As a new Jeep owner that ended up with an '03 Rubicon, here is what I have gathered from the last several weeks of intensive research. Be aware that I will get a little romantic towards the end...
Buy a Rubicon if you enjoy and appreciate the gadgetry (and will use it), but only intend to do minor to moderate modifications such as 2-3" lift and 33" tires and cosmetic upgrades like bumpers and armor. The stock Rubicon is very very good, but it has its limitations. The strengths and weaknesses of the Rubincon's Dana 44 Tru-Lok axles are very thoroughly discussed. Also, be aware that the sway bar auto disconnect wasn't introduced until 2007, should that influence your decision. You are essentially buying the sports car version of an off-road vehicle. Just be aware that if you are going to thrash it around Moab with improper upgrades, you are likely going to break something.
However, if you have the knowledge, desire and money, you can easily build a better Jeep out of an X. Therefore...
Do not buy a Rubicon if you plan on major upgrades that include a larger lift and wheels, upgrading axles & transfer case, etc. As mentioned earlier, take the time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the stock equipment. You are wasting money if you buy a Rubicon only to upgrade your rig to something above and beyond a Rubicon. There are better, stronger axels & lockers and lower t-case ratios out there. In the end, you just paid extra money for a fancy hood, if you didn't upgrade that with everything else.
Also, be aware that it can be difficult to separate the sage wisdom of experience from the jockish posturing of upgrading everything into an insecurity obscuring war machine. I don't pretend yet to have the former and hope to never fall into the latter.
All that being said, I love my Rubicon. I love silly, weird high performance vehicles, which is what this is (Mustangs and Camaros are neither silly nor weird, FYI and don't really interest me). The Rubicon is so different from nearly everything else you can buy off the lot - so different than the other safe, practical and refined appliance cars we are being offered. As with any older Jeep, you are made very aware that you are driving a mechanical machine. It is comparably primitive. It is slow. It is a worse gas hog than "lesser" stock Jeeps. It drives like a tractor. Yes, I know it has AC & CC. So do modern day tractors. I live 3 miles from work, so I can put up with 15-18 mpg for my daily driver. I can bank up my carbon credits during the week and spend them later on longer drives out west to play.
On a related note- the TJ Wranglers, one could argue, are that last of the earlier CJ lineage of development, the end of an era that goes back nearly 50 years to another car company. I really enjoy the idea that the 4.0 can be traced back to AMC of the early-60's and that my door handles are (allegedly) the same as the CJ-7's. The fingerprints of history are all over the TJ's. For better or worse, Chrysler wiped all that away with the new, different JK's.
Last edited by jjvw; 06-09-2013 at 08:28 PM.