Jeep Sahara vs Rubicon – 2021 Guide

Cory
| Last Updated: March 16, 2021

Shopping for a new Jeep but not sure which one is best for you?

The new generation Wrangler JL has seemingly endless options, and often the choices can become overwhelming, so, understandably, you may be looking for some guidance when it comes to finding the right one to suit your needs. With this guide, we’re here to help make the right decision an easier one.

TL;DR: Sahara vs Rubicon (Wrangler JL)

JL Sahara

JL Rubicon

Pros

Pros

  • More on-road friendly optional equipment

  • Selec-Trac automatic 4x4 system

  • Variety of fuel-efficient engine options
  • Variety of fuel-efficient engine options

  • Outstanding off-road capabilities

  • Heavy-duty front and rear axles

Cons

Cons

  • Available only in 4-door

  • More of an on-road version of the Wrangler JL
  • Not very practical for daily driving

Best For

Best For

Somebody looking for a solid daily driver Jeep that can still provide excellent off-road capabilities.

Somebody looking for that hardcore Jeep off-road experience right off the showroom floor.

Photo credit: cjponyparts.com

Relevant Specs: Sahara vs Rubicon (Wrangler JL)

Specs

JL Sahara

JL Rubicon

MSRP

$38,890

$38,940

Engine(s)

3.6L V6



2.0L I-4Turbo

3.0L EcoDiesel V6

3.6L V6



2.0L I-4Turbo

3.0L EcoDiesel V6

Horsepower

3.6L V6: 285 hp

2.0L Turbo I4: 270 hp

3.0L EcoDiesel V6: 260 hp

3.6L V6: 285 hp

2.0L Turbo I4: 270 hp

3.0L EcoDiesel V6: 260 hp

Torque

3.6L V6: 260 lb-ft

2.0L Turbo I4: 295 lb-ft

3.0L EcoDiesel V6: 443 lb-ft

3.6L V6: 260 lb-ft

2.0L Turbo I4: 295 lb-ft

3.0L EcoDiesel V6: 443 lb-ft

Transmission(s)

6-speed Manual

8-speed Automatic

6-speed Manual

8-speed Automatic

Axles

Dana 30 Front

Dana 35 Rear

Dana 44 front and rear axles

Tire Size

32”

33”

4WD System

Command-Trac Part Time 4x4

Select Trac Full Time 4x4

Rock-Trac Part-Time 4x4

Gear Ratio

Low range Ratio: 2.72:1

Low Range Ratio: 4:1

Differential

Conventional Differential

Tru-Lok locking Differential

MSRP 

Everyone is price conscious these days, as they should be. It’s important to get the right price for the right vehicle. Each of these Jeeps is comparable in price, depending on the options you choose, with the base two-door Rubicon coming in slightly less than the four-door only Sahara.

Engines 

Both the Sahara and the Rubicon have the same available engine options. The EcoDiesel, however, is only available in the four-door Rubicon and is not an option in the two-door models.

Horsepower 

Horsepower is a reference to how much power an engine produces and directly reflects performance. Horsepower relates to speed. If you’re looking to get up to a certain speed quickly, horsepower is what does that. The Rubicon and the Sahara both have the same engine options that both produce the same power, barring the EcoDiesel Rubicon Unlimited.

Torque 

Torque, on the other hand, is a measure of rotational force and is viewed as the vehicle's strength. Torque is the measurement you want to consider if planning to use your Jeep off-road or for towing and hauling. Again, because both the Sahara and the Rubicon can have the same engine options, torque will be identical, except (again) for the Ecodiesel Rubicon Unlimited option.

Transmissions 

As of 2020, the Jeep Wrangler JL’s are the only Jeeps left that offer a manual transmission. As many manufacturers stray from manual transmissions, Jeep continues to provide them in their JL’s because they are often the choice of off-road enthusiasts who prefer to select the gear they want to be in during certain low speed, off-road situations. Both the Rubicon and the Sahara can be equipped with either a 6-speed manual transmission or an 8-speed automatic.

Photo credit: greenbriermotors.com

Axles 

Dating back to the first Wrangler YJ’s in 1987, Jeep has used three versions of solid axles, the Dana 30, 35, and 44. The Dana 30 and 35 axles, front and rear, found in the Sahara are axles providing drivability suitable for daily driving with a mix of some light off-roading. The Dana 44 axles in the front and the rear of the Rubicon, however, are beefier. They're both stronger and lighter than previous generations and more suitable for heavier off-road applications.

Differentials 

Without getting too technical, differentials are an important aspect when it comes to off-roading. The conventional differentials equipped in the Sahara directs power to the wheel with the least amount of traction. If one wheel is slipping, the differential will transfer power to that wheel to help it gain traction.

Most vehicles are equipped with conventional differentials, and while not the most popular when it comes to off-roading, they are extremely effective in on-road situations where a wheel may begin to slip, such as snow or ice.

On the other hand, the Rubicon has Tru-Lok Locking differentials. Locking differentials are the preferred choice of off-road enthusiasts because, with the push of a button, you can lock the differential, meaning the axles will turn at the same speed. Locking differentials allow the operator more control over what they need the vehicle to do in certain situations. When not locked, the differential then acts like a conventional one.

Tire Size 

Because the Rubicon is marketed as an off-road version of the Wrangler JL, it makes sense that it would be factory equipped with slightly more off-road capable tires than the Sahara. While the difference between a 32” tire and a 33” tire may seem insignificant to most people, it can mean all the difference to those who intend to use their Jeep for more heavy off-road applications, especially when considering the more aggressive tread pattern.

33" Tires (Photo credit: 4wheelparts.com)

4WD System: The Rock-Trac 4x4 system found in the Rubicon is a system build with 4-wheel drive enthusiasts in mind. The off-road specific transfer case delivers the torque and control needed in heavy off-road situations together with locking front and rear differentials and electronic sway bar disconnect.

On the other hand, the two available 4-wheel drive systems, the Command-Trac and the Selec-Trac, in the Sahara combine off-road capability while maintaining on-road performance. The biggest difference between these two available systems is that the Selec-Trac has an automatic option that lets your Jeep automatically switch from 2-wheel drive to 4-wheel drive as needed.

Key Differences Between Sahara and Rubicon (Wrangler JL)

At their core, the Sahara and Rubicon are slightly different versions of the same vehicle, both being Wranglers, in this case, JL’s. They share much of the same styling, interior design, with very subtle differences, and Jeep’s famous off-road prowess. 

The off-road capabilities separate the two; however, the Rubicon is marketed as the more off-road capable Jeep of the two. Differences in the four-wheel-drive systems, tire sizes, axles, and gear ratios separate these two from each other. That is not to say that the Sahara isn’t a capable off-road vehicle; it only means that one may be a better choice over the other depending on how you intend to use it.

The other difference between the two SUVs is the door configuration. While the Sahara is only available in a four-door version, the Rubicon comes both two and four-door options.

Advantages of a JL Sahara

  • Selec-Trac 4x4 system has a 4-wheel automatic option, allowing the vehicle to change from 4-wheel to 2-wheel as needed.

  • Command-Trac 4x4 system provides a capable off-road system that still functions well on road.

  • While fuel mileage is comparable and very similar, the more on-road friendly options (like the smaller, more highway-friendly tire) in the Sahara should provide slightly better fuel mileage.

Photo credit: carlogos.org

Advantages of a JL Rubicon

  • Designed for the more serious off-road enthusiast.

  • Available in both 2-door and 4-door configurations.

Use-Case Comparison: Sahara vs Rubicon

The Sahara and Rubicon share much of what makes Jeep products great, but some aspects can separate one from the other. Jeep has incorporated its world-famous off-road capabilities into both, and both have options that take advantage of that, so buyers should not have any concern if they intend to use either off-road.

How you intend to use your Jeep may be what makes one option better than the other. If you’re looking for a hardcore off-roader, right from the factory the Rubicon might be the right choice. On the other hand, if you want to have some off-road fun, but need a Jeep that is still good for daily driving, the better choice might be the Sahara.

Daily Driver

If you’re going to couple your off-road adventure with a commuter vehicle, the Sahara could be considered the better option. The two available 4-wheel drive systems, the Command-Trac and the Selec-Trac, in the Sahara, combine off-road capability while maintaining on-road performance. 

The Sahara also comes equipped with an on-road-friendly tire that is smaller and less aggressive than the tire that comes equipped on the Rubicon, leading to slightly better fuel economy and a quieter, smoother ride. While the Sahara doesn’t sacrifice Jeep’s famous off-road capabilities, it comes better equipped for a combination of on and off-road driving.

Photo credit: fourwheeltrends.com

Snow/Ice Drivability

There is no doubt that the off-road strong Rubicon can put those capabilities to good use when plowing through some fresh snow.  The strong 4x4 system is sure to get the Rubicon through the toughest of snowstorms.

Where the Sahara does shine, however, is with its available Selec-Trac 4x4 system that offers an automatic option, allowing the Jeep to switch from 2-wheel drive to 4-wheel drive as needed. This option comes in handy when daily driving and facing ever-changing road conditions. You can set it and forget it and have the confidence that the Sahara is going to push through any road condition.

Off-Road Capability

The Rubicon is designed as an outstanding off-road version of the Wrangler JL, and it shows. The beefier, aggressive off-road tires combined with a four-wheel-drive system with more capable low gear ratios, locking front and rear differentials, and electronic sway bar disconnect set the Rubicon apart from the Sahara when it comes to off-road capability. 

With slight differences in ground clearance (10.8” in Rubicon, 10” in Shahara) as well as in approach and departure angles (42.2 degrees/32.3 degrees in Rubicon and 41.7 degrees/31.8 degrees in Sahara), it quickly becomes obvious which one of the two is better suited for more hardcore off-road applications.

Final Thoughts: Sahara vs Rubicon

As it should be when considering any vehicle, the choice between the Sahara and the Rubicon is going to come down to personal needs and wants. You may be looking for a Jeep that can handle some adventure, but still, be comfortable and practical enough to use a daily driver or commuter vehicle.

Or you may be looking for a factory vehicle that is capable of some serious off-roading without needing any modifications and extra time and money spent on it. Whatever the case may bcce, you cannot go wrong with either one of these Jeep’s and there is no bad choice if based on personal needs.

Daily Driver: JL Sahara | JL Rubicon

Snow/Ice Drivability: JL Sahara | JL Rubicon

Off-Road Capability: JL Sahara | JL Rubicon

Photo credit: rodhatfieldcdj.com

People Also Ask

Just because we’ve done what we can to cover you when it comes to making an informed decision when buying your next Jeep doesn’t mean you don’t still have questions. Here are some of the most common ones we get asked.

Does Rubicon Sit Higher Than Sahara?

Because it is designed as a slightly more aggressive off-road vehicle, the Rubicon does sit slightly higher than the Sahara, with a ground clearance of 10.8 inches as opposed to 10 inches even in the Sahara.

When Was The First Jeep Sahara Made?

The Jeep Sahara first debuted in 1988 as a new model for Jeep’s continuing YJ generation.

What Year Did The Jeep Rubicon Come Out?

The Jeep Rubicon was first introduced during the TJ generation. This Jeep generation began in 1996.

Cory

Cory epitomizes the 'function over form' debate. His XJ Cherokee has taken many a beating due to his lust for climbing the tallest ledges he can find and is armored to the max. Welded on sliders, tube fenders, and no bumpers allow him to achieve some pretty crazy approaches. We regularly tease him that there's more rust than paint on his rig, but that’s his style. Cory's favorite new mod is a larger winch he bought off a buddy after his Smitty cooked itself, trying to yank his buddy out of a ravine.