

The Rubicon looked perfectly appropriate up here as well — it is pure function over form. The face is iconic with the circular headlamps and 7-slat grille. The grille is blacked out on this MY24 model and looks rather menacing. There’s a new camera tucked away in the centre as well, to help with forward visibility on trails. The MTs on the 17-inch wheels give it serious stance goals, and I love the fact that you can simply detach the doors and roof and drive it around fully exposed to the elements. There’s no dearth of ground clearance either — an incredible 237mm, with serious off-road angles as well (43.4-degree approach, 21.5-degree departure and 27.9-degree rampover angle). It doesn’t try to disguise its intentions in any way and I love that.

2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Interior

There was still a nip in the early morning air, so we jumped back inside and began our descent into the foliage again. Not that we needed the heated seats and steering, an addition for 2024. Summer is well and truly here, even in the foothills of the greatest mountains in the world. There has been a real focus on making the cabin more liveable. A redesigned dash features a new 12.3-inch infotainment screen. Good colours, crisp resolution and it packs a whole lot of information relevant to driving off-road. The Rubicon has taken a step towards being more liveable as well. The seats are draped in Nappa leather and are electrically adjustable, even while submerged underwater. Dual-zone climate control and the updated 552W Alpine system are welcome. There’s a big focus on NVH as well — better sound insulation cuts out 5dB and active noise cancelling, similar to what the Range Rovers get, negates a further 15dB of NVH. Oh, plus ADAS. Not that we could test it at 5kmph, with one wheel in a rut.

2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Off-road capability

A lot is going on under the Rubicon’s fenders to make it so capable. The part-time 4WD means business, the diff lockers take things to the next level, a new off-road plus mode that helps with throttle control and traction, and the most impressive bit — the detachable sway bars. They increase wheel travel so big ruts and mounds can be dealt with. Big articulation pits normally mean big air time for wheels and big drama for the photos. But not the Rubicon. The body just stays flat as the wheels drop deep in to pits and keep contact with the ground. The rear axle is new as well. This Dana 44 is a full-float axle, replacing the semi-float axle from before. It essentially allows the Rubicon to upsize its wheels without stressing the axle too much. It also allows the Rubicon to tow heavier loads, but nearly no one in India tows anything.

2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon engine and performance

We eventually reached a sandy river bed. I put the Rubicon back into 2-high, and was super aggressive with the throttle. The Wrangler complied. The creamy smooth 2-litre engine makes solid outputs — 268bhp and 400Nm. It felt like a rally raid buggy blasting through the (mini) dunes on this river bed. The engine comes mated to an 8-speed automatic, which made dealing with every obstacle up until this point completely effortless. There was no stress of riding the clutch, or clutching in while coming downhill and things ending badly. The auto makes the Wrangler idiot-proof. 0-100kmph comes in a rapid 8.1 seconds making it really quick as well.

The Wrangler gets analogue dials plus a colour screen in the cluster
The Wrangler gets analogue dials plus a colour screen in the cluster Shot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon water wading

At the end of the sandy river bed was… a river. Dramatic music ensues. This was no small stream that we chanced upon to splash through. This was the mighty Sutlej. In full flow. It had rained in the mountains a few days earlier, making her angrier than usual. And the trail continued on the other side. Gulp. I’ve done my fair of water crossings, but nothing so intimidating. Oh well, here goes. Back in four-low, I dipped two wheels in, and then four. There was no turning back from here. I knew the theory — keep the throttle constant, steer against the flow of the river, build up a bow wave in front of you and follow the right line. The only problem was, I didn’t know the right line. A spotter in the distance was guiding me, but I registered that a second too late — I had already ventured into a portion of the river that I wasn’t supposed to. My heart was in my mouth as the water lapped around the sides of the bonnet, but I didn’t let off. Angry calls on the radio got me to correct my line, and steer the Wrangler through to the other side. Phew. Thank heavens I was in a Wrangler with its 863mm wading depth. Few SUVs would have made it to the other side that easily.

The Wrangler has an impressive 863mm water wading depth
The Wrangler has an impressive 863mm water wading depthShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon verdict

I know, I know, I’ve only said good things about the Wrangler so far. Is there nothing wrong with it? Well, I hate the backseats, they are too upright and the bench is too short. The on-road dynamics and NVH are nothing to write home about. It transfers every small bumps and undulations to the cabin, and the less I say about the handling the better. But then again, these things matter very little to the Wrangler Rubicon. It is fully focused on being the most ruthless off-road machine it can be. When there’s the jungle to explore, a ridge to scale, a river to cross, I’d want a Wrangler by my side.

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