2012 Jeep Wrangler SaharaPosted on August 21st, 2011
Iconic model is all-new from the inside out
By Nina Russin
Nothing says “four wheeling” quite the way a Jeep Wrangler does. Beginning in 2011 Jeep restyled the Wrangler’s interior and exterior, adding an available body-color hard top and fenders for the upscale Sahara. Designers made touch points on the interior, such as the door handles and center console cover, softer and more user-friendly. Buyers can continue to opt for cloth upholstery or upgrade to leather.
The big news for 2012 is the Wrangler’s Pentastar V-6 engine: the same block which debuted on the 2011 Grand Cherokee. The engine improves the Wrangler’s performance in every way compared to the outgoing 3.8-liter block. It is lighter, offers better fuel economy and more power, with enhanced low-end torque.
An 8.4-second zero-to-sixty acceleration time is a three second improvement over the 2011 models. The 2012 Wrangler can tow up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum standard.
Buyers can choose between a five-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection and a six-speed manual gearbox. Both two and four-door models come in four grades: the base Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon.
Pricing for both the Sport and Sport S remains unchanged from 2011: beginning at $22,045 and $24,245 respectively. Prices for the two-door Sahara increased $225 to $27,970, while a $175 increase on the two-door Rubicon brings the MSRP to $29,995.
The four-door Sahara climbs $300 to $30,745, while the Unlimited Rubicon starts $250 high than the 2011 model, at $33,570. Prices do not include an $800 delivery charge.
Heritage design with high-tech amenities
Designers maintained the Wrangler’s round headlamps and seven-slot grille, both of which date back to Jeep’s heritage as a World War II military vehicle. A small emblem at the top of the windshield uses the same elements as decoration.
Functionally, the Wrangler retains its the removable doors, flip-down windows and drain holes in the floor, which enable the driver to hose the interior out. A new storage area in back holds bolts for the top when it’s removed.
Live front and rear axles are better suited for extreme off-road driving than an independent suspension. Ample approach and departure angles, and 10.6 inches of ground clearance enable the Wrangler to climb and descend steep grades.
On the flip side, interior designers recognized the need for high-tech features such as 12-volt power outlets for recharging portable electronic devices, a 115-volt outlet for plugging in games and computers, and an optional connectivity system. The connectivity package adds voice-activated Bluetooth interface, Bluetooth streaming audio and satellite radio. Buyers who opt for navigation can get real-time weather and traffic updates through Sirius as well.
Improvements in fit and finish throughout the interior and small changes in the cargo area make the 2012 Wrangler better suited for carrying families and commuting than earlier models. There are more storage areas around the passenger compartment and larger cupholders. Open storage bins have rubber mats in the bottom so items can’t shift around on uneven terrain.
Although the exterior retains the same shape and basic features, the rear window is larger for enhanced visibility.
Test drive in Oregon
Jeep invited a group of journalists to test drive the 2012 Wranglers in Portland Oregon and the Tillamook national forest. The route included urban traffic, some two and four-lane paved mountain roads, ungraded mountain roads and a challenging off-road trail.
The test car is the two-door Wrangler Sahara, priced from $27,970. Options include the connectivity package, leather interior, locking front differential and remote start, bringing the price as tested to $34,425.
Although it’s still Jeep’s most competent off-road vehicle, the new Wrangler’s on-road performance has improved significantly. The Pentastar engine performs smoothly and offers significantly better acceleration than the outgoing block. This is especially noticeable merging into rush hour freeway traffic.
The engine is slightly detuned on the high end, producing 285 horsepower as compared to 290 on the Grand Cherokee. Engineers did this to improve low-end-torque for off-road performance.
I was disappointed that Jeep maintained the five-speed automatic transmission rather than going with a six-speed block. It is a cost-containment measure in lieu of other investments in the platform. The gearbox transitions smoothly between the gears and doesn’t hunt.
But it can’t match a six-speed unit for fuel economy. The additional gear would also enhance performance in the low range off-road.
A recirculating ball power steering system doesn’t have the precise feedback of rack-and-pinion, but is much more durable off-road. Although the car might feel “floaty” in the corners, it is actually quite solid, thanks to stabilizer bars on both axles. The driver can decouple the stabilizer bars to provide more wheel travel on off-road trails.
Visibility around the car’s perimeter is much better than the outgoing model thanks to the larger rear glass. There are still blind spots in the rear corners, but decent side mirrors and good over-the-shoulder visibility helps to compensate.
Mean off-road machine
Extreme off-road trails are what the Jeep Wrangler is designed for, and it excels in its ability to traverse them. Being able to remove the doors enables the driver and front passenger to monitor rocks near the wheels. The flip-down windshield enhances forward visibility.
Our off-road trail included severe ascents and descents, with some large boulders and the occasional deep hole thrown in for good measure. The only thing the trail didn’t test was the car’s water-fording capabilities.
Unlike the Jeeps of old, the new Wrangler has all the tools the driver’s needs right at his fingertips: there’s no need to exit the car to lock or unlock either the front or rear differential. The shift lever for the four-wheel drive system is located next to the gearshift, and operates as long as the car is in neutral with the parking brake employed.
As a runner, I’ve developed an appreciation for adventures with no destination in mind. It’s the journey that matters. Sitting atop a peak in the Tillamook national forest, I was able to see across several mountain valleys full of wildflowers and Ponderosa pines. It’s the sort of thing I never get tired of.
There’s something almost decadent about listening to satellite radio in the middle of nowhere. I have to admit, it’s really cool.
Although the two-door Wrangler is slightly more maneuverable off-road, the four-door version adds a lot of function for active families. It’s much easier for passengers to get into the second-row seats and they have additional legroom, thanks to a 12-inch longer wheelbase.
Designers did a good job designing storage areas around the interior considering certain limitations. For example, the removable doors preclude bottle holders, but the cupholders in the center console can easily accommodate large water bottles. Both the glovebox and center console bins lock, providing secure storage when the top is removed.
Window switches are on the center stack. The location takes some getting used to, but is easy to reach from both front seating positions.
Climate and audio controls are easy to reach and intuitive to operate.
The cargo area is necessarily small in order to minimize the car’s wheelbase. Cyclists who want to stash their bikes inside their vehicles would be better served by the larger Jeep Liberty or Grand Cherokee.
The Jeep Wrangler comes with front airbags, four-channel antilock brakes, traction and stability control with roll mitigation. Hill start assist prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards when accelerating from a stop on a steep grade.
An accident response system shuts off fuel delivery to the engine when the airbags deploy, unlocks the doors and turns on the interior lights.
Jeep builds the Wrangler at its Toledo, Ohio assembly plant.
Likes: A sport-utility vehicle with extreme off-road capability. The new engine, together with improvements to the interior’s fit, finish and convenience features makes the Jeep Wrangler more versatile, especially for active families.
Dislike: Five-speed automatic transmission can’t match a six-speed unit for fuel economy.
Model: Wrangler Sahara
Base price: $27,970
As tested: $34,425
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/highway
5 responses to “2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara”
Has the problem of death wobble solved on 2012 ? It happend to me on the Free way, was lucky it was late night and less traffic.
We drove the car pretty hard on both highways and mountain roads, and it was stable. As I mentioned in the story, the Wrangler’s transmission and steering have to be designed to withstand extreme off-road trails, which means that they aren’t as smooth as passenger cars designed for paved roads only. But I feel that the car is quite safe and solid on the road, including high-speed driving.
CLBIII November 14th, 2011 at 20:09
I am seriously considering purchasing one of these American legends, it is now (in relative terms and historic context) refined enough to almost be considered mainstream in design.But, it still elucidates that off-road brawn it’s always had! ‘Nuff said!
Hi. Is the Jeep Sahara Wrangler good to drive on streets and freeways? I’m not planning to use this jeep for off roading. Any comments will be appreciated. Ty,
The new Wrangler is a much better vehicle on-road than the model it replaces in my opinion. The new engine gives the Wrangler much better acceleration in the 0-60 and 20-50 ranges. Having said that, it seems kind of a waste not to at least try taking a Wrangler off-road, because of its outstanding capability on really rough trails. You might want to think about attending one of the Jeep Jamboree events where you can learn some of the basic techniques from off-roading experts.
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