- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

MOAB, Utah Located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, the Moab region is known as a national treasure, a geological wonder and the site of some of the best and most varied four wheeling in the country. There are thousands of miles of back-country trails, most left over from mining days.

Here, four-wheel-drive (4WD) enthusiasts can explore the mixed topography of deserts and canyons and motor on trails that range from a difficulty of No. 1 (unimproved or rarely graded roads, 4WD or extra clearance needed at times, with no special driving skill required) to a No. 5 (locking differentials and tow hooks, front and rear, necessary. Winch urgently recommended unless you travel with someone who has one and can pull you out. Expert driving skill is critical).

It was to Moab that DaimlerChrysler brought its all-new 2003 Special Edition Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for the nine-day-long Easter Jeep Safari.

Moab is considered by many to be the Jeep capital of the country and this annual event, now in its 36th year, draws thousands of "Jeepers" to participate in trail rides by day and rubberneck after the sun sets at the wide array of back-country-capable rigs that show up for this event and parade along the streets of town.

Additionally, many aftermarket manufacturers take advantage of this annual event to showcase their wares to this captive audience of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts who drive on trails such as Hell's Revenge, Cliff Hanger, Metal Masher and Top of the World, trails that travel through forest, desert, steep ravines and rims, rivers, mountains and the famous Moab "slick rock."

Built on Jeep's "Go anywhere, do anything" design philosophy, the new Rubicon is a 4x4 gem. It is designed to reflect the "original" Jeep vision first realized in 1940, when the company invented "sport utility" and dominated off-road travel albeit with the military. With front and rear locking differentials, front and rear Dana model 44 axles and 4:1 low-range transfer case, this new vehicle is a true trail runner.

The outer layer of this rock climber is much the same as its more road-ready Wrangler sibling. A few additions to the exterior distinguish this model, however. A 22-inch-long "Rubicon" graphic is prominently emblazoned on either side of the hood, and heavy-gauge diamond-plate sill guards are bolted to the body sides to protect rocker panels. Exterior paint choices include all Wrangler exterior colors along with Inca Gold.

Like its sibling, the Rubicon has distinctive round headlamps and front-end-mounted fog lamps as well as contrast-color bumpers and wheel wells.

Goodyear Wrangler 31-inch tires give more than 10 inches of ground clearance and are mounted on new 16-inch, five-spoke aluminum wheels. Dished faces protect the wheels from debris and obstacles. Standard are four-wheel disc brakes.

The driver can actuate the locking differentials when the transfer case is in low range and the vehicle is traveling less than 10 miles per hour. When not locked, the rear axle has a torque-sensing limited slip feature for better traction on the road.

Dana model 44 axles are built to be strong enough to handle all manner of off-road conditions.

The transfer case on the new Rubicon is designed with a 4:1 low range, which slows the vehicle's speed to increase torque at the wheels while giving the driver more control and power. A 4-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that produces 190 horsepower at 4,600 rpm and 235 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm is matched to a five-speed manual transmission.

Like most in the Wrangler range, this model's interior is almost an afterthought. A dark gray or khaki interior, four-spoke steering wheel and padded sports bar give this rig its unmistakably utilitarian look, and an unadorned dash with a 12-volt power outlet adds to that image.

A new front seat has 20 mm of increased rearward travel and a new rear seat can be more easily tumbled and removed.

Also new are corner pods located behind the B-pillar that provide theater lighting and the location for optional speakers. Minor refinements such as an optional interior electrochromatic rearview mirror with temperature/compass display and map lights dress up the cabin a bit, and rear LATCH child seat safety tethers make things safer and more comfortable for young Jeepers in training.

Called by Jeep the "ultimate off-road rig," the 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is the long-awaited answer to true enthusiasts' prayers.

Jeep hopes to sell 8,000 of the 2003 models, which will be available later this year.

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