2012 Wrangler Unlimited Review

Offroad in the wilds of Faqa

By Imthishan Giado

2012 Jeep Wrangler

We’ve already driven the new Wrangler offroad in the insanity that was the Jeep Jamboree earlier this year. Away from the desert, how does it fare in the real world? Click through to find out.

For those who’re joining a bit late, here’s a quick recap. In 2010, the Wrangler finally got a new more upscale interior, bringing the American icon kicking and screaming into the 21st century and adding all manner of modcons from Bluetooth audio to har drive-based navigation. That would have been enough, but last year was the real event, when Jeep at long last chucked out the old boat anchor minivan engine in favour of the Pentastar 3.8-litre V6, a 280bhp powerhouse mated to the rock-of-ages five-speed automatic that Mercedes kindly left behind for the boys in Auburn Hills.

That engine totally transforms the character of the Wrangler and makes it far more livable on a daily basis. Where the old car struggled on the highway, the new one is far more adept at reaching cruising speeds with plenty of torque down low in the rev range – necessary for a working truck like this one. It even makes a great noise, intake rasp smoothly transitioning into a deep-chested roar at the top end. Make no mistake, this is a great motor.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

Who left the door open?

On the road, the gearbox is not quite as persuasive. Around town, it’s smooth and unobtrusive but it’s prone to hunting for gears on hills, swapping between fourth and fifth a little too often for my liking. Fortunately, you can control the transmission logic yourself by tapping the gearlever either left or right for downshifts and upshifts respectively and it’ll hold gears all the way to redline if necessary.

All the improvements may collectively add up to a better Wrangler, but at its heart this is still a vehicle that is over 50 years old and that means you’ll have to learn to live with its somewhat quirky nature. For instance, that rear wheel carrier blocks vision pretty effectively out back. Then there’s the fact that there’s nowhere to rest your left leg in the manual version (the automatic is fine) or the lack of cubbies in the cabin for drinks bottles and so on. Not much luggage space either for bikes and your other adventure gear, unless you get the Unlimited four-door version I’m driving, which also delivers surprisingly acceptable rear leg room for six-foot-plus passengers.

And then there’s the driving experience, which is erm, interesting. Those of you used to Japanese or European-style 4WDs will be positively shocked the first time you get behind the wheel of the Wrangler. Mostly because that wheel constantly wanders around; keeping the car pointed straight is a fulltime job. With solid axles front and rear, the concept of handling simply doesn’t exist, the Wrangler lumbering through corners with all the grace of a pregnant whale. Brakes? Only just strong enough to bring the car home to a stop, and there’s an awful lot of pitch and wallow in the process.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been improvements made. This year’s suspension updates have brought a much more composed ride, with less pitching and wallowing than before thanks to stiffer shocks and springs. Hit a bump hard and the Wrangler is less likely to do a bunny hop than before, although that could well be due to its fairly hefty ???? body weight.

Naturally, all these concerns and nitpicks fade completely into insignificance when you take the Wrangler offroad, the place where this icons feels most alive. For this round, I took the Unlimited into the soft sands of Faqa on the periphery of Al Ain. Soft enough to trap bigger 4x4s like the Patrol and the Prado, but not the Wrangler, which cruised through in second gear. Speaking of the gearbox, it proves its mettle offroad; unlike Toyota boxes for instance, it’s not a preselector unit and will actually start in second if you choose that gear, handy if you want to avoid digging a hole with those meaty 18” rims.

While the Pentastar aces big climbs with high end power and low end torque, sidesloping is a different matter. First gear is too short – causing you to dig – and second too long, so on a steep dune keeping the engine in the sweet spot without the aid of a manual gearbox can be tricky. For those situations, it’s best to slip in low range and pick either third or fourth, which is the perfect gear for nearly every situation. Or alternatively, you can ask your Jeep dealer for 3.21 gears when you order your car, although be warned, fuel economy will take a hit.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

Doing it wrong!

Verdict

It’s easy to say that the Wrangler hasn’t evolved enough with the times. It’s still a rough riding, noisy, quirky steering offroad adventure machine and unrepentantly so. But in this age of dumbed down driving and computers watching our every move for signs of dissent, we should be grateful that someone still makes a car that is built to go anywhere, require a firm hand at the wheel and take one hell of a beating on the way. It’s the automotive equivalent of a faithful dog, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our first drive of the Wrangler Unlimited at the Jeep Jamboree in December

Video from the Jeep Jamboree

Specs
2012 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Price: AED155,000 ($42,190)
Engine: 3604cc, six-cylinder, 285bhp @ 6400, 260lb ft @ 4800
Performance: 0-100kph 8.8 seconds, 160kph (limited), 12.3L/100km
Transmission: five-speed auto, rear wheel drive and full-time-wheel drive
Weight: 1973kg

Imthishan’s verdict: The original rough rider – may it never change

2 responses to “2012 Wrangler Unlimited Review”

  1. Paritosh says:

    Hi,

    I was just browsing the net for automotive stuff (which I do for 99% of the time of my life, if there is anything above being a petrol-head, may be a twin-turbo petrol head or something, i am the one :)) and came across your site. (That was one long sentence!). Firstly, I must appreciate the way you guys write stuff.. i mean i have read literally tonnes of motor-mags, reviews but you guys are awesome! Keep up the amazing articles!

    And the thing for which I actually started writing this, please shift the JEEP WRANGLER review from ‘MAZDA’ section to ‘JEEP’ section. 🙂

    • admin says:

      [Shahzad] Thanks for your kind comments Paritosh! And thanks for alerting us to the mistake. I’ve corrected it now.

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