Extended drive: 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4X4Posted on December 29th, 2011
Off-road legend gains some urban chops
By Nina Russin
Last fall, Jeep introduced the newest Wrangler: the four-by-four which, so to speak, started it all. The Wrangler’s roots date back to 1941, having been used for military purposes in World War II. Having driven the 2012 model on dirt roads and trails in the Tillamook National Forest, I feel comfortable in saying that none of the car’s legendary off-road capability has changed.
From a practical point of view, the Wrangler needs to do more than shine off-road. With a MSRP beginning over $25,000 for the four-door model, it must be capable of serving as its owner’s only car. Realizing that, Jeep engineers focused as much on raising the 2012 model’s on-road performance as its off-road capability.
Changes began with a more powerful V-6 engine, which lowers the Wrangler’s zero-to-sixty acceleration time by three seconds. The Pentastar V-6, which first appeared in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, delivers 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque: improvements of 40 and ten percent respectively over the old engine. For drivers merging from toll booths or entry ramps into rush hour traffic, the benefits of the power increase are huge.
Side and rear glass areas are larger to improve visibility around the exterior. A lockable storage area for the hard top and bolts is a boon for urbanites. There are also two lockable storage areas in the passenger compartment: a glovebox and center console bin.
Enhanced fit-and-finish and soft-touch surfaces make the Wrangler’s interior more appealing. Automatic climate control, heated seats, power mirrors and redundant steering wheel controls are important creature comforts. Bluetooth interface, satellite radio and UConnect appeal to tech-savvy buyers.
Four available grades with two or four doors
Pricing for the base Wrangler Sport and Sport S remain the same as the outgoing model: beginning at $22,045 for the two-door version, and $25,545 for the four-door car. Upscale Sahara and Rubicon grades are slightly more expensive than the models they replace. The four-door Rubicon is the most expensive model, beginning at $33,570.
The two-door Sahara 4X4 tested starts at $27,970, not including an $800 destination charge. Leather upholstery with heated front seats adds $900, while a connectivity package costs $385. Substituting a five-speed automatic transmission for the standard six-speed manual adds $1,125. Other options on the test car include a limited slip rear differential ($295), body color three-piece hard top ($1715), navigation with audio upgrade ($1035) and remote start ($200), bringing the price as tested to $34,425.
Embracing the 40-hour work week
Having driven the new Wrangler off-road last fall, I spent this week using the car as an urban commuter might. I wanted to see how the new engine performed, both in terms of power and fuel economy, how well the interior functioned, and how functional the two-door model’s cargo area was.
I put about 150 miles on the car, including suburban and urban surface streets and highways throughout the Phoenix metro area. I also drove a section of the Bush Highway east of Phoenix, to see how the suspension would handle its challenging paved roads.
Engineers are justified in taking pride in their newest Jeep. The more powerful engine, enhanced fit and finish, new safety and infotainment features make the Wrangler a more versatile car, which delivers more value.
The Pentastar V-6 engine makes a tremendous difference, for off-the-line acceleration and high-load situations such as uphill grades and passing. Although a six-speed automatic transmission would have enhanced fuel economy more than the available five-speed unit, gas mileage is pretty good. I averaged 19.8 miles-per-gallon on the test drive: close to two mpg better than the EPA estimate.
Improvements in fit and finish have reduced noise intrusion to the interior, which is important for drivers carrying passengers or who use their vehicles to conduct business. There’s still some sway in the ride due in part to the live axles, but handling on the highway is more solid. I felt perfectly comfortable cruising at speeds up to 75 miles-per-hour and powering through some decreasing radius turns.
Visibility to the rear of the car is better than most current sport-utility vehicles and crossovers, simply because the D pillars are narrow. It’s refreshing. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clear in rain and snow. As with all high profile vehicles, there’s a larger blind spot below the rear glass: something parents of small children should be mindful of.
On the flip side, the Wrangler’s relatively thick B pillars limit visibility over the driver’s left shoulder. Large side mirrors make it easy to monitor traffic in the adjacent lanes.
Engineers use a recirculating ball steering system in lieu of rack-and-pinion. This contributes to the floating feel which Wranglers have: in other words, the driver feels slightly disconnected from the wheels. While the older type of steering mechanism lacks the precise feel of rack-and-pinion, it’s a more compact design and more robust for extreme off-road trails.
Monotube shocks come standard with the 18-inch wheels on the Sahara. They have a firmer rebound than gas-charged shocks, which enhances performance when driving aggressively either on or off-road. Four-channel antilock braking helps the driver to maintain directional control in wet weather.
While the Wrangler’s exterior retains the vehicle’s classic styling cues, the interior is clearly of a 21st century car. While I’m not a huge fan of in-car navigation because of the price, the Wrangler system is a game-changer. Not only are the graphics extremely easy to follow, but Jeep engineers added some important extras, such as a compass and altimeter, actual speed and posted speed limits.
The altimeter’s a great feature for athletes heading off to the trails and wondering how hard their lungs will be working. It also helps when estimating how much fuel will be needed, since cars tend to lose gas mileage when they climb.
The five-speed automatic transmission shifts on the floor, and includes a manual gear select option. A second lever on the center console enables the driver to shift between two-wheel, four-wheel high and four-wheel low settings without going outside the vehicle.
Redundant steering wheel controls include audio, Bluetooth and an information screen which includes elapsed time, distance, range, real-time and average fuel economy.
I found the manual seat adjustments easy to use. The driver’s seat had adequate lower lumbar support for a road trip lasting about two hours.
Temperature and audio controls in the center stack are intuitive to operate and easy to reach from either front seating position. Both rows of passengers have access to cupholders in and behind the center console bin. There are two twelve-volt power points for recharging electronic devices.
Anybody planning to travel with more than one passenger on a regular basis should seriously consider the four-door Wrangler Unlimited. Access and egress to the rear seats is not particularly good. Because the rear seats are located directly over the axle legroom in back is somewhat limited.
The tailgate is hinged to the side, making the back door easier for smaller drivers to operate. The two-door Wrangler does not have much storage room behind the rear seats. The back seats fold flat, but the seat pivot point is several inches above the cargo floor, making it more difficult to load in large items. Cyclists might want to consider either the Jeep Liberty or Grand Cherokee, both of which have significantly larger cargo areas.
The Jeep Wrangler comes with front and side airbags, knee bolsters for the driver and front passenger, electronic stability control with roll mitigation, antilock braking, hill start assist, keyless entry and start.
Jeep builds the Wrangler at its Toledo, Ohio assembly plant.
Likes: With its new, more powerful engine, enhanced fit and finish and redesigned interior, the 2012 Wrangler functions well as an urban commuter with no compromise to its off-road capability.
Dislikes: Difficult access and egress to second-row seats. Lack of cargo space with second-row seats in place.
Model: Wrangler Sahara 4X4
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
One response to “Extended drive: 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4X4”
One of the funnest jeeps to off road with. The two-door Sahara 4X4 handles itself with ease on all terrain. I have been driving Jeeps since 2004 and this is by far the best jeep i have riding in.
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