The ’12 Wrangler has proven to be one of the most successful products in Jeep’s portfolio with production at capacity and a pace to build 120,000 units for the ’12 model year. Aiding the Wrangler’s popularity is a brand-new drivetrain that includes the powerful and efficient Pentastar 3.6L V-6 and a new five-speed automatic transmission option. While these upgrades make for great performance in the stock world, what does it mean for modifications?
To understand more about how the changes made to the ’12 Wrangler will affect modifications, we picked up a manual-equipped Unlimited Sahara model with the idea of doing a real-world buildup that might be accomplished by a typical reader. The thought was to build this Jeep in a way that it would retain family-hauler functionality, but would remain as capable as one would ever need for off-highway excursions on the weekend.
So why did we choose a Sahara instead of a Rubicon? The Rubicon, out of the box, is an incredible vehicle. In stock form it has won our respect and our Four Wheeler of the Year award. However, we were on a budget, and we felt the extra $2,825 the Rubicon package cost over the Sahara was better spent on other parts of the build. We looked at the major features that make up a Rubicon (wheel and tire package, rock rails, electronic disconnecting sway bar, front Dana 44, electric lockers, and 4:1 transfer case) and decided that we would be altering or replacing each of those parts to better suit our needs, except for the transfer case. Because of the terrain the Jeep would be traversing, mostly wide-open desert, sand, and washes in and around Southern California, we preferred the 2.72:1 transfer case for this particular build. In most trail situations that don’t involve crawling, we’ve found that the Rock-Trac ’case of the Rubicon is geared a bit too low and in most situations that do involve crawling, the 2.72:1 T-case is adequate, especially with the manual transmission and its super-low First gear.
One of the biggest changes we planned for this Jeep was the installation of a Dana 44 front axle to replace the stock Dana 30. To keep our costs in check we decided to start with a stock Rubicon axlehousing, as opposed to buying a custom-built front axle. We ordered the Rubicon housing from J.T.’s Parts & Accessories in Cashmere, Washington, and after discussing our needs for the build, we settled on Nitro gears with an ARB Air Locker. J.T.’s was able to supply the parts and assemble the front axle, complete with sleeves and gussets, ahead of time, making for a less labor-intensive install down the road.
Because of the newfound power of the Pentastar, mixed with a slight gearing change in the manual (a 0.797 Sixth gear versus 0.84 before) and the wider gear ratio spread of the new W5A580 five-speed means that all former gearing strategies can go out the window. For manual transmission models, it used to be common that 37-inch tires required 5.13 gears. We chose 4.88s and are quite pleased. Not only is there much more power than with our ’07 Wrangler Unlimited (which has 5.13s and 37s), but we spin at a lower RPM on the highway. With this setup, our crawl ratio works out to be a competent 59:1, matching the stock automatic Rubicon’s ratio, but not quite as deep as the 73:1 of a stock manual Rubicon. If we were running 35s, 4.56s would have been our choice with a stick. As a general rule of thumb for the ’12 automatic, we’d recommend 4.56s with 35s and 4.88s with 37s. Of course other factors should be considered, such as the hilliness of the area you drive, as well as your typical cruising speed, altitude, and weight of vehicle.
Our plans also included front and rear Air Lockers, a compressor, lights, and a CB radio, so we installed an sPOD power distribution system. The sPOD is a high-quality product that adds six auxiliary switches and keeps all of your accessory power separate from your factory wiring. Once installed, accessories can be easily wired to the Source distribution box under the hood for safe, clean power, eliminating a rat’s nest of wiring and unnecessary holes in your firewall. For those planning on running lots of electrical accessories, the sPOD is a must-have upgrade.
At the end of the build, we hope to achieve a Wrangler that maintains or improves comfort, capability, functionality, and reliability. With those thoughts in mind, we went to work revamping our brand-new Wrangler. In this first installment, we’ll cover some of the foundation products for our build, before getting into the bigger changes next month.