2012 Jeep Wrangler Long Term Road Test


2012 Jeep Wrangler in Moab: Driving Other Jeeps

April 06, 2012

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Our trusty 2012 Jeep Wrangler sat parked at a nearby ranch while I went off to drive other Jeeps. And these were not just any Jeeps, they were Jeep and Mopar concept and show vehicles put together for this event.

A light dusting of snow fell overnight in the higher elevations, but that tapered off to a light drizzle as we left the ranch.

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The Jeep Mighty FC Concept harks back to the forward control Jeeps built in the late 50's and early 60's. Thing is, this one was built from a 2012 JK Jeep Wrangler 2-door like ours. Well, it started out that way; the front half of the frame was lengthed to pull the axle forward while leaving the engine behind.

Squint real hard and you'll see the windshield, A-pillars and doors are identical to ours. The roof panels come from the factory hardtop and the back half of the cab comes for the JK8 pickup conversion kit that Mopar already sells. Inside, the dash looks just like our Wrangler, but it sits much closer to the driver; I barely fit. The Mighty FC Concept is an automatic because there's not enough space to work a clutch pedal.

Someone said it's a carinval ride, and they're right. Sitting this far forward you see nothing but sky when cresting a hill. Downhill, especially when the slickrock transistions back to flat, all you see is the cold hard earth directly ahead as your forward-hanging feet, which reside just below those headlights, feel like they're going to Fred Flintstone the into ground.

They could never build this, of course; a frontal impact would not be pretty. But that's not the point of the Mighty FC. It's pure awesome, pure fun, pure OMG.

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But the FC isn't merely a design exercise. The FC's so-called portal axles are something you can actually buy from Mopar. But you'd better be quite serious because you'll pay $12,500 for the front one and $11,000 for the rear. Yes, a pair of these axles costs almost as much as our entire Jeep.

Notice that the axle centerline sits far above the wheel cetner. This dramatically increases ground clearance -- I didn't measure it, but there's at least 5 inches of offset there. Furthermore, each hub also features a 1.5-to-1 gear reduction. With 4.56-to-1 gears in the front and rear differentials, this additional hub reduction brings the effective final drive ratio to a staggering 6.84-to-1.

The hubs are so big that two smaller brake calipers (gray, at 4:30 o'clock and 7:30 o'clock) are used per wheel instead of the usual one.

Unsprung weight of course is off the charts, but who cares when extreme low-speed rock crawling is your primary reason for existence?

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The FC's engine sits well behind the front axle. I believe the new wheelbase is 117 inches. A 2-door JK starts out life at 95.4 inches, so they've added almost 22 inches ahead of the front motor mounts.

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This JK8 conversion kit, allows a Wrangler 4-door to be morphed into a pickup, and the result is way cool. The back of the cab, which is the same part we just saw on the Mighty FC Concept, provides plenty of storage behind the front seats.

The kit costs $5,499 (plus installation) and comes with a 3-year 36 kilomile warranty when installed at a Chrysler group dealership. I don't know if I'd install such a kit on a brand new JK, but it also works on used ones dating back to 2007. Mopar has apparently had several hundred takers so far. I've been seeing quite a few running around Moab. 

The strong interest Jeep has seen makes it quite possible that a factory-built pickup version of the next generation Jeep might see the light of day when it breaks cover in a couple-few years. If that comes to pass you might see me buying one.

Incidentally, those high clearance fenders and the rock rails are not part of the kit -- they're yet another Mopar Jeep part. For my money, I'll keep running the stock fenders unless and until a rock tears one off, but the rock rails are high on my to-do list.

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This one is called the Traildozer, and not just because it's painted Dozer Clearcoat, one of Jeep's newer colors and the second of two shades of orange you can get. No, the thing to note here is the 470-horsepower 6.4-liter HEMI V8 stuffed under the hood and the incredible noises it makes.

The Pentastar V6 in our 2012 JK has plenty of power and torque to work with and doesn't beg for an engine swap, which is fortunate because the AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) kit only works for 2007-2011 JKs anyway. Owners of the anemic 2007-2011 V6 are much more in need of such Hemi-fication, and for them AEV sells this kit for $5,299. That figure does not, however, include the actual HEMI V8 engine itself or the transmission necessary to handle all of its power and torque.

And so the floppy 6-speed manual we have in our Jeep has been replaced here by the Getrag 6-speed manual that comes in a Dodge Dakota. To me that's a huge difference. For one, the shift lever does not flop around over bumps and smack me in the thigh. Also, the more close-set gates are well-defined and the lever snicks into place much more accurately. I almost appreciate this tranny upgrade more than the V8 power. Almost.

There were a couple of other modded Jeeps on hand, but I didn't have time to drive them. Clearly, though, Jeep and Mopar have a lot of tricks up their sleeve and they enjoy tweaking the formula to keep the Jeepers at Moab on their toes.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 13,201 miles 

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