Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, 2012: Best Jeep Ever?

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Try a Coke. Better yet, try out the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Few things are more American than a bottle of Coca-Cola or a Jeep.

Jeep wisely decided to expand its line with the addition of its larger, more comfortable four-door Wrangler Unlimited in 2007. The two-door Wrangler model continued, but the Unlimited soon became — and is — the only Jeep for serious sustained road travel.

The Unlimited also became the first four-door convertible with a soft or removable hard top. It retained Jeep’s traditional features, which include a seven-slot grille and round headlights.

The Unlimited doesn’t look as sporty as the two-door Wrangler, but its 116-inch wheelbase does wonders to give it more room and to smooth out the ride. The two-door Wrangler has only a short 95.4-inch wheelbase.

The new $25,545-$33,570 Unlimited, with is part-time four-wheel-drive system, has retained the legendary off-road prowess of Jeep’s two-door Wrangler, with mountain-goat off-road prowess. You can switch to rear-wheel-drive for use on regular roads.

Jeep upgraded the Wrangler Unlimited’s interior for 2011, giving it such things as new trim and a new instrument panel with items such as a touch-screen radio, upgraded materials and automatic temperature controls.

But the big news for the 2012 Unlimited (and two-door Wrangler) are a modern 3.6-liter 24-valve, dual-overhead-camshaft V-6 with 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque — and a modern automatic transmission.

2012 Jeep Wrangler
2012 Jeep Wrangler

The new “Pentastar” engine replaces a dated 3.8-liter pushrod V-6. That engine had 202 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque, which wasn’t enough to give the 4,000-plus pound Unlimited the punch it deserved.

The refined new V-6 — also found in Jeep’s top-line Grand Cherokee — is smoother and quieter than the old V-6. It provides much stronger  acceleration, although it’s noisy during full-throttle operation. The 0-60 mph time is officially 8.4 seconds.

The Unlimited’s old, dated four-speed automatic transmission has been tossed, replaced by a responsive, five-speed automatic with overdrive — also shared with the Grand Cherokee.

The new transmission allows more refined shifting and gear selection. By increasing the number of speeds from four to five, the automatic lets the engine operate in a more efficient RPM range to help increase fuel economy and remain in the torque curve for better acceleration. Also, a lower first-gear ratio in the new automatic gives the Wrangler better off-road capability via a lower overall “crawl” ratio.

However, you can still get the Unlimited with a six-speed manual gearbox with overdrive. The manual marks the first application of a six-speed manual with the new Pentastar V-6.

Fuel economy isn’t a strong point of the Unlimited, largely because it weighs from 4,075 pounds with a manual and up to 4,340 pounds for the top line Wrangler Unlimited Rubican with four-wheel-drive and an automatic-transmission. I tested the top-line Wrangler with those features.

The new V-6 gives the four-wheel-drive Unlimited an estimated 16 mpg in the city and 20 on highways with the automatic and 16 and 21 with the manual — an improvement from the 15 city and 19 highway figures of the old V-6.

The Unlimited has heavy, rather dead steering and a firm but reasonably compliant ride despite rigid front and rear axles for tackling really rough terrain. Such suspension refinements as lower spring rates help out here.

Handling is decent for a tall, heavy vehicle designed to be at home both on roads and  tough off-road driving , although there’s some body sway when moving fast through curves  The brake pedal has a progressive action and controls four-wheel anti-lock brakes.

Standard Unlimited features include electronic stability control and electronic roll mitigation. Trailer-sway control, hill-start assist and brake traction control are among available safety and security features.

Outside door handles have bothersome pushbuttons. And it takes extra effort to get in and out of the Unlimited because of its high floor and narrow rear-door openings. But occupants sit high, and there’s acceptable room for four 6-footers. The interior is quiet, except for some wind noise.

Large outside mirrors help driver visibility, and gauges can be easily read. Controls work smoothly. Front seats provide good lateral support. The front console has a roomy storage bin, but cupholders are located too low in it. Round air circulation vents are well-placed.

The Jeep stays connected with “Uconnect” systems, including voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming audio, navigation and Sirius XM satellite radio.

The tailgate has a flip-up glass section and swings open to the right to reveal a large cargo area, which can be enlarged by flipping the rear seatbacks forward.

In all, the new Wrangler Unlimited carries on the Jeep tradition in fine style.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit his website, www.danjedlicka.com.

 

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