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November 2011 4Word - Editorial

Posted in Features on November 1, 2011
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We spend a lot of time talking about JK Wranglers and how well they work in the dirt. They do. When they’re running, that is.

In the good ol’ days, if your fuel pump failed, you could put a gas can on the hood with a hose running into the carb and get home. Electrical issues were usually caused by a worn wire or blown fuse, both easy fixes. Points, condensers, rotors were all parts that were cheap and easy to carry in the tool kit. Jeeps got you home.

Today, what if you start your JK, the transmission is mysteriously stuck in Second gear limp mode, and you can go no faster than 3 to 5 mph? What if you’re at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, 100 miles from pavement and cell service, and you get nothing but an array of warning lights on the dash when you turn your key? What do you do?

About the only fix is to disconnect the battery for a while and pray. There’s a chance that after connecting the battery again, everything will be fine. There’s also a chance that you’ll be utilizing your survival skills. If you’re able to get the Jeep into a dealership, you’ll find they’re as much in the dark as we are. R&R today means Reflash & Replace. They can’t fix the TIPM, wireless module, and PCM any more than we can. They reflash or replace those parts (then pray that everything will work).

To be fair, all new vehicles are rife with electronics. However, GM, Ford, Toyota and Nissan vehicle’s electronics work. I don’t worry if I’m 100 miles from service in a Ford Raptor or my Chevrolet Colorado.

Electronics aside, what about the JK’s other glaring weakness, its frontend? It’s impossible to understand how anyone thought the weak housing, worthless ball joints, or the C-clips on the axles would hold up under the intended uses Jeeps are put to. Luckily, there are replacement axles and parts from the aftermarket that cure the issues, but why doesn’t Jeep do anything about the problems that have existed since 2007?

The JK Wrangler was a giant leap forward in off-road prowess. However, it’s not fun being able to go further off-road when you’re worrying about having to hike further to get back.

My wife has a new 2011 Chrysler Town & Country minivan with the same 3.6L VVT V-6 that is going into the Wrangler. Granted, the transmissions are different, but the mills are the same. In the minivan, the new V-6 produces 283 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. The 2012 Wrangler’s V-6 will be a little less powerful.

The 3.6L VVT’s mediocre performance at low rpm is forgotten as soon as it hits 4,000 rpm, where it starts to scream. It returns fuel economy figures from the high teens to low 20s. That’s fine for a minivan, but Jeeps need low-end torque, which the 3.6L does not deliver. Will the ’12 Wrangler perform? Yes, on the freeway there will be no problem setting the cruise at the speed limit and staying there. In the dirt? We’ll have to see. Before trading in your 3.8L JK Wrangler, drive a new one. Think hard before getting rid of your 4.0L-equipped TJ or YJ. The days of good low-end torque in Wranglers are long gone.

Until other manufacturers challenge Jeep by building utility vehicles, such as downsized Broncos or Blazers, customers will have to decide if the Wrangler’s electronic issues and no low-end torque problem are outweighed by its great off-road suspension.

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