There's one very simple truth about the Jeep Wrangler: either you get it, or you don't. Those who fall into the latter category are puzzled by the strong sales of an SUV that turns in uninspiring highway and city driving performance, marred by a stiff suspension system, imprecise steering and, until this year, poor acceleration and fuel mileage. People who 'get it,' however, realize that a vehicle like the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon represent the best opportunity to pilot a pure off-road warrior without giving up completely on much-needed features and practicality - a careful blend that has helped to make the Wrangler more than a one-trick pony.
Unlimited = Unstoppable
It's difficult to imagine a trail, rutted forest path, rocky hill, or desert that the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon couldn't tackle with poise and skill. The Rubicon trim level (which retails for $31,795) represents the most expensive - and most capable - weapon in the Wrangler arsenal. Helping to ensure that the Unlimited Rubicon never requires a tow out of a sticky situation is Jeep's Rock-Trac four-wheel drive system, which features a 4.10 final drive ratio and both a four-wheel high setting (splitting torque 50/50 between the front and rear axles) and a four-wheel low setting (offering 4:1 torque multiplication for the ultimate in rock-climbing capability). Dana 44 axles ensure maximum strength front and rear, (and can be locked electronically from inside the cabin), 32-inch mud tires help the Rubicon maintain maximum grip even on slick terrain, and rock rails and skid plates protect the Jeep's undersides from damage. The vehicle's front swaybar can also be detached at the touch of a button in order to improve the suspension's ability to move independently, and hill descent control and hill start assist are present and accounted for.
Better On Pavement Than Ever Before
The big news for 2012 is the arrival of Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 under the hood of the entire Wrangler lineup. For the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, this means that acceleration has been upgraded from "eventually" to "confident," and fuel economy has improved to 13.2 L/100 km in stop and go driving and 10 L/100 km on the highway. The vehicle's new five-speed automatic transmission is responsive and never gets caught hunting for the right gear, and a six-speed manual transmission can still be ordered with the Wrangler if desired.
From a handling perspective, the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon drives very much like the purpose-built off-road chariot that it is. This means that sharp corners can induce plowing, steering is disconnected, and the rear end is only too happy to get loose should it be asked to traverse a pothole at a high rate of speed. Stability and traction control, however, work wonders to keep the Rubicon within a safe operating envelope, and there's nothing about the Jeep that calls to mind the iffy center of gravity that was a characteristic of older, shorter-wheelbase models.
Lots Of Room For Passengers And Cargo
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon's four-door, extended-wheelbase chassis does more than just add comfort and a buttoned-down feeling to the SUV's ride - it also transforms the Wrangler platform into a people mover that can legitimately transport up to five passengers without breaking a sweat. A spacious rear seat and a generous cargo compartment make the Unlimited the station wagon of Wranglers, but don't worry - you can still take both the roof and the doors off (all four of them) if you really want to. The Wrangler's soft top is a bit difficult to operate when trying to fold it open, or access the rear tailgate, and it does let in more than its fair share of road noise when underway. A hard top is available - also removable - and is recommended for getting through the chillier winter months.
Interior furnishings for the Unlimited Rubicon are of a semi-Spartan nature, but that's part of the charm of Wrangler ownership. Seats, surfaces, and floors are all designed to be easy to clean, and buttons and knobs fall easily to hand for driver and passenger. The Chrysler Uconnect interface handles the job of managing communications, navigation, and entertainment options, and it is more than up to the task. Roll-bar padding is a bit intrusive - as are the grab-handles that hang off the lateral bars beside the driver and front passenger - but this is the price that must be paid to accommodate the safety concerns associated with off-road driving. With only two forward airbags coming standard with the Jeep (side impact airbags are optional), the more padding, the better.
A Superior All-Around Package
The Wrangler is one of the most popular SUVs on the road, charming legions of fans with its go-anywhere nature despite the various shortcomings associated with its drivetrain and road manners. The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon keeps all of the hardcore characteristics that off-road fans have come to love about the vehicle, while adding a thoroughly modern and much more efficient engine and transmission package to the equation. Throw in a livable cabin, excellent practicality from the four-door body style, and the same fun-in-the-sun convertible design found on the standard Wrangler, and it's easy to see why the Unlimited has been embraced by Jeep enthusiasts rather than branded an abomination. Just don't expect to be coddled on the daily commute.
|Test model||2012 Jeep Wrangler|
|Trim level||Rubicon Unlimited|
|Price range||$22,595 - $34,495|
|Price as tested||$38,305|
|Warranty (basic)||3 years / 60,000 km|
|Warranty (powertrain)||5 years / 100,000 km|
|Options||Five-speed automatic transmission. Heated front seats. Remote Start. Uconnect|
|Competitive models||Nissan Xterra, Toyota FJ Cruiser|
|Fuel consumption||It's not great, but it's a whole lot better than it was in 2011 thanks to the new V6.|
|Value for price||You can pick up a base Wrangler for under $20k, and the Unlimited Rubicon is a fierce off-road tool at its price.|
|Styling||Wranglers have always stayed true to the essence of Jeep's styling language.|
|Comfort||It keeps the rain out (mostly) and the heat in (mostly). What else do you want from a Wrangler?|
|Performance||The 3.6-liter V6 is a huge upgrade over last year's motor, and you simply can't get it stuck.|
|Overall||It's a four-door Wrangler, which means you can bring all of your friends with you as you escape from civilization.|