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Tough to drive but this beast has its charms

Rugged Jeep Wrangler Rubicon demands respect with its 'great road presence'

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The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is a �mean-looking� beast that has been �yuppified� with black rims and red leather seats.

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2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon for $22,988

2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

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Young Punk Jodi Lai and Old Dude Brian Harper spend some time with the macho Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, one of the kings of the SUV world

JODI LAI: I suspect that although we're pretty much polar opposites physically, we have very similar tastes in cars, old man. We both like to kick it old school, meaning we like our cars basic and with a wee bit of retro flair.

With the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition, I haven't had this much fun driving a car since the Mini Cooper S, arguably its polar opposite, but they have more in common than meets the eye. I know you also have a soft spot for the Mini, which, like the Wrangler, has that retro vibe we love so much.

BRIAN HARPER: Indeed, the Wrangler, for all of Chrysler's improvements over the years, still has the same "see the hill, conquer the hill" ambience as my old Land Rover 88. The long-handle shifter, which vibrated like a tuning fork in my hand, the transmission whine, the stiffly sprung suspension, the road noise, and the engine noise -- all brought back fond memories. But as much as I loved the trip down memory lane, I'm glad most sport utes have evolved from such base form.

Then there's the fact this particular Rubicon was the much tarted-up 10th Anniversary Edition. I've done a few Jeep Jamborees in my time and I can't help but think the hardcore types would be aghast at its yuppification. It would be like showing up at a redneck barbecue with a six-pack of Perrier and cucumber sandwiches.

JL: This is precisely why some of my complaints about the Wrangler make me feel silly. I love that the Wrangler is retro, almost to a fault, but when you have a car that is this involved to drive, you could use a little help. For example, I was trying to parallel park the beast, and couldn't help but think how helpful a backup camera would be. (Before those Jeep Jamboree people get all, "Real men don't need backup cameras" on me, let me clarify that I'm only one appendage away from being a real man, so can it.)

I like the "yuppification": the black rims, red leather seats, all those little luxuries. It's a mean-looking beast and I don't think adding some luxury touches dulls its hardcore factor. I still got mad respect from nearly everyone (even a G-Wagen driver who I had a moment with) on the road because, well, if I didn't I could just drive over them. This is a real SUV, yuppification or not.

BH: Little touches? On top of the $36,045 10th Anniversary model, the tester was fitted with more than $10,000 worth of options! Sure, all the hardcore stuff is there -- the off-road tires, the Rock-Trac four-wheel drive, the Tru-Lok front and rear axles and all the rest. But seriously, who's going to go boonie-bashing in this rig -- at least while it's still under warranty? Forgive the crosstown rival reference, but this thing is the Cadillac of Wranglers.

If this Jeep were mine, it wouldn't be seeing dirt for a long time. And, as a daily driver, it's a little too unforgiving for my creaking bones, though I certainly appreciated the heated seats.

JL: You do have a point that as a daily driver, this car is lot of work. It's a very involved process to drive this car, especially in slow traffic. When driving a manual Jeep Wrangler, it doesn't so much feel like you're driving a car, but operating heavy machinery. You have to be awake, but I'd certainly drive it up a mountain or at least hop a few curbs/snowbanks with it. The clutch is long and stiff, the steering is heavy and the shifter is an arm work out. Even jumping in and out of the SUV takes some work. It's not forgiving, but that's why Wrangler fans love it so much, right?

I'm just a bit sad that I didn't have a snowstorm during my time with the Jeep and that I didn't get to drive it in the summer so I could drive it around with the top and all the doors stripped off and smoking a big, fat cigar (that scene is actually from a rap video I used to love as a teen, but I didn't expect you to get the reference).

Another thing I loved about this car is the respect it demands on the road. It has a great road presence and I was surprised by how many people wanted to talk to me about it. It turns out that the Wrangler is on top of the dream-cars list for a lot of people. And the type of people who told me so ranged from lumberjack types to girly girls.

BH: I'd like to be rich enough to have a Rubicon in my hypothetical 12-car garage, especially for occasions such as this week's ice storm... or a zombie apocalypse. It's one of a few vehicles that truly does deserve the "iconic" descriptor. The 10th Anniversary Edition, though, is a trophy 4x4, just the thing for the one or two Jeep freaks out of a hundred with the bucks and the need for the ultimate version... or at least the most tricked out.

But, as I said earlier, I loved the trip down memory lane. Unlike the Mini, which was really a crappy car in its final years until BMW got hold of it, the Jeep has always been consistently rugged and capable its entire life. The 10th Anniversary Edition merely knocked off a few of the rough spots.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

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