Going to the point of no return

With a name and a reputation to uphold, the ultimate jeep must survive the wild. Off-road editor Robby Consunji doles out the punishment
Jan 30, 2009

THE JEEP Wrangler Rubicon was named after the Rubicon Trail, reputed to be the toughest of all off-road trails. The term "crossing the Rubicon" is also synonymous with "going beyond the point of no return."

I decided to put the Wrangler Rubicon through its paces at Mount Maarat, an off-road destination known for its steep red-clay climbs and deep-rutted trails. During the wet season, the red clay's consistency is as slippery as grease. Mount Maarat, on a wet day, was the perfect terrain for testing the low-gear transfer case, axle lockers, electronic disconnecting front stabilizer bar, and, if required, the rock rails.

The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is the four-door version of the iconic Wrangler. Signature features include round headlamps, a seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel flares, and exposed door hinges. The design is simple, classic, strong and purpose-built, hinting at its military origins.

Open-air fun is unique to the Wrangler Unlimited with its three-piece modular plastic hard top or a folding soft top. In addition, it has removable doors and a fold-down windscreen. The Freedom Top hard top has separate left and right front-passenger panels together with a removable rear section. Images come to mind of boxer Manny Pacquiao waving to his fans from an open-topped Wrangler Unlimited on the occasion of his victory motorcade. Ideal, too, for politicians on the campaign trail.

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Heading for Mount Maarat, the Wrangler Unlimited had its baptism of fire with an urban water crossing on the flooded Marikina roads. A wading depth of 48cm for a stock unit is generous for the flooded Manila thoroughfares. The door seals kept the water out and the carpets dry.

At the trail head, I shifted the Off-Road Rock-Trac NV241OR transfer case to low gear. Its 4:1 low-range gear ratio was easy to appreciate as we headed for the top of Mount Maarat. This transfer case was engineered exclusively for the Rubicon variant. The NV241OR transfer case is a part-time system, engaging four-wheel drive only upon the driver's wishes.

Before entering the deep ruts, I disconnected the front stabilizer bar by pushing a switch on the center console. The Active Sway Bar System allows added wheel travel for traversing deep ruts, keeping the front tires on the ground, and maintaining traction.

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As we approached the muddy climbs, I engaged the Tru-Lock front and rear locking differentials. Tru-Lock differentials boost low-speed traction when ascending steep inclines by evenly splitting torque between both wheels on either axle, forcing them to turn together at the same speed.

Despite the wet weather and extreme terrain, the Rubicon made it beyond the point of no return that was Mount Maarat. More important, it made it back home.

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