2012 Jeep Wrangler accentuates civility but remains rugged
Summit Daily auto writer
By Andy Stonehouse
Summit Daily auto writer
Jeep’s legions of adherents are, to say the least, a little serious about their devotion to their off-roading machine, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
So I hope they don’t take it the wrong way when Chrysler, still carefully reestablishing itself after bankruptcy, does the heretical and crafts a Jeep Wrangler that’s comfortable to drive on the pavement and is also thoroughly car-like on the inside (lest you complain too much, consider that the alternative could be no Jeeps at all, or a Jeep-rebranding of some two-foot-wide, Fiat-built 4×4).
To that end, the 2012 Wrangler will indeed begin to appeal to a larger crowd of folks who’d always liked the idea of a Jeep but didn’t feel that the austere interiors and nausea-inducing ride on the highway (not to mention the very slow acceleration) were their cup of tea.
The new Jeep, which I got to test out both at a launch event in Oregon and then with a full week in a two-door, offroad-enhanced Rubicon model on the trails and highways here in Colorado, is indeed a more civilized beast, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
Those of you who spend your weekends spot-welding your Jeeps back together after ambitious rock-crawling sessions or who appreciate the ability to hose out the insides of your Jeep after mud-bogging will indeed be appalled.
For the 2012 Wrangler is indeed pretty nice on the inside, with a rounded and sculpted texturized plastic dash, integrating four gigantic air vents, plus full plastic detail inside the doors and along the center console. And yards of carpet, useful for sucking up some of the road noise, though Jeep is quick to note you can still take out the carpet and drain plugs and hose to your heart’s content.
The four-door Unlimited version, which makes up 60 percent of Wrangler’s sales, becomes almost suspiciously SUV-like in its character, with comfortable rear seating. I found it less claustrophobic in the two-door to simply remove the rear seats with their large, vision-blocking headrests, giving you a little extra room to stash the hard plastic roof panels on a nice day.
Wrangler is also much easier to use on the tarmac thanks to its new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, a new cross-company mill that gives Wrangler 40 percent more horsepower (now 285), 10 percent more torque, 26 percent better acceleration and 13 percent better fuel economy.
To that end, you can speed up to 60 in a not unimpressive 8.4 seconds, meaning freeway ramps are no longer the Hail Mary experience they were in the past, and allowing for easy freeway cruising.
It’s still a Wrangler, however, and with the two-door’s precariously short (but trail-friendly) 116-inch wheelbase, I found that 65 mph was still about all I wanted to do on the highway. Ride is, admittedly, much smoother, even on giant offroad tires, and those who never leave the confines of pavement (again, travesty) will find it a much more pleasant experience.
The good news is that Wrangler’s offroad character has not changed in the least, and the hearty Jeep’s extra boost of power (and some remapping of the throttle response at lower speeds) makes it a more capable machine out on the trail.
We rolled through a purpose-built field of rocks and climbed in and out of Jeep-sized holes during the Portland excursion, but this weekend I found that the sufficiently hairy Webster Pass, between Montezuma and Hwy. 285, was no match for the Wrangler. I also took the Jeep up to nearly 12,000 feet along the road to Kingston Peak, situated between Alice and Rollinsville, and again had no problems.
Rubicon, the more rugged member of the family, opens itself up for more articulated rock-bashing with electronically disconnecting sway bars and a 4×4 axle lock for bigger obstacles. You could, it seems, drive over a Jeep-sized object in a Jeep, which is a credit to maintaining the vehicle’s character.
There are still a few questions of practicality, but that’s where the choice between the leaner and a little less meaner Wrangler and other members of the Jeep family come along. It’s not huge inside and you still get very limited foot space; the rear windshield wiper motor, high-center brakelamp and rear-mounted spare tire also kill off about 35 percent of your rear visibility in the hard-top model.
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