The 2012 Jeep Wrangler continues an American tradition that has captivated a cult-like following since the Second World War. With a more powerful and efficient V6 petrol engine, the updated Wrangler has never looked so good.
Before we get deep into the Jeep Wrangler, it’s important to have a quick glance at Jeep itself. During its rich 71-year history, Jeep has become a household name. It’s now so much more than just an automotive brand; in many parts of the world the word Jeep is synonymous with rugged, all-conquering vehicles. Although many brands cultivate a cult following, Jeep perhaps more than any other American brand has managed to maintain its core values over the past seven decades.
The Jeep Wrangler may not carry the iconic Willys nameplate, but at its core it represents the same values as those that brought Jeep into existence so many years ago. Its serious off-roading capabilities are complemented by its huge personality. It’s the sort of car you buy because you just have to have one and generally not because you need one.
Australia's love of the Jeep Wrangler is more widespread than many realise. Each year about 2500 Wranglers are sold in Australia (last year that figure rose to over 2800), and although the Wrangler’s design and engineering has been a slow evolution for as long as it has existed, more and more buyers keep coming to the brand. So there must be something to it.
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler sees the introduction of a new 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6, coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual - both designed by Mercedes-Benz. The all-alloy V6 produces 209kW of power and 347Nm of torque (63kW and 32Nm more than the previous petrol engine) meaning it can achieve the 0-100km/h sprint in 8.1 seconds, a 27.7 percent improvement.
To properly test a Jeep Wrangler one needs to put it in its natural habitat, and that’s pretty much anywhere but suburbia or a bitumen road. Unlike other SUVs that boast off-roading credibility that goes mostly unused, Jeep buyers are not afraid of getting a little dirty. According to Jeep Australia 60 per cent of Wrangler and 80 per cent of Wrangler Rubicon owners take their vehicles off road (there is also a near 50:50 split between female and male buyers for the brand). So to put us in the shoes of a typical Wrangler owner, we flew down to King Island in Bass Strait where we embarked on a journey covering the generally untouched southern part of the island.
The Jeep Wrangler range consists of two different body styles (two- and four-door), two engines (3.6-litre V6 and a 2.8-litre turbo-diesel, which is not available for the Rubicon) and two transmissions. That makes twelve different Jeep Wrangler variants that money can buy.
The model line starts from $32,000 for the two-door six-speed manual petrol and goes up to $48,000 for the four-door Rubicon five-speed automatic petrol. For the launch of the 2012 model we initially found ourselves behind the wheel of a Wrangler Sport automatic two-door.
On the road the short-wheelbase Wrangler is a handful to steer. Consistent steering inputs are required to maintain a steady path while cornering ability is not high on its priority list. It’s very agricultural in its driving characteristics but still, somehow, rather appealing. The new 3.6-litre engine is worlds apart from the unit it replaces. Acceleration feel is noticeably better and the new five-speed automatic does a considerably better job of shifting gears than the ancient four-speed it replaces. After an hour or so behind the wheel we became much better acquainted with its floaty characteristics, but it’s still pretty obvious the Wrangler’s well-known off-roading ability comes at a cost.
Jeep is willing to admit the Wrangler isn’t the best vehicle in its stable when it comes to on-road driving. Jeep Australia managing director Clyde Campbell told CarAdvice “when you have an icon, you don’t want to mess with it too much”, and that Jeep customers insist the company doesn’t change its Wrangler formula. Given the model’s consistently solid sales figures, it’s hard to argue with such a mentality.
But you don’t buy a Jeep to go fast around corners, or to admire its interior. For the Wrangler owner it’s all about the freedom of expression, the freedom of being able to leave the bitumen and go straight into the wilderness – whatever that may be. And it’s only when you begin to drive into untouched terrain that you realise why the Jeep Wrangler makes so much sense.
Jeep’s Command-Trac two-speed transfer case continues to supply drive to either the rear wheels or all four wheels. The ultra-hardcore Rubicon variants go one step further with remote-locking front and rear differentials, heavy-duty Dana axles front and rear, electronically disconnecting sway bars, Rock-Trac transfer case, a 4.10:1 axle ratio and heavy-duty rock rails. The sort of car you’d kill for in a zombie apocalypse.
As we traded bitumen for dirt, we engaged 4WD high and started to explore the Wrangler’s off-roading credentials. The first thing to note is that the instant the going gets tough, the Wrangler’s otherwise woeful steering becomes a bonus. It’s the sort of car you simply point at a hill and it does the rest. With 4WD low range engaged, the Wrangler behaves rather similarly to the Land Rover Defender in that it can pretty much climb or descend anything you point it at. We spent a good 90 minutes getting lost in an otherwise unused part of the world, coming to appreciate why owning a Jeep is an experience in itself.
One thing we didn’t expect was the refinement of the Wrangler Rubicon. Not only did our test car behave better off-road than the standard model, but it also felt significantly better on-road (given it’s designed primarily for off-roading, it was unexpected). If you’re buying a Jeep Wrangler as a lifestyle car (it’s the only four-door convertible on sale in Australia), the standard model will do. But if you intend to do serious off-roading, the extra $10,000 for the Rubicon is worth considering.
From the inside the Wrangler presents a very utilitarian cabin. Not much has changed for the 2012 model, with the same hard but tough plastics used throughout the cabin. Although the basic interior may appear out-dated on the surface, it’s designed to make cleaning easier. Meanwhile, the updated media centre with its high quality six-speaker system and Bluetooth audio streaming is sure to please. There is also a range of new exterior colours to pick from.
Some would suggest the 2.8-litre CRD turbodiesel is the one to go for given its low fuel usage (7.1 litres per 100km for two-door manual), 147kW of power and 460Nm of torque. That’s a valid argument if diesel is what you’re after and the extra torque is a necessity. Nonetheless, for a $5000-$6000 price hike (comparing manual/automatic petrol to manual/automatic diesel), the diesel’s fuel saving advantages will not be realised for a rather long time. Additionally, the updated petrol engine is a vast improvement over the old one yet there's been no price hike, making it the better deal.
Overall, it’s easy to fault the Jeep Wrangler for being an ordinary drive on-road. It’s spartan, rough, generally crude and for the most part, not a great drive around town. It’s only when you get to spend a prolonged period of time behind the wheel and put the Wrangler in its natural habitat that it all begins to make sense. It’s like a grown-up's toy: it may be completely pointless in a modern world, but you’d still love to own one. In any case, it’s not a car for everyone and if you’re scratching your head wondering why anyone in their right mind would buy one of these things, remember: it’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand.
Check out the Jeep Wrangler gallery for a heap of great pics.
Two-door Jeep Wrangler Pricing:
- Jeep Wrangler Sport petrol manual $32,000
- Jeep Wrangler Sport petrol auto $34,000
- Jeep Wrangler Sport diesel manual $38,000
- Jeep Wrangler Sport diesel auto $39,000
- Jeep Wrangler Rubicon petrol manual $42,000
- Jeep Wrangler Rubicon petrol auto $44,000
Four-door Jeep Wrangler Pricing:
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited petrol manual $36,000
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 36 petrol auto $38,000
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited diesel manual $42,000
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited diesel auto $43,000
- Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited petrol manual $46,000
- Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited petrol auto $48,000