2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 20th Anniversary Edition First Drive: On the trail to six figures

2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 20th Anniversary Edition First Drive: On the trail to six figures

MOAB, Utah – The special-edition 4×4 universe expanded yet again this year with the launch of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 20th Anniversary Editions. A lot has changed since we last saw a commemorative Rubicon, and consequently the new effort bears only a passing physical resemblance to the 10th anniversary model of 2013. Bigger tires, longer wheelbases and exploding MSRPs have seen to that. But are we better off for it?

I wrote up the details of the Anniversary Editions back when they were announced, but the gist is this: You take a standard Rubicon 4xe or 392 (No V6 or inline-four), add a unique grille treatment, various badges and decals, a grille guard, BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires, an integrated front trail camera, steel rock sliders, a Gorilla Glass windshield and some other bits here and there. 4xe models get a half-inch suspension lift and standard 33-inch tires; the 392 includes the Xtreme 35 package (previously Xtreme Recon) with its additional 2-inch lift and 35-inch KO2s. Inside, both get the telltale Rubicon red interior, all-weather mats and integrated auxiliary switches. Topping it off is a tailgate-mounted air compressor for re-inflating after a trail drive.

For the truly dedicated (or flush, I suppose), there’s AEV’s Anniversary Level II package. With that, you get 37-inch tires, a pile of AEV add-ons including a 2.5-inch lift with Bilstein shocks, custom bumpers with an integrated winch, 17-inch Savegre II wheels and an upgraded axle ratio for the 4xe (4.56:1, the factory ratio on the 392). With 14.2 inches of ground clearance, 37.1 inches of water fording, and approach, breakover and departure angles of 50, 33 and 43 degrees, respectively, I’ll save you some clicks: No factory Bronco is beating those specs. Raptor and Everglades can each take a bite or two, but they’ll have to settle for those nibbles until Ford comes up with another excuse to jack the Bronco up half an inch more.   

But all that ain’t cheap. The standard Anniversary Edition will set you back $71,380 for the 4xe or $92,690 for the 392 (destination included). AEV’s add-ons will run you an extra $22,978 (4xe) or $21,130 (392) installed, which means that before taxes, fees and the dreaded “M” word, the 4xe will set you back $94,358. That’s Ram TRX money. If you spring for the 392, the price floor sits at $113,820. Six figures for a Wrangler, people.

When Jeep invited us to Moab to check this out, I was admittedly skeptical. What’s the story here? Seatbelts and decimal places? But the prospect of trying out the AEV package was too juicy to pass up. Fortunately, I was among the few who managed to shake it loose for some trail time in between stints in the standard 20th — which, let’s face it, amounts to little more than a sticker package. The AEV Level II, on the other hand, made the trip worthwhile, even more so than the stunning views.

Jeep’s local excursion guide led our caravan on an end-to-end run of Seven Mile Rim Trail. While its namesake canyon is indeed seven miles long, the trail doubles back on itself so often that its full length is nearly three times that — conveniently corresponding to the 4xe’s total rated EV range of 21 miles. Just as appropriately, the only AEV Level II that Jeep had on hand was a 4xe. With the prototype changing hands so many times during our outing, it was impossible to track whether the gas engine came into play, but according to Jeep, the trail can indeed be traversed on a single charge without help from the 2.0-liter turbo.

I started out in a 4xe without the AEV bits, meaning it only had an extra half-inch of ground clearance over a stock Rubicon. Seven Mile Rim is classified as a moderate trail by the Bureau of Land Management, which notes that it has “a few difficult spots” that can be managed by stock vehicles with “very good” clearance if driven with “great care.” That last bit is no joke. This video is from the aptly named Wipeout Hill, which can be approached from two angles. Looking uphill from the base, the right path appears more sheer; the left, broken but with a more gradual incline. You’d be forgiven for assuming the left path is the easier one just from a glance; it’s not, as our friend in the rental discovered above.

Being in the least “capable” of the rigs at our disposal, I opted for the easy line first. Having not ventured this way previously, this gave me the opportunity to scramble up quickly and then watch others as they climbed. In EV mode, the 4xe climbed the ravine in virtual silence; only the clunking of the driveline and the scruff of tires on slick rock broke the calm. The nose-mounted camera takes the stress out of losing visual on the horizon. Four-wheeling has never been this serene.

Hungry for more, I hopped into the Level II and signaled to the spotters that I wanted to take the tougher route, which actually is just as easy as it looks — at first. After being lured in, you’re presented with a nasty bit of offset slick rock (where our friend toppled over above) that requires delicate maneuvering. Easing the left-front corner up onto the ledge took some trial-and-error and some left-foot braking to keep things extra smooth, but the Level II never once got spooky. It’s easy mode, plain and simple — even without the 392’s 35-inch tires. But at this price, it sure as hell ought to be, right?

I spent the rest of the route swapping between standard 4xes and 392s, but as noted before, there’s really not much to talk about. While this package celebrates 20 years of Rubicon, the extra half-inch of ground clearance isn’t setting the world on fire. It gives Jeep either a slight edge over (or at least parity with) Bronco’s water fording and ground clearance figures, but its Raptor and Everglades models have something to say about both. The key takeaway here is that you don’t need an AEV Level II Wrangler to conquer Seven Mile Rim; a standard Rubicon will do just nicely. In fact, I’d put my money on the updated 2024 Willys keeping pace with its rear locker and 33s.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Even setting aside the cost of the AEV Level II package, the Rubicon 20th Anniversary Editions are eye-wateringly expensive. The Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition was a $40,000 proposition in 2013, and many found that prohibitively expensive. This is a lot more Jeep, granted, but for effectively double the money. So, who is this thing for? In a word, whales — fans who will gladly throw money out the window just to be able to say they own the most-capable showroom model out there.

When the Bronco launched, I was excited not just for what Ford was going to build, but for what it would do for the market. Competition betters the breed, as the old saying goes. If it weren’t for Ford’s choice to revive its iconic 4×4, I doubt very seriously that I’d be writing about six-figure Wranglers in 2023. But here we are. Look out, Moby. The Pequod‘s a-comin’. 

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