2012 Jeep Wrangler

PORTLAND, Ore. — There’s a great line in the hit movie Rambo where Col. Samuel Trautman, John Rambo’s commanding officer in Vietnam, addresses a comment by Brian Dennehy, a vicious local sheriff who is convinced that he can starve out the former Green Beret. Trautman says, “I’ve seen John Rambo eat things that would make a Billy goat puke.” By comparison we’ve seen the 2012 Jeep Wrangler do things that would make a mountain goat envious.

We were recently given the opportunity to put the 2012 Jeep Wrangler through its paces, both on road and off. And by “off,” we mean “OFF.” Like a 5.4-mile circuitous drive to the top of a mountain where Camp Jeep engineers built a complex, teeth and kidney-jarring obstacle course to take us even further upward.

The Jeep Wrangler is the most recognized vehicle in the world. It has evolved since its initial role as a WWII-developed general purpose utility vehicle (Get it…GP?) into the fun and personal transportation it is today.  

Wrangler is available in 2-door and 4-door versions (4-door Wranglers are called Wrangler Unlimited). Each is available in four models: Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon. It is easily-identified by its signature seven-slot grille, trapezoid wheel flare, removable doors, fold-down windshield, classic round headlamps and innovative removable and convertible tops and half-doors. New for the 2012 model year is the Rubicon model sharing a body-color hardtop option with the Sahara model – giving it a premium appearance. With seating for five adults, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited remains the only four-door 4x4 convertible on the market.

Inside the 2012 Wrangler sports an all-new interior and it’s really well done. Depending on the model, the well-supported seats are found in either a handsome, durable fabric or rich-looking leather. HVAC is user-friendly and logistically well placed. Using the power windows takes some getting used to because the first inclination is that someone stole the switches from the armrest. Guess again, the power window and power outside mirror controls are located on the centerstack, between the HVAC and the radio/navigation screen (ala the PT Cruiser).

Wranglers tackle off-road
course in Oregon mountains

(MotorwayAmerica/Jim Meachen)

There was one recurring (and annoying) trait we discovered with the positioning of the gear shift lever on the automatic model. There’s an easy chance to knock the gear lever out of the automatic mode to the manual mode and it will lock in whatever gear it’s in. A lockout pin of some sort would help dramatically.

Once on the highway the lack of wind noise is the first thing one notices (or doesn’t, depending on your perspective). And if we were expecting the usual “get out of my own way” performance of previous Jeep Wranglers we were ecstatically surprised. The 2012 Jeep Wranglers are powered by an all-new 3.6L V-6 that produces 285 horsepower (40% improvement over the 2011 model) and 260 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission.

Uses for all this extra power came into play when we drove over the purpose built off-road track. Not being first gave us a front-row opportunity to see the articulation of the frame as it cork-screwed its way up the mountain, through some awfully deep ruts, over protruding boulders, etc. It seemed there wasn’t a part of that course that an average driver couldn’t get himself out of with this Jeep – it’s that capable.    

As one would expect from a Jeep there’s a wide range of safety technologies incorporated, with two dozen different features working in harmony.  Among available safety and security features are ABS, a plethora of air bags, all-speed traction control, BeltAlert, Brake Assist, Brake/Park Interlock, Brake Traction Control System, crumple zones, Electronic roll mitigation, Electronic Stability control, Hill-start Assist, interior head-impact protection, Trailer-sway Control and several others.

EPA fuel economy estimates are 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway for Wranglers with automatic transmissions; and 16/21 for a 4x4 w/manual transmission.

Jeep has certainly done its best to keep itself competitive (it owns a 15.8% market share). Prices for the base 2-door 2012 Wrangler Sport and Sport S (Jeep’s volume model) are the same as the outgoing 2011 prices -- $22,045 and $24,245 for the S.

Last month Jeep had its largest sales month ever — with 14,355 vehicles going out the door. This year alone its sales are 49% over last year’s, year-to-year. Jeep may have started life as a “war baby” but for a 70-year-old it has a great future.

— Al Vinikour