When the Wrangler was redesigned for its current generation (aka JK), the iconic SUV saw its road test score more than triple. The larger, more powerful Wrangler had joined the 21st-century, though it remained a trail-bred machine lumbering in a world now dominated by civilized crossovers. As Chrysler Corp. has rapidly updated its models on this side of bankruptcy, we were interested to see if the new touches applied to the Wrangler could elevate its standing.
To ensure we sampled the full breadth of the updates, we bought a well-equipped 2012 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara. No longer are barebones two-door models in favor. Instead, sales skew toward feature-laden four-door models. Ours stickered at $36,340, and it wouldn’t be hard to nudge up to $40,000, at which point there are many alternatives far better suited to suburbia.
But clearly, Jeep buyers are drawn to the heritage, mystique, rugged looks, and go-anywhere ability that the Wrangler offers. It is very telling that the Wrangler has, indeed, become more civilized, with subtle touches through the interior to better approximate what consumers would find in competing models. Our tester has power heated mirrors, heated seats, iPod control, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, and remote start—features that long seemed inconceivable.
Still, the Wrangler remains outdated. The ride is jiggly, handling clumsy, steering vague, and stopping distances long. The 285-hp, 3.6-liter V6 is a vast improvement over the ancient 3.8-liter V6 it replaced. It moves the large Wrangler pretty well, but this Pentastar engine still has to work hard. And fuel economy still isn’t a strong suit.
Arguably, many people buy a Wrangler for allure of its off-road potential. To live that dream, some on-road sacrifices have to be made. We’d bet, though, that even ardent trail blazers will likely spend the vast majority of their time driving on pavement.
While the Wrangler can perform off-road feats, we were disappointed in how our Unlimited Sahara struggled on our punishing rock hill. The culprit was tire traction. We had much better adventures in mud and sand.
Handsome as the Wrangler is, the traditional body configuration makes for challenging ingress and egress, with small door openings, no door checks to keep them open, and a high step-in. Of course, the upside is that the doors can be removed for an open driving experience. The top features convenient panels up front that can be taken out for a large opening, without wrestling with the full hard top. However, the top does not have a sound- and weather-insulating headliner, as with nearly every other vehicle on the road, so noise and temperature are readily transmitted to the cabin.
Overall, this is the most polished Jeep Wrangler to date, with many features to ease the transition from a more conventional vehicle. With its numerous tweaks and new V6 engine, the Wrangler has earned a higher road test score, but it still remains the lowest-ranked model in our ratings of over 300 models.
Check out the video below to see the Jeep Wrangler in action, and read our complete road test for more detailed insights.