2012 Jeep Wrangler RubiconPosted on July 2nd, 2012
Ultimate off-roading machine gains power and capability
By Nina Russin
The Rubicon is the most off-road capable of any Wrangler model. With heavy duty front and rear axles, locking front and rear differentials and extensive skid plate protection, the Rubicon can traverse terrain that pedestrians would find difficult. I can vouch for this, having slid butt-first down scree on the trail the model is named for, while trying to photograph a group of Jeeps.
This year, Jeep engineers took the Wrangler Rubicon to the next level with a new more powerful and fuel efficient engine, available five-speed automatic transmission, more aggressive rear axle ratios and a disconnecting front sway bar. The Wrangler tows up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV criteria.
Engineering updates are the second phase of a Wrangler remake which began with an all-new interior last year. The current interior has softer touch-points, improved fit and finish, and some infotainment updates, including Uconnect voice-activated media center with Bluetooth interface.
Base price for the Wrangler Rubicon is $29,995 excluding the $800 delivery charge. Options on the test car include the connectivity package described above ($385), heated leather front bucket seats ($900), a convenience group which includes power windows, remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors and power door locks ($685), five-speed automatic transmission with hill descent control ($1,125), body-color hard top, tinted windows and rear wiper ($1715), satellite radio, touchscreen display and 40 gigabyte downloadable hard drive ($1,035). MSRP is $36,640.
Test drive in Colorado
Sometimes the best laid plans go up in smoke. When I heard that I would be able to test the new Wrangler Rubicon during a weekend trip to Boulder, Colorado, I thought “What could be better?” Boulder is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts; surrounding areas are full of off-road trails.
Then the fires came. What began in the northern part of the state had spread south to envelop virtually every corner of Colorado by the time my husband and I touched down in Denver. With eight wildfires raging, heading for the hills was not only inadvisable, it was impossible due to road closures. So my weekend of driving Jeep’s ultimate off-road machine became a strictly on-road adventure.
As a result, what I can offer in this limited road test is an evaluation of how the new Rubicon handles on the highway and around town, and how well it performs at altitude.
While the Wrangler Rubicon has always been one of the best vehicle choices for serious off-road driving, the new and improved model adds much improved performance on paved roads. The new engine is a huge improvement, adding 40 percent more horsepower compared to the outgoing block. A car which was formerly anemic on the highway now has ample power to keep up, even at 6000-foot elevations.
The five-speed automatic transmission is an improvement over the four-speed unit, offering smoother shifting and some fuel economy improvement. However this writer would like to see engineers take the next step, substituting a six-speed box. The Wrangler Rubicon’s EPA-estimated 18 miles-per-gallon means that owners will still spend a lot of time at the gas pump.
Drivers unfamiliar with the Wrangler may find the steering loose. Engineers use a recirculating ball steering system rather than rack-and-pinion because it’s more durable off-road. Body-on-frame construction and live axles enhance off-road and towing performance. I don’t find the ride quality unpleasant, but buyers wanting passenger car comfort in a truck body should look elsewhere.
Features such as the removable doors and flip-down windshield make the Wrangler the animal it is. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is not a truck for everyone. The buyer is paying a lot of money for off-road capability, and by necessity, sacrificing some on-road finesse.
More refined interior
The Wrangler’s revised interior and body-color hard top make it a more stylish and practical vehicle. I am always amazed by the number of passers-by who comment on the new hard top. The Cosmos Blue exterior on the test car drew its fair share of compliments.
The hard top adds some temperature insulation as compared to the soft top. With the record-breaking heat we experienced during our weekend in Boulder, it was a nice feature to have. The hard top also has a rear window defroster, which is a must for areas with four-season climates.
The interior maintains classic Wrangler features such as the passenger-side grab bar while adding more user-friendly door handles, a soft-surface armrest, and nicer seat upholstery. Manual seat adjustments are easy to use. I don’t know that I would personally choose leather seating on a Jeep, but the seats are attractive and offer plenty of lower back support for longer drives.
Power window controls are located on the center stack, so that the doors can be removed for off-road driving. Controls for the Uconnect system and radio are easy to reach from either front seating position. A standard 115-volt power outlet is handy for plugging in games and computers out in the wilderness.
Access and egress to the rear seats is still not particularly easy. I would recommend the four-door Unlimited model to anyone who plans to travel regularly with more than two passengers.
The cargo area is quite small with the rear seats in place. It will hold two roller board suitcases, but just barely. Cyclists who plan to carry their bikes with any regularity should plan to add a rear hitch-mounted rack.
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon comes with front airbags, electronic stability and traction control, electronic roll mitigation, and hill start assist. The standard two-speed transfer case gives the driver the low gears necessary for maintaining control on uneven trail surfaces.
Jeep’s factory warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance for up to three years or 36,000 miles. Jeep builds the Wrangler at its Toledo, Ohio assembly plant.
Likes: Jeep’s most capable off-road vehicle has the ability to transverse the most challenging trails. The Wrangler’s removable doors and flip-down windshield give the driver a better view around the wheels. A new engine for the 2012 models adds some much-needed power. The body color hard top adds temperature insulation and makes the new Wrangler a head-turner.
Dislike: Small cargo area
Model: Wrangler Rubicon
Base price: $29,995
As tested: $36,640
Horsepower: 285 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 260 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 8.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 17/21 mpg city/highway2012, Best Value Offroad 2012, auto review, Jeep, performance, pricing, standard safety, Wrangler Rubicon
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