Jeep has such a storied history while also being the one brand most synonymous with offroad. For nearly half a century the iconic runabout carried American servicemen and women to and from their assigned posts and in recent decades the Jeep Wrangler has garnered more “best of” awards in the offroad segment than all competitors combined.
Several years back Jeep decided to expand the platform a bit, stretching the chassis from two doors to four, giving birth to the Wrangler Unlimited. We had seen Jeep use the name Unlimited on its Wrangler model lineup prior to that, but never before had it been more appropriate. Jeep finally offered a true four-door Wrangler model dubbed Unlimited and available in more versions than ever before.
In addition to the option of an extra pair of doors, Jeep also chose that time to for Wrangler to receive stiffer frame and body components as well as new steering and suspension geometry.
In 2011, Jeep “modernized” its interior packages on Wrangler models utilizing upgraded materials, automatic climate controls, heated seating, power mirrors and steering wheel controls. Rear windows were also made larger and redesigned for greater visibility.
And for 2012, the most “awesomest” news perhaps to date – the addition of the new Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 engine that brings much more power, smoother operation and better fuel economy to the Wrangler platform.
Jeep offers Wranglers in two- and four-door models in a choice of 4×2 and 4×4 running gear, some aimed at the hip urban crowd who will never venture out of the city or off campus, and others for those who have made Jeep a household name (especially if your house is in Colorado).
The Jeep of today offers almost all of the modern amenities – power windows and locks, ABS brakes, electronic stability program, traction control, electronic roll mitigation, limited slip rear differential and an electronic front sway bar disconnect.
True to its roots though, Jeep still outfits their offroaders with heavy-duty Dana locking front and rear axles, rock rails, underbody skid plate protection, front and rear tow hooks, sport bar with full padding and 17- or 18-inch machined cast aluminum wheels with up to 32-inch mud and snow tires (with a fullsize spare mounted on back, of course).
Thank goodness Jeep has given the Wrangler full-frame metal doors with glass side windows – those zip around plastic ones of years past were a real pain in the drive-thru not to mention flapping like crazy in the wind.
The recent Wrangler we tested came with the optional three-piece Freedom top hardtop bolted on. The soft Sunrider top can still be included and folded back in the rear cargo area should consumers choose to change roofs every once in a while. I noticed the doors are still removable even with their modern power features.
Our Jeep Wrangler Sahara was quiet on the road with very little wind noise despite it feeling like a bit of a plow in head-on gusts. Inside there is plenty of room for front and rear seat passengers although two-door Wrangler models require rear occupants to demonstrate some acrobatic ability to climb back there.
The new Jeep Wrangler looks good sitting still or crawling over an outcropping of rocks. I actually prefer the styling of Unlimited Wranglers over the two-door models but Jeep purists may quickly disagree. And speaking of Jeep purists, I recently read a plea from a northern journalist asking Jeep to “fix” a few things on the Wrangler such as eliminating the folding front windshield and affixing the doors so they are not so easy to remove.
Balderdash! Jeep makes models that fall under your insolent demands but the Wrangler adheres to the Jeep principle of “go anywhere/do anything.”
Pricing for our test model 2012 Wrangler Sahara 4×4 starts at $27,970 and after a few add-ons, stickers out at just under 33 grand. Fuel economy for the new 285hp Pentastar engine (backed by six-speed manual gearbox in our tester) was 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway.
After 70 years, Jeep is still the one.