Jeep Wrangler, 2012: Rugged off-road master gets road features redesign

James Raia

Now at the end of its first decade, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is the iconic brand’s most rugged option. It features the standard seven vertical slat grille and round headlamps of all Jeeps, but it’s named after the 22-mile Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada that begins about 80 miles east of Sacramento.

The famous trail has road segments, but the rocky sections are where off-road vehicles can quickly shine or fail. if you name one of your vehicles after the trail, it should probably thrive on rutted, rugged terrain, water crossings and the unexpected proverbial fork in the road.

Since its debut in 2003, off-road enthusiasts have often commented that for handling trail adversity, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon does it best.

Yet, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon has been criticized for its plastic interior parts, under-powered engine and lack of industry standard equipment. For 2012, Jeep took notice.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The interior has been redesigned and there has been a massive increase to 285 horsepower. A five-speed automatic transmission is also new. As a result, many industry leaders call the new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon the brand’s quietest, best-equipped offering to date. And therefore it’s most adept at negotiating off-road tasks — like the Rubicon Trail.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

The Jeep Wrangler is part of the small off-road segment of vehicles likely best suited for trail use but still sold as daily drivers. The Toyota FJ Cruiser, Nissan Xtrerra and Land Rover LR4 are the Jeep Wrangler’s main rivals.

I’ve only driven the Nissan Xterra and the now the Jeep Wrangler, and neither in off-road testing. The Wrangler has a lot to offer its in specialty environment, but it doesn’t transfer well in city or highway driving — at least not for me.

With its new optional additions like heated leather seats, satellite radio and heated mirrors, Jeep has decided to offer upscale car luxuries in a working class vehicle. The options are noble upgrades.

But driving the Jeep Wrangler Rubicion with its off-road tires and part-time four-wheel drive system as a road vehicle defeats the purpose. It’s big and powerful. It guzzles gas. It’s noisy and weighs more 3,760 pounds. That’s plenty to get the job done off-road, but rather cumbersome otherwise.


Heated seats on a Jeep. Nice.

Superior sound system.

Sturdy build. Lots of locks, pulleys, toggles, detachable parts.


Fuel economy should embarrass Jeep.

Rough, sometimes unsteady ride on the freeway.

Poor rear vision with top up.

Doors attach and detach with simple hinges and cloth harnesses, and don’t lock into a secure open position.

Facts & Figures, 2012 Jeep Wrangler

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 6.7 seconds
Airbags: Seven.
Antilock brakes: Yes.
First aid kit: No.
Fuel economy: 17 mpg (city), 21 mpg (highway).
Government Safety Ratings: Not rated.
Horsepower: 285.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $29,995.00
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.jeep/wrangler.
Price As tested: $34,625.00
Warranty: Bumper to bumper; 3 years, 36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 3 years/100,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“This completes a two-year makeover that saw the interior redone for the 2011 model year, transforming the Wrangler into a rather premium entry that maintains its still affordable $22,845 base price – despite the gains in power and fuel economy.” —- AutoWeek.

“Really, the difference is just the way this dash looks and feels over the previous generation. Jeep underwent a small overhaul for the 2011 model year, but critics called it half-baked. Now, it’s finished. The materials feel high-grade, and there’s a completeness the previous model lacked.” —- The Detroit News

“The 2012 model confidently surges forward with a light press of the right pedal. Nice. With 285 horsepower, the new 3.6-liter wastes the old 3.8 and its measly 202 horsepower.” —- Automobile Magazine.

What The Wife Says:

 “like that fact that the doors and hood and roof can be detached. I also like the compass on the dash and the clean design of the instrument panel and other gauges. But it’s not my favorite for daily road use.”

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“The 2012 Jeep Cherokee is ideally suited for off-road rambling. And it’s arguably the best of class for negotiating terrain like the Rubicon Trail. It shouldn’t be purchased for any other reason, and certainly not as a daily driver.”


Article Last Updated: March 16, 2015.

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