Rubicon Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon eTorque | Edmunds

Rubicon Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon eTorque

New Hybrid Drivetrain Meets Old Jeep Proving Grounds

Located to the southwest of Lake Tahoe, the legendary Rubicon Trail is a rocky, dusty and barely passable 4x4 path a little over 20 miles in length and navigable only by the brave drivers in heavily modified vehicles. Or in this case, a 2018 Jeep Wrangler outfitted with the brand's eTorque mild hybrid system.

The trail is narrow, with boulders and obstacles making it impassable, unless you're OK with parts of your vehicle kissing them and sliding over. The machines that tackle the Rubicon are usually modified with a raised suspension, much larger tires, and thick metal skid plates to protect the underbody and sensitive mechanical parts from damage.

The scars topping the rocks and boulders on the trail are a testament to the trail's extreme requirements, and this is the environment where the Jeep team developed the Wrangler Rubicon.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

What makes a Rubicon?
Our Ocean Blue Metallic Wrangler Rubicon looks plucky. Along with skid plates and 33-inch tires, it also has heavy-duty axles and a disconnect system for the front anti-roll bar. We've already tested the Rubicon extensively, from our first experience in New Zealand to the one we bought for a long-term test. It has the hardware and capability to tackle the trail it's named after.

Our group of Wranglers isn't alone. As the off-roading, rock-crawling mecca of the United States, the Rubicon Trail invites dirt-oriented gearheads to challenge its unforgiving track with extensively modified vehicles that can look handmade. And while these machines are undoubtedly capable, our Wrangler can do one thing they can't: Take you home in relative comfort on the highway. The sea of towing vehicles and trailers at the end of the rocky trail shows the limited practicality of these big-tire monsters.

To rub salt in the wound, our Wrangler has a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with a mild hybrid system that Jeep calls eTorque.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Why pick a smaller engine?
What are the stats? Let's start with the standard 3.6-liter V6 that makes 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque while achieving 20 mpg combined per the EPA. Those are respectable numbers, but this new turbocharged four-cylinder produces 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. So not only does the smaller engine pump out more torque than the larger one, it does so while achieving 24 mpg combined.

The extra torque means you don't have to stomp on the gas pedal to conquer steep grades, resulting in forward movement instead of tearing up the ground with wheelspin. You can take advantage of the Rubicon's low gearing by merely letting the engine idle and the hybrid system's supplemental power slowly crawl you over an obstacle.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

How does the hybrid system work?
The motor for the hybrid system is connected directly to the engine via a belt and acts like a starter and generator. The immediacy of the electric motor means there's no delay when you hit the go pedal, and the transmission is programmed to avoid excessive downshifts when you need to accelerate. The hybrid system peters out as speeds increase, but by then the turbocharger has woken up to keep you moving.

This system delivers power, response and efficiency while maintaining the durability necessary for hardcore off-roading. On the street, the system is seamless and translates to quick startups and smooth power off the line. On the trail, the system allows for slow and steady crawling with accurate and predictable power delivery.

What's the downside?
It sounds perfect, and it's certainly close, but there are some issues. The exhaust note is agricultural, which may or may not be a big deal to Wrangler enthusiasts. But even more egregious is the Wrangler's cooling fan. It's the loudest part of the engine, and you can hear it above wind and tire noise at 40 to 50 mph. The noise is acceptable when the fan is at a lower speed. But when it's hot out and the engine demand is high, the fan kicks on overdrive and sounds like a vacuum cleaner on steroids.

Compared to four-door Wrangler Unlimited models, the standard two-door Wrangler is louder and more uncomfortable on the street. Its shorter wheelbase makes cresting over large boulders easier with minimal scraping, but it also reduces high-speed stability on the highway.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Is a hybrid Jeep worth it?
Chances are you'll accept the noise and comfort sacrifices as a worthy trade-off for the Wrangler's many strengths. If you're looking for a vehicle off the showroom floor that you can drive to nearly any trail, conquer it, and then head home, the Wrangler Rubicon is tops in the segment. The new four-cylinder hybrid combination means you'll do it with less fuel and more torque, making the $1,000 it costs over an automatic-equipped Wrangler an easy upgrade.

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