RUBICON SPRINGS, Calif. -- The Rubicon Trail, most challenging 4-wheeling trace on the continent, scrambles over granite slabs and boulder-spiked sluices in the Desolation Wilderness that stretches across California's Sierra Nevada Range. For sure-footed traction to crawl across this daunting route through legendary sites like Devil's Postpile and True Big Sluice, a miner's burro would be the preferred pack animal, but among vehicular species of the mechanical kind you need a Jeep.
First navigated in 1953 by a Jeep, the Rubicon Trail serves as the ultimate test track for 4-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles, drawing automakers with 4WD prototypes hoping to earn bragging rights with a successful crossing.
For our trek on the Rubicon Trail, we employed Jeep's ultimate dirt-dog trail vehicle -- Wrangler -- but in the off-road workhorse version appropriately named Rubicon Hard Rock Edition that's outfitted with all the armaments needed to scramble over walls of granite or slip down steep chutes on a Class 10 trail.
Jeep's 2016 Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock Edition -- configured as the 2-door Wrangler and 4-door stretched-wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited -- installs all of the important after-market hardware needed for running the most difficult trails, but does so at the factory with all the extra equipment shielded by Jeep's warranty.
Particulars of Rubicon equipment range from the part-time 4-wheel drive system with a 2-speed Off-Road Rock-Trac transfer case with four-to-one low-range gear ratio to driver-selectable Tru-lock differentials fore and aft with Dana model 44 axles and electronic-disconnecting front active sway bar to increase suspension articulation plus an electronic rear-axle locker.
A driver can ply pedals and toggles of the tri-lock differentials and active sway bar system to modulate the tire-gripping manners depending on demands of the terrain -- from rock-claw mode in full lock of all wheels, rear-wheel lock when also needing nuance input for steering or totally unlocked wheels for running on smooth pavement.
The Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock Edition rolls on BF Goodrich 255/75R17 tires mounted on 17-inch Rubicon aluminum wheels painted satin black with polished faces and a red Jeep Wrangler icon logo pinned on the inside pocket.
Power for all 2016 Wrangler models stems from the Chrysler Pentastar 3.6-liter dual-cam V6 engine constructed with an aluminum cylinder block and VVT (variable valve timing) controls. The Pentastar V6 generates 285 hp at 6400 rpm with 260 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm.
Transmission choices are the NSG370 heavy-duty 6-speed manual or a W5A580 5-speed electronic automatic.
A lengthy list of active electronic safety equipment goes to every Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited model, such as ABS (anti-lock brake system), BA (brake assist), BTC (brake traction control), ESC (electronic stability control), TSC (trailer sway control) and HSA (Hill start assist), plus ERM (electronic roll mitigation) which monitors the vehicle's roll attitude and estimates the potential for a rollover.
The exterior package of Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock Edition shows off a Low Gloss Black 7-slot grille with High Gloss Black inserts and black front and rear winch-ready steel off-road bumpers with removable end caps, a dual-vented power dome hood, red tow hooks front and rear, trapezoid wheel flares, exposed hinges and removable doors with options for full-framed doors or half doors, tail lamp guards and Mopar off-road rock rails.
Wrangler's convertible gear includes a fold-down windshield, a soft-top lid and a wash-and-wear cockpit. The Premium Sunrider soft-top is available with a black 3-piece Freedom hardtop or body-color hardtop.
The cabin carries two bucket seats in front and a fold-flat rear bench that will hold two adults.
The interior of Rubicon Hard Rock Edition adds special touches like black leather heated seats and a unique gauge cluster with EVIC (Electronic Vehicle Information Center) providing read-outs such as oil pressure, transmission and coolant temperatures and individual tire pressure. Also aboard is a 9-speaker Premium Alpine audio system.
Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock Edition offers a palette of 10 body paint colors: Billet Silver, Black, Bright White, Firecracker Red, Granite Crystal, Hydro Blue, Hypergreen, Rhino, Tank and Mojave Sand.
Jeep's 2016 MSRP points tally to $33,095 (Wrangler Rubicon) and $36,895 (Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon).