I know firsthand the desire of wanting a Jeep Wrangler. The image of the iconic off-roader is strong, and it’s a big factor for a lot of buyers. You want to be seen driving something visibly capable, something macho and burly — a vehicle that isn’t a cute-ute, soft-road crossover but that has the chops to tackle the Rubicon Trail, even if you only use it to hit up the local Walmart.
Related: Which 2019 Jeep Wrangler Should I Buy: Sport, Sport S, Sahara or Rubicon?
Buying one means entering into a family of drivers who wave to each other when they pass by on the road — and the more mods you have on your Wrangler, the more respect you tend to garner from other owners who think you’re actually using your SUV for its intended purpose.
I recently had a week in a new 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon four-door, but not a stock one. This one had some equipment from the Mopar parts and accessories division of Jeep parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Mopar took a stock Wrangler Rubicon — an already formidable off-road machine that sits higher than other Wrangler trims and features some heavy-duty trail-climbing gear — and gave it a mild upfit. The list of parts is long, but not much was visually different: My Moparized Wrangler had a 2-inch lift atop the Rubicon’s 1-inch lift, plus big, balloony 35-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tires and 17-inch Jeep “Gear” wheels. Out front were 7-inch LED floodlights tied to the onboard auxiliary switches in the center controls, as well as a bumper-integrated Warn Rubicon winch. Up top was a Mopar accessory roof basket and net, while a fold-down table mounted onto the inside of the tailgate and a heritage “1941” stripe adorned the Wrangler’s sides. The tailgate also got beefier hinges to accommodate the heavier spare tire.
The changes to the Wrangler Rubicon were subtle, but as you can see, they resulted in an even better-looking, more capable off-roader. Before you run out and plunk down your own money to duplicate this look, however, you should know a few things about what life is like with a Jeep Wrangler modified for even more off-road capability.
1. It’s one heck of a climb into the cabin.
The Rubicon comes with a 1-inch lift over the Wrangler Sport and Sahara, and this one is another 2 inches higher than that. There aren’t any low step rails, either, as that would defeat the purpose of having a lifted Wrangler (that is, better ground clearance for off-road obstacles). The upside is that you can roll over just about anything, and the higher seating position helps you see over surrounding traffic.
2. It does not handle well on pavement.
If you found the Wrangler tippy beforehand — or the steering feel numb or direction stability questionable — those things only get worse when you throw on bigger off-road tires and lift the suspension another couple of inches. The steering wheel will shimmy in your hands over broken pavement at higher speed, and the Moparized Wrangler gets blown all over its lane in crosswinds.
3. You won’t care about potholes or cratered dirt roads.
The same suspension that makes on-road driving a bit more challenging turns rutted, cratered dirt roads into smooth sailing, even at moderate speeds. I was able to cruise at 40 mph down some back roads that look like the surface of the moon in places. The modified Wrangler handled it with aplomb. It’s just as solid on broken pavement, too; you won’t need to dodge potholes.
4. Fuel economy only gets worse.
With those big tires and added exterior accessories like the luggage rack, spotlights, a heavy bumper winch and a higher ride height, your fuel economy goes from bad to worse. A typical Wrangler Unlimited with the V-6 and automatic transmission is EPA-rated at 18/23/20 mpg city/highway/combined, or a respectable 22/24/22 mpg if you opt for the turbo four-cylinder engine. But my week with the modified Wrangler netted just 15 mpg despite a decent amount of highway driving (or perhaps because of it).
5. It’s pricey … but worth it.
It may look like Mopar went light on the mods for this example, but the bill for all the extra parts came in at a hefty $9,550. Added to the already formidable $53,430 sticker price for a loaded Rubicon four-door, you have a Wrangler that lands just shy of $63,000. You can get many bits and pieces from less expensive sources (the number of Wrangler accessory suppliers is vast), but buying them from Mopar at your FCA dealer allows you to incorporate such parts into the price of a loan or lease. Score zero percent interest on that loan, and the accessories start to look more reasonable.
Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman
Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.