Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU Rubicon review

Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU Rubicon review

UNLESS you’ve been living under a tweed-covered rock for the last half century, there’s no denying America and Australia are at the forefront for all things off-road.

Our paths have differed over the years, with the yanks focusing on rock crawling and huge tyres while we narrowed our spotlights in on serious overland travel, but it’s always been a safe bet the products would be some of the best off-road kit you can get.

Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU Rubicon lightsStuart Gruchy, owner of this immaculate Hydro Blue JKU Rubicon, couldn’t agree more. So when it came time to trade in his old Patrol, what better path to take than building one of the most popular 4x4s of all time with some of the best gear available on both sides of the planet. Seem simple? Anything is if you do it right the first time.

“I’d always been a Patrol man,” Stuart told us. “I’d had them ever since I was 18, but the Jeeps have always interested me. I put a deposit on a brand new TJ years ago, but the space concerned me so I pulled out. When they released the four-door I knew I had to have one.”

By the time the stars finally aligned the second generation JKU had hit the market with an updated interior and the then-new 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, but Stuart didn’t waste any time getting stuck right into it. While a build like this often takes the better part of a decade, this wild JKU has only just celebrated its second birthday.

Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU Rubicon engine“I bought it brand new two years ago,” Stuart said. “I had a budget of $55K originally, but I’m in it for around $80K now. I’m a service manager at a dealership so was able to get a lot of things for cheap. It’d cost around $140K to build from scratch, though.”

Stuart’s JKU looks wild, but it has been a steady progression where upgrades are required rather than a full-frontal assault on the credit card. It was originally built to handle 33s, but when they couldn’t keep up they went up on Gumtree to be replaced by 35s. When the 35s couldn’t hack it, out they went and in came 37s. As the accessories started adding up so did the weight, eventually surpassing the stock GVM.

Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU Rubicon suspension“I didn’t originally want 37s,” Stuart said. “But after speaking to Henry at JeepKonection and finding out their GVM upgrade package allowed for 37s, I thought why not.”

Underneath the JKU are myriad components that all work together to complete the suspension package and GVM upgrade. There are heavy duty Dana 44 axles front and rear (they come stock in a Rubicon but have been tweaked slightly for the extra load) with 4.56 diff ratios to suit the larger tyres and ARB air lockers slotted inside each centre.

Custom Jeep Wrangler suspensionThere’s an AEV 3.5-inch suspension system tucked in underneath, with heavy duty springs, bump-stop spacers, geometry correcting brackets and an AEV high-steer kit for good measure.

Stuart opted to upgrade from the included Bilstein shocks to the new BP-51 adjustable external reservoir options from ARB. The package bumps the GVM up from 2500kg to an impressive 3250kg and makes room for the 37x12.5-inch Pro Comp Xtreme All Terrains on 17x8.5-inch alloys. 

Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU Rubicon side37-inch tyres normally look over the top on just about any vehicle, but they seem right at home on Stuart’s JKU next to the extensive modifications and colour-coding by Martin at Acclaim Accident Repairs in Lilydale. Starting from the front there’s an ARB bar that houses a Warn CTI-S winch and no less than three Lightforce LED 215 driving lights. They’re accompanied by a Mopar 10th Anniversary bonnet and AEV snorkel.

Heading down the flanks and Uneek 4x4 have provided rock sliders, A-pillar light mounts, a bonnet-light mount and a roof-light mount with a combination of Rigid Industries LED light bars slotted in where possible – including the two Oracle LED side mirrors. Up top there’s a Rhino-Rack BackBone system with a Foxwing awning swinging off the passenger’s side.

Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU Rubicon uphill drivingThe rear end has copped similar treatment with a Kaymar twin swing-out carrier. It incorporates the tow bar for improved departure angle, with a jerry can holder on one side and spare tyre on the other. Stuart optioned up for a telescopic light pole and light, a high-lift jack holder, and an UHF aerial mount. The protection extends underneath with a combination of Uneek 4x4 and ARB bash guards; while a Long Range Automotive 60-litre auxiliary fuel tank helps extend the Jeep’s range.

While the outside screams hardcore rock crawler, the inside is pure long-distance tourer. It’s been trimmed with Hydro Blue accents and the cargo area has been decked out by the guys at Affordable 4x4 Drawers. The extensive set-up includes additional storage space, a fridge slide, a pull-out table, and an SMEV stove and sink. The fridge is a 40-litre unit from Ironman 4x4 and is kept powered by a Genesis dual-battery system and twin Optima Yellow Top deep-cycle AGM batteries. 

Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU-Rubicon -rearThe cargo area is rounded out with a cargo barrier from Outback Solutions, a drop down tailgate table from Outback Adventure Products, and extensive LED strip lighting.

The passenger compartment has copped a similar treatment; there’s a HEMA HN7 Navigator doing GPS duties, while a Uniden UHF assists with communications for longer trips. AEV rubber floor mats keep mud and grit out of the carpet, and an ARB twin piston compressor lives under the passenger seat with a tyre inflation kit.

Custom Jeep Wrangler JKU rubicon interiorEverywhere you look you’ll find upgrades that seriously improve the overall package rather than just being a combination of parts. From the upgraded door straps through to the LED headlights and iDrive throttle adjuster, Stuart has gone through this JKU from front to back to create a serious do-it-all rig with a twist.

THE BEST ’TIL LAST

NO MATTER how much gear you throw at a 4x4 you’ll never truly make up for the extra weight and rolling diameter of larger tyres. That is, of course, unless you boost power at the wheels by more than 50 per cent.

Sprintex Supercharger kitLurking under the Mopar bonnet of Stuart’s Jeep is a Sprintex Supercharger kit. Costing just a fraction of a V8 conversion, the supercharger bumped the stock power from 116kW at the wheels up to an impressive 190kW. “It’s a different car,” Stuart reckoned. “Ian Bailey from Bluey’s Automotive did all the work and it’s completely transformed it. The torque is right there from down low like a diesel now.”

The kit is 100 per cent bolt-on, including a water-to-air intercooler and internal oil supply making for an easy and reversible installation. Despite being in full rock-crawler trim, the Jeep Rubicon has no trouble at highway speeds and more than enough low-down grunt for serious off-road work.

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