The Jeep Wrangler definitely has become a cult vehicle. Mainly responsible for making the brand a household name, the Wrangler is gaining more and more followers with age. Sales of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler have skyrocketed in Canada this past year, partly because the SUV is becoming slightly more refined while retaining its rugged looks and stellar off-road capabilities.
Don't forget to wave at other Wrangler owners on the road, 'cause they'll wave at you. Consider it the cult's secret handshake. Just so you don't look like a novice, you shouldn't wave at Compass or Patriot drivers.
As before, the 2012 Jeep Wrangler is available in two- or four-door configurations, the latter benefiting from a longer wheelbase, and a more comfortable on-road ride. In addition, Chrysler fitted its refined new 3.6L V6 under the clamped hood of the Wrangler, and it's even tuned to sound like it should in such a tough-guy SUV.
What's new for 2012
First and foremost, the engine. For duty in the Wrangler, it develops 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It's available with a 6-speed manual (a first for Pentastar V6) or optional 5-speed automatic transmission; our tester's got the manual, and besides being a little rough engaging reverse, it's easy to manipulate despite the long shift lever. For inching over rough terrain, the clutch allows very cautious throttle application without stalling.
With 40% more firepower, this Jeep is quicker and not as strained to merge into traffic. The on-road experience is better in the Sahara than in the Rubicon, which is the last Wrangler I tested a while back; if your off-road adventures are limited to dirt roads heading up to the cabin, the Sahara edition will do just fine.
With the engine swap comes improved fuel economy, although in the Unlimited model, it's only marginally better. Rated at 13.4 and 9.6L/100km city/highway, my average over the course of the week is 14.7L/100km. I didn't do much highway, and I'd probably have netted a better result with the automatic. Still, you can't expect miracles in an SUV this un-aerodynamic.
The other noticeable change this year is a colour-coordinated hardtop for the Rubicon model, a feature the Sahara exclusively featured in 2011.
An off-road champ
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler's Command-Trac I four-wheel drive system uses a simple yet effective setup. When you pull the lever from 2H to 4H, the transfer case splits torque 50:50 to front and rear axles. In 4WD mode, though, the Wrangler scrubs its front tires when you turn a tight diameter; you can't really leave it in 4H all the time.
No explanation necessary here to justify why the Wrangler is so good in the boonies. The transfer case low range, its excellent approach and departure angles, the high ground clearance as well as the front and rear axles assure that there's always wheels with traction that are touching the ground.
Our tester is equipped with the MOPAR Chrome Edition Group, which includes tubular side steps; I'd pass on this for two reasons: they could be bothersome during off-road excursions, and they're so high that they actually are in the way as you climb in and out. I don't care too much for the chromed grille either.
You can still unpin the doors, lower the windshield and hose out the interior as before, but since last year, the Wrangler gets a much nicer cabin to spend time in. The new steering wheel is upscale and includes audio, trip computer and cruise controls. The climate control knobs are an improvement over the old ones. And the overall quality of the materials is on the rise as well.
The large front seats are firm yet supportive, while the rear bench includes a 60/40-split seatback for hauling more cargo. Unfortunately, in the back, the crumpled soft top prevents from inserting larger objects.
Attractive base price
A base Wrangler Sport starts at $22,695; for that price, you get very few comfort and convenience features, but hardcore Jeep owners probably don't need stuff like that. Our nicely equipped Unlimited Sahara tester, with options such as a tow hitch, the aforementioned chrome trimmings and a navigation system, costs more than $37K.
Competitors include nemesis the Toyota FJ Cruiser ($33K to $41K), the Nissan Xterra ($34K to $38K) and a dozen other SUVs or crossovers that aren't nearly as capable off-road as the Wrangler.
It may offer limited practicality as a daily driver, but that isn't stopping it from exponentially increasing sales since 2011. It's more refined than ever, but doesn't betray its Jeep roots. The loyal Wrangler fan can rest assured that he or she isn't part of some dwindling cult that will leave them spiritually and financially stranded. As long as the new followers learn to wave while they're behind the wheel.
Auto journalist & Consumer Ratings
Editor's Review Highlights
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Specifications
Similar to 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited