Once our field of seven was assembled, we took over Chrysler's Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan, for performance and trail testing.
On the skidpad we collected our acceleration and braking data, before moving to our individual events, such as a loose, sandy hillclimb and a rocky stairstep obstacle. Each event provided valuable information and was set up in a way that we could directly compare the vehicles back-to-back.
Nissan Xterra, Ford Raptor, Jeep Wrangler, RAM Power Wagon, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Toyota 4Runner.
2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Total Points: 81.46/100
Base Price: $30,495
See full ranking here
Off-Road Package Contents: Lever-actuated part-time four-wheel drive, monotube shocks, LT255/70R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tires w/fullsize spare, cast-aluminum wheels, 4.10:1 gearing, electronic locking front and rear differentials, electronic disconnecting front sway bar, full skidplating, traction control, front and rear recovery points, 4:1 low range Rock-Trac T-Case.
It took a week of grueling off-pavement testing, but once again it was Jeep’s Wrangler that proved which company is king when it comes to making the best factory 4x4. Reading like an enthusiast’s wish list, the Rubicon is equipped with solid axles, coil springs, monotube shocks, front and rear electric lockers, and an electronic disconnecting front sway bar, which allows the flexy Wrangler to make quick work of any trail and at a price that was the second lowest in the test.
The 285hp 3.6L V-6 had no issue motivating the Wrangler up our hillclimb, but like the solid-axle Power Wagon, it did suffer from some axlehop, just nothing as violent as we saw in the big Ram. As a side note, the 3.6L absolutely screams, however all that high-rpm power comes at the expense of low-end torque, which is one of the few areas that could be improved on the Wrangler. Thankfully the manual transmission’s gears are spaced nicely, so finding the proper gear was never an issue. It also helped having a manual on the hill descent where an incredible 73.1:1 crawl ratio negated the need for an HDC system.
Using a zigzag line, the uber-maneuverable Wrangler easily conquered the stairsteps, picking off one ledge at a time. The short 95.4-inch wheelbase could sometime feel a little wonky for those who just got out of the 149-inch Power Wagon, but the adjustment was easy and the stability of the Wrangler was impressive for its short length.
When it came time to tame the rock garden, there wasn’t a vehicle more at home. The compliant suspension conformed to the boulder path and the low gearing allowed the Wrangler to just mosey along. Thanks to ground clearance, good skidplating, and rock rails, you never had to worry about placing the Wrangler perfectly. It has a margin of error built in that no other factory 4x4 can match.
During our testing, we rarely felt any electronic nannies try to take control away from the driver. The Wrangler is a driver’s machine and it is impossible to get behind the wheel and not have fun. If you’ve ever driven a Wrangler on the trail, you understand and if you haven’t, you’ll never know what you are missing.
With an unmatched mix of standard features, affordable price, and overall capability, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon comes out the winner of our first-ever off-road package shootout, making it the Ultimate Factory 4x4.
Hot: Price, maneuverable, go-anywhere capability
Not: Limited cargo room, light on low-end torque
Our Take: The best factory 4x4 available
*In case you're wondering about the name of the color of the Rubicon pictured here, it's new for 2013 and it's called 'Commando Green'.