How to Turn a  JL Wrangler Sport Into a Rubicon

How to Turn a JL Wrangler Sport Into a Rubicon

Last Updated August 8, 2023 | C.J. Tragakis

When comparing the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon vs Sport trims, it can be tough to decide which to buy. The off-road-focused nature of the Rubicon makes it one of the most capable vehicles you can get from the factory. But the Sport offers almost as much capability for a lot less money. This leaves enthusiasts wondering if it’s better to buy a Rubicon or “build” a Sport up to the Rubicon's level.

If you choose the Wrangler Sport, Sport S, or Sahara, the aftermarket offers many ways to make it like a Rubicon. You can even replace some of the parts with the exact ones the Rubicon has. Everything under the hood is the same across all trims, so that keeps it simple.

In this guide, we'll outline which mods will turn your Jeep Sport into a Rubicon. Our recommended mods can be installed by any enthusiast without much difficulty. Most products shown are available for both the Wrangler JK and Wrangler JL.

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Wrangler Sport Suspension Upgrades

Upgrading the suspension for off-roading will make the biggest difference to your Sport. A more robust set-up will give it capability like the Rubicon. You can opt for parts of your choice or stick with Mopar components that are just like factory.

Shocks & Springs

We recommend adding FOX 2.0 Performance shocks and new springs to match the Rubicon’s performance suspension.

Wrangler FOX Shocks Suspension Upgrade

The FOX shocks are the ones that come with Mopar lift kits, as well as the factory Rubicon. They’re favored for their off-road capability and improved ride quality.

Other shocks also offer great performance at a more affordable price if you want to keep the cost down.

Sway Bar

The Rubicon is the only trim that comes with a disconnectable sway bar from the factory. Fortunately, there are options on the aftermarket for both disconnecting and static off-road sway bars. Both will allow for much better articulation when tackling steep obstacles.

Here are some options from RockJock that don’t require disconnection, yet are stiff enough that they can still be safely used on the street.

Lift Kit

The Rubicon has 1.1 inches more clearance than the Sport due to having larger tires. A lift kit will increase your ground clearance and get your Sport closer to the Rubicon’s height. It’ll also create more room to add larger tires, which will also help with ground clearance.

The aftermarket can give you even more height if you want. A lift kit gives you a big leg up in terms of approach and departure angles. However, to improve breakover angle and avoid hitting your differentials, bigger tires will really do the trick.

Check out the video below where we install a Mopar 2-inch lift on a JL. It’ll often give the Sport closer to 2.5 inches of lift.

You can also take a look at this lift kit guide for the Wrangler JL to explore other options.

Wrangler Sport Axles and Drivetrain Upgrades

The Rubicon’s Dana 44 axles are one of its primary differentiating factors when comparing it to other JL trims. Their robust design makes them heavily-favored by off-roaders. Here are some upgrades to help you optimize your Jeep for low-speed crawling over rough terrain.

Locking Axles

We recommend putting the Dana 44 Tru-Lock axles on front and rear. This will give you the off-road crawling capability of a Rubicon. From the factory, the Sport will have a Dana 30 on the front and Dana 35 on the rear, unless you opt for the rear axle differential.

Being able to lock the axles allows the vehicle to put the maximum amount of traction down to the ground.

You can go even bigger with one of Mopar’s off-road axle assemblies. Check out these front axle options. With larger axles and lower gear ratios, they’re ideal for rock-crawling. A FOX front-end stabilizer will give you even more off-road optimization if you've got bigger tires and a lift.

Transfer Case

A 4:1 transfer case is a good addition to go along with these axles, giving you low gearing for crawling. The standard Command-Trac NV241 part-time transfer case used by the other trims is not as capable off-road. A more robust ratio than the strock 2.73:1 means more power at very low speeds. This makes it easier to go up steep climbs.

Rubicon Off-Road Wheels and Tires

The 17-inch wheels that come with the Sport leave plenty of room for the Rubicon’s big 33-inch tires. You can go even bigger if you’d like, which can help with rock-crawling and larger obstacles.

Jeep Wrangler Off-Road Tire Upgrade

If you have a Sahara with 18-inchers or you’ve gotten even bigger aftermarket rims, smaller wheels will allow for larger off-road tires. We recommend sticking with 17-inch rims. Check out our JL wheel guide for an in-depth look at different options.

Rubicon Armor

Upgrade your Sport with some Rubicon rock rails and door sills for extra protection on the sides. If you’re going to be doing some serious rock-crawling, it’s worth checking out other ways to armor up your Jeep.

The Rubicon comes with a steel front skid plate, whereas the Sport’s is plastic. Check out Mopar’s front skid plate to get the exact same one for your JL. It’s compatible with the Rubicon full-width or stubby bumper.

Rubicon Bumpers

An easy way to add style and capability is by installing some Rubicon bumpers. This will complete the look and add toughness. The distinct red hooks and factory-look may appeal to those who want to be as close to the Rubicon as possible. If not, there are hundreds of aftermarket options that can offer even better clearance and approach angle than the Rubicon-style bumper.

This is an area where you can actually improve upon the factory Rubicon.

Interior and Exterior Style

Changing your cabin’s look is not required to get off-road capability. But you can make your Sport look more the part if you want.

If you don’t get a Rubicon bumper, adding some red D-rings will help complete the aesthetic. You could even add a Rubicon decal to your exterior. While these are very small touches, the next two mods offer a more noticeable style upgrade.

Rubicon Dashboard

The Rubicon’s red dashboard is the part of the interior that stands out most. This is especially true when compared to the muted gray used in the other trims. You can paint your interior dashboard panels red to match the Rubicon’s. Or, simply make them whatever color you want.

Rubicon Door Sill Guards

To complete the aesthetic down to the details, door sill guards add a stylish touch. They look upmarket, and you can get the exact set from the Rubicon. They don’t protect a super vulnerable area, but can still prevent scratches and scuffs.

Buying Vs Building a Rubicon

Those wanting to obtain the capability of a Rubicon right from the factory are probably better off simply buying one. However, for those that already have a Sport or other non-Rubicon, building your way up to the Rubicon is easy with aftermarket parts. Plus, the Sport serves as an affordable platform for whatever mods you want to make. You can enjoy wrenching on your own rig and even take its capability beyond the Rubicon.

Should You Buy a Rubicon?
Everything you need to hit the trails Upgrading one of the Rubicon’s off-road features means you’re essentially “losing money”
Great resale value Selling those parts to “make back” money takes time and effort
If you just want the Rubicon’s features, buying one is the most cost-effective method
Should You Build a Sport Up to a Rubicon?
Lower price Fewer interior/infotainment features
Freedom to pick and choose which mods you like You could spend more on aftermarket parts than the extra cost for a Rubicon
Gain wrenching experience from doing your own mods
Having just the basics, like manual windows, gives you a classic Jeep feel

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This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.