Ford has only just waded back into the 4×4 SUV pond with the introduction of the revived Bronco, yet 2021 has already become a year of competitive escalation. Even before Broncoofficially went into production, Jeep answered back with the V8-powered Rubicon 392 and the plug-in hybrid 4xe. And then, just as Bronco’s new Sasquatch package was about assert its dominance, Jeep announced its own 35-inch tire package, parrying Ford’s attempt at one-upmanship.
That package results in the 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Xtreme Recon. Jeep actually made it available on the Rubicon and Rubicon 392 for the very end of 2021 model year production, but examples have been thin on the ground. Lo and behold, Jeep brought some along to a media event during which it was announced that the package will also be offered on the Wrangler Willys for 2022.null
In addition to 35-inch BF Goodrich KO2 All-Terrain Tires (LT315/70R17C) on bead-lock ready 17-inch wheels, the Xtreme Recon package adds a new 4.56:1 axle ratio and a factory 1.5-inch lift with new shocks tuned for the job. The total lift is actually more like 2.0 inches over the standard Rubicon since the tires themselves contribute a bit to the Wrangler’sride height. Jeep also fits the Xtreme Recons with reinforced tailgate swing-arms to help prevent fatigue from the heavier spare.
The extra ground clearance translates to what are, at least for the moment, best-in-class figures for approach angle (47.4 degrees), breakover angle (26.7 degrees), departure angle (40.4 degrees), ground clearance (12.9 inches) and water fording (33.6 inches). And they had the decency to invite us to an off-road park to show it off.
Jeep’s event came ahead of Detroit 4Fest, which took over Holly Oaks ORV Park in southeast Michigan Sept. 25-26 – the same week that saw Motor Bella’s second preview day canceled due to flooding. The monsoonal September continued to reshape the park even as we ventured into it; to say things were a bit sloppy would be an understatement.
The dirt at Holly Oaks is the sort of fine, dusty cast-off that turns immediately into sloppy potter’s clay if you so much as spit in it. After the 5-plus inches of rain, the property looks like one giant bowl of half-melted chocolate ice cream. KO2s at the corners or not, mud is challenging for street trucks, and Jeep mapped out a series of tests designed to give us a feel for the extra lift and big tires without concern that we’d spend half the time testing the towhooks.
The already-battered hills took a mighty pounding from our team of Rubicons and Rubicon 392s. We chose the former, and were thankful for it, as the lighter nose trivialized some soft slopes that gave way under the heavier V8-powered trucks. A Rubicon 4xe that came along as a support vehicle also fell victim to its extra mass, bogging down in a fender-height puddle under which lurked the sort of muck that will enthusiastically dislodge a combat boot.
The Xtreme Recon’s added ground clearance trivializes a lot of ground obstacles, but the added height comes at a cost. The big tires can’t swing as far as the smaller, skinnier offerings on other Rubicons, and the added resistance from the wider rubber translates to extra heft in the wheel, especially when going full-lock in tight spaces. Jeep does not call out the Xtreme Recon’s turning diameter specifically in the Wrangler’s tech specs, but we’d bet good money it’s a little bit larger. This is exacerbated in 4WD, where drivetrain binding makes tight maneuvering difficult, especially in a long-wheelbase Unlimited. As a result, Jeep’s segment-besting figures do need the tiniest asterisk.
And impressive as the Xtreme Recons may be, they require you to purchase a four-door. Ford dealers will gladly sell you a Sasquatch-package two-door Bronco (provided you’re cool with spending $20,000 over sticker for a car that already has several thousand of somebody else’s miles on it) and while the Rubicon Unlimited Xtreme Recon may have the edge on paper, we’d probably trade its loft for the Bronco’s smaller footprint. Jeep could resolve this easily by offering Xtreme Recon on its two-doors, and if enough customers ask, we’re confident it will happen.
Regardless of which vehicle you add it to (Rubi, Rubi 392 or Willys), it’s a $3,995 option. A Willys with only Xtreme Recon starts at $40,930 (including $1,495 for destination). That puts 35-inch tires in reach of some of Jeep’s more frugal customers, certainly, but unlike Ford’s Sasquatch package, Xtreme Recon doesn’t include locking differentials. They’re standard on the Rubicons, of course, but not available on the Willys, even as an option. For the dedicated off-roader, that makes a two-door Sasquatch a much better buy at its sticker price of $37,380. Pfft. Good luck with that.
Our time with the Xtreme Recon was short and we were unable to sample it on the street, where we expect its shortcomings will be even more pronounced, but for those who want off-road superiority (or at least the look of it) without sacrificing a warranty, it’s not a terrible deal.
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