Strengths and weaknesses:
- More refined powertrain
- true 4X4 capability
- more comfortable ride
- Reduced fuel capacity
- Bluetooth not standard
- high step in/out height
Off-road talk is Jeep
PORTLAND, Ore. — "Whereas most ordinary vehicles would be able to reach the trail head only to have to turn back, with a few button presses the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is ready to boldly go wherever it’s pointed."
Today, that’s climbing a very steep loose dirt trail 1.3 klicks long and strewn with massive North Oregon Coast Range boulders, cavernous ruts and decaying Douglas Fir stumps along with some man-made obstacles such as staggered holes, rock gardens, log bridges and, my favourite, the dirt hot tub.
After engaging 4X4 low in the heavy-duty transfer case, locking the Tru-lok front Dana 44 and 4.10 rear axles, and electronically disconnecting the sway bars, the Wrangler’s high-performance gas suspension and body-on-frame design enable the 32-inch BF Goodrich off-road tires to reach, twist and grab at any available traction with almost no wheelspin.
Spotters strategically placed at the toughest parts of the extreme course appear to be working harder than Jeep’s new 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine and the all-new optional five-speed automatic transmission. Taking the slow and steady approach, I exit the trail feeling way more excited than surprised.
Jeeps have been doing this kind of thing very well for decades and can make an off-road novice such as me look and feel like a backcountry hero. “Ruby” hardly batted an eyelash on our excursion, but she’s blushing now.
Wrangler’s interior was redesigned last year with both two- and four-door models also getting a new body-colour hardtop option. For 2012, improvements to the Wrangler’s on-road performance were undertaken quite successfully.
Compared to the outgoing 3.8-litre engine, the Pentastar V6 (shared with the new Grand Cherokee) breathes and cools better, offers more low-and-mid range torque and gets better mileage while delivering a 40% improvement in power and 10% increase in torque.
The new five-speed tranny features an increased ratio spread for smoother gear changes (versus the old four-speed automatic) and a lower first gear ratio for improved crawling/engine braking. Towing capacity is also up (to 907 kg on Wrangler and 1,588 on the Unlimited) while the six-speed manual gets a new flywheel.
The Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited continue to be available in four models: Sport B (two-door only), Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon offering more gear ratios (3.21, 373 and 4.10, depending on model) to optimize fuel economy and/or vehicle capability.
Boasting a redesigned C-pillar for better rear visibility, that three-panel hardtop is now available on all models. Before departing, we spend a couple minutes removing the two front panels (and a few more minutes stuffing them in the storage bag). It sits loosely in the rear cargo area, but Jeep has added a lockable storage area beneath the floor with colour/part-coded spaces for various other bits and pieces (Jeep hardware for the standard Sunrider soft-top and removable doors).
The new powertrain is quieter and accelerates faster than before. Steering is lightweight and responsive with good on-centre feel and decent feedback that doesn’t dissipate when you leave paved surfaces.
There’s lots of space for passengers in the rear seat and the cloth seating is very comfortable and supportive in front. Taller drivers, however, might have difficulty seeing: the upright windshield means the top of the glass is farther forward; it also collects more bug splatter than angled glass; and, the rearview mirror is too low.
Another qualm is the lack of a proper grab handle – the door handles don’t have anywhere to grip and the bar above the glove box is too far away (it’s more useful as a towel bar). Finally, the deep tint sunscreen glass used on the rear window is very dark – it’s even tough to see out of in broad daylight.
The 2012 Wrangler has a new heart, but it hasn’t lost its soul. It’s still the king of off-roading, and with greatly-improved on-road driving performance and more creature comforts, it’s just as capable as a family hauler too.