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2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon - Long-Term Report Part 1

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on September 1, 2012
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We recently welcomed our 2012 Four Wheeler of the Year-winning 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon into the long-term fleet, replacing the ’11 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland that has served us well for the last year. For 2012, the Wrangler received a significant powertrain upgrade that won our judges over as a major improvement to the breed. Over the next year, we hope to see if the new engine can live up to the Wrangler’s rugged reputation.

The ’12 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon chews through twisty technical trails and even absorbs larger bumps amazingly well for a short-wheelbase 4x4.

With a base price of just $29,995, the Wrangler Rubicon is an amazingly capable vehicle out of the box. Arguably, it is the most capable new vehicle you can buy today, and certainly more capable than anything in its price class. For the money, you get a convertible soft top, four-wheel drive, front and rear Dana 44 axles with electric lockers, an electronically-disconnecting sway bar, rock sliders, monotube shocks, BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM tires, skidplates, tow hooks, and a 4:1 Rock-Trac transfer case. And now with the efficient new 3.6L DOHC Pentastar V-6, you also get 285hp/260 lb-ft of torque and a 21 mpg rating on the highway. Our Flame Red tester came standard with the NSG 370 six-speed manual transmission, but an optional five-speed W5A580 is also available for those who don’t like to shift for themselves the way we do.

Wanting to keep our Wrangler simple, we added only the Connectivity Group ($385), Power Convenience Group ($685), and the Media Center 430N ($1,035) bringing our as-tested price to a reasonable $32,900 (including $800 destination charge).

Compared to the previous 3.8L/NSG 370 combination, the ’12 Wrangler’s NSG 370 features a revised clutch housing, new flywheel, and long-travel damper clutch, as well as a taller overdrive ratio in Sixth gear, which goes from 0.840 to 0.797. The 3.6L engine also receives some Wrangler-specific changes, such as a passenger-side-mounted intake that is tuned for midrange torque, a reverse-facing, high-mounted alternator, and a unique upper and lower oil pan system that ensures oil is within reach of the pump, even at severe angles.

The new 3.6L DOHC Pentastar V-6 makes the Jeep a pleasure to drive on and off-road. With plenty of power on hand, cruising at 75mph is no longer a struggle and the mpg is much better than the previous 3.8L engine.

The interior, which was new for 2011, is as important of an upgrade as the drivetrain, with a look and feel of quality shared with no previous Wranglers. Ergonomics were a major focus of the interior design, with all of the knobs and switches falling within easy reach of the driver. Soft touch surfaces, such as on the doors and armrest, go a long way toward answering previous Wrangler beefs on comfort. Even with the soft top, the Wrangler offers good sightlines and decent visibility to the rear and interior noise levels are shockingly low.

In the few months we have had it in our fleet, our staffers have rolled over 2,700 miles on the odometer, praising the Wrangler for stable highway manners, as well as its surprising willingness to carve up twisty canyon roads. The Pentastar’s wide, flat torque curve gives the Jeep enough muscle to power out of corners and even with longish throws, we have found it enjoyable to row though the gears. Because of the short wheelbase and quick steering, the Wrangler has “right now” reflexes, and despite aggressive Mud-Terrain tires, it is a blast to drive on pavement. Our staff has also been impressed with the fuel economy that even when pushed seems to best other 3.8L Jeeps we’ve tested, although our hot shoes have yet to match the advertised 21 mpg rating.

The trunk/storage area behind the rear fold-up passenger seat is perfect for day trips. Any longer and you have to fold up the bulky rear passenger seat. We wish it locked in the folded-up position so it wouldn’t slam down and crush our stuff when we accelerate too hard. Since it’s pretty difficult to access the back seat anyway, some staffers prefer to simply remove it.

On the trail, the little Jeep has met expectations with low gearing, flexy suspension, and electric lockers that allow it climb and crawl over whatever obstacles happen to be in the way. The suspension tuning is spot-on and even at speed we have found it difficult to crash the bumpstops. We also love the ability Jeep has given its drivers to turn off the electronic stability control, which helps the Wrangler’s reputation as a driver’s vehicle. Even with a rev-happy V-6, our logbook was full of comments praising the low First gear, which masks the minor loss in low-end power versus the 3.8L quite well.

To explain the Wrangler to someone who isn’t familiar with it, you might compare it to a roadster – if that roadster could be driven in any weather, on any road, and could climb over a boulder. However you want to describe it, our Wrangler has been the perfect tool for leaving the long days in front of the keyboard behind and relieving stress with its fun and playful nature. The Jeep Wrangler is the epitome of a good time and we are looking forward to the rest of our year, hopefully with many topless days ahead.

On a few occcasions, the door seals on each door have come loose. It easily pops back into its channel and is just a minor annoyance.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Report: 1 OF 4
Previous reports: None
Base price: $29,995
Price as tested: $32,900
Four-wheel-drive system: Lever-actuated part-time, two-speed

Long-Term Numbers
Miles to date: 2,703
Miles since last report: First report
Average mpg (this report): 17.37
Test best tank (mpg): 19.69
Test worst tank (mpg): 14.91

This period: Oil change ($39.92)
Problem areas: None

What’s Hot, What’s Not
Hot: Engine, mileage, fun to drive
Not: Difficult rear seat access, dust gets in through tailgate, door seals can pop out of the track

Logbook Quotes
“The Rubicon is surprisingly stable at freeway speeds.”
“First gear feels really low, sometimes I find it easier to start off in Second.”
“The newfound power is great! It was much-needed.”
“I would have ordered a hardtop if it were mine.”
“It amazes me that I can hear the radio just fine and carry on a conversation while driving 75 mph with a soft top.”

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