LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – With a powerful new V6 engine under its hood to match a freshened interior, the 2012 Jeep Wranger was a natural choice on a chilly January day to take for a test drive.
An off-road legend since 1941, the Jeep is pretty much the most off-road capable machine an urbanite will ever park in a driveway.
Long the whipping boy of Consumer Reports, which consistently rates it at the bottom of its rankings, the Jeep Wrangler is the choice of those who love going off the beaten path, fording streams and climbing steep, boulder-filled inclines.
This Jeep is no pretender or poseur – it’s a car for the hard-core off-road enthusiast.
But it’s also highly civilized on-road which makes me wonder what the Consumer Reports people are spiking their coffee with.
I would without hesitation use the Wrangler as my only set of wheels.
That 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 with variable valve timing produces 285 horsepower – a 40 per cent improvement over last year’s 3.8-litre V6 – and 260 lb. feet of torque.
Mated to an optional five-speed automatic transmission – a four-speed was only available in previous years – the Wranger Sahara Unlimited four-door provided for a test has fuel economy of 13.45 litres per 100 kilometres city and 10 l/100 km highway. That is a 15 per cent improvement over the previous Wrangler. A Wrangler Unlimited with the standard six-speed manual squeezes about half a kilometre more per litre (one more mile per gallon) out of the Pentastar on the highway.
This week’s black Sahara Unlimited tester is one of several models in the Wrangler stable. The other models are the base Sport and top-of-the-line off-road ace, the Rubicon.
Jeep is on the money when it says the Sahara is “the right mix of capability, style and comfort.” The tester is equipped with the optional chrome package that includes chromed tubular side steps, exhaust tips, fuel filler door and tail lamp guards.
It also is equipped with the optional UConnect Media Centre package that includes an easy-to-use Garmin navigation system, Sirius Satellite radio, 30-gigabyte hard drive and 16.5-centimetre touchscreen in addition to the Unlimited’s standard six-speaker Infinity 368-watt sound system with redundant audio controls on the steering wheel.
For a price of $41,455, the tester has heated cloth seats and Jeep’s Dual Top Group which includes a three-piece removable hardtop that can be removed quickly in three separate pieces (each being stored on the spare tire) and the Sunrider soft top that can be folded partially or completely away.
And of course, the Sahara has four removable doors and a windshield that can be flipped down. The so-called Freedom Top hardtop is nifty because it allows drivers to have as much open air as they want, transforming the Wrangler into a Targa with the front two portions removed or a full-blown convertible with the rear section removed.
The four-door’s cabin is very roomy with plenty of head and shoulder room in both rows and decent legroom – 94.5 centimetres – in the back where three adults will easily fit in comfort.
“Comfort” is not necessarily a word that may have applied to older Wranglers, but times have changed. This Jeep is civilized on the highway with a firm yet pleasant ride and far less wind noise than one would expect from the removable roof panels.
This Unlimited has power everything, a USB port, 115-volt power outlet, heated exterior mirrors, automatic headlamps, a heavy-duty suspension with gas-charged shocks and body-coloured fender flares.
The tester also has automatic climate control and the Trailer Tow group with sway control, Class II receiver hitch and four-pin connector wiring.
The tester also is equipped with hill start assist and hill descent control and electronic stability control and Jeep’s tried-and-true Command-Trac four-wheel-drive system.
Ingress and egress to the high-riding Wrangler may well require use of the standard side-steps, but once inside, passengers will be impressed with the modern cabin and soft-touch surfaces. Being a Jeep, the Wrangler does have a bar above the glove box for passengers to hold onto when the going gets rough.
While the steering wheel doesn’t telescope, most drivers should find a comfortable position. A centre armrest has two sections including a deep storage bin.
The Wrangler offers a commanding view of the road and has great visibility even with the huge spare tire carrier connected to the rear door.
For off-roading, the Wrangler has a removable carpet and an easy-wash interior with drain plugs. The rear seat can also be quickly removed for more cargo room. Tow hooks front and rear will enable the Wrangler owner to rescue lesser vehicles when they attempt terrain meant for a Jeep.
Despite its off-road prowess, the Wrangler is a smooth sailor on the highway. I was impressed with the quiet cabin and the performance of that Pentastar V6. Like the flagship Grand Cherokee, the Wrangler is an off-roader that will also keep passengers happy and comfortable for many hours on the highway, too.
With a 1,590-kilogram towing capacity, the Wrangler is capable of hauling a good-sized boat or travel trailer to points well beyond the urban jungle.
As Jeep says in its promotional literature, with the Wrangler “the adventure never ends.” And thanks to its civility, the adventure is nothing to fear.