If you think the eggheads in Stuttgart labor over every change to the Porsche 911, imagine what the Jeep guys go through when it comes time to take the scalpel to the Wrangler.
Traditionalists, being traditional, loathe change, and the 2012 Jeep Wrangler entails the plucking of the Wrangler's very beating heart for a new and improved unit. You can almost hear the traditionalists gasping for air.
One run through the gears of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler is all that's needed to prove that the traditionalists can relax. There's nothing to worry about. In fact, there's plenty to be excited about.
New Engine, Transmission To soften the blow of too many changes all at once, the caretakers of America's most cherished trucklike thing spread them out over two model years. OK, that's kind of a lie. In reality, the Wrangler's 2011 cabin tweaks were originally thought to be accompanied by a powertrain upgrade, but the vagaries of manufacturing postponed the heart transplant by a year. So the 2012 Wrangler essentially completes phase two of the model refresh that started with last year's model.
Headlining the changes for 2012 is the adoption of Chrysler's DOHC 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. It kicks out 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm and 285 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, some 23 lb-ft and fully 83 hp more than the old-school pushrod 3.8-liter V6 it replaces. For some perspective, the Pentastar generates more torque at 1,900 rpm than the outgoing engine produced at its peak, and continues making meaningful grunt all the way to 6,400 rpm.
Sheer output isn't everything, and to ensure Jeep-worthiness, the Pentastar received some tweaks. Wranglers need to be able to ford water that's 30 inches deep, so the alternator was relocated to the top of the accessory drive. A deep-sump oil pan and pickup was fitted to ensure reliable lubrication while crawling up ridiculous grades, and a rejiggered intake tract improves torque output.
All told, the new engine is 3.7 inches shorter in length and 90 pounds lighter than the old 3.8-liter mill, though the weight savings is largely offset by the new, beefier automatic gearbox. Yes, for 2012 the Wrangler's four-speed automatic has been consigned to the dustbin of history. In its place is the A580 five-speed autobox that backs Chrysler's Hemi products including the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The six-speed manual gearbox is carried over and remains standard equipment, along with a low-range transfer case.
With the new gearbox ratios and a taller standard axle ratio of 3.06, the automatic-equipped 2012 Jeep Wrangler's overall gearing is now a touch shorter in 1st and a smidge taller in top gear.
Save for a few bits and baubs, the rest of the Wrangler's hardware carries over essentially as is.
Nobody Will Miss the Old Engine Turned loose on the billiard table-smooth blacktop outside of Portland, Oregon, the reinvigorated Wrangler is more enthusiastic, and the autobox is more likely to have the right gear for the occasion. This is still a near-4,000-pound truck with the aerodynamic profile of the Parthenon, so those hoping the Wrangler has been transformed into a tire-fryer might be disappointed.
The numbers are encouraging, though. Zero-to-60 drops to 7.7 seconds for the two-door Wrangler (8.4 for the four-door), compared to 10.4 for the 2011 model. In practice the engine's flat torque curve masks the rate at which speed rises, making its urgency feel appropriate, rather than the old engine's asthmatic.
The net effect of more grunt and another gear is less hunting between gears on freeway grades, too. It's an incremental improvement, as the gearing is still rather tall. The move to five gears might be a big deal to Jeep guys, but this is one application where a six-speed autobox wouldn't be a bad idea.
Jeep officials were proud of the new engine's improved NVH characteristics. When cruising, you'll be hard-pressed to hear a difference, as wind noise still dominates everything else that makes noise, including the engine. But when you give it the spurs, the new engine makes better sounds than the old lump.
The steering remains recirculating-ball type, and it remains hilariously ropey on pavement. It's nonlinear, lacks feel and exhibits significant yaw delay. With live axles front and rear, the ride bucks and shudders over pavement imperfections. Refined and honed as it has become over the years, driving a Wrangler is still kind of like driving a forklift. Call it part of the charm of the thing, along with being able to fold the windshield down and remove the doors, which is too cool for words.
Still a Wrangler Wait, this is a Jeep, right? All this talk of pavement and NVH and efficiency and steering feel might have you wondering where their priorities are. Not to fear. The Jeep staff insists that all the changes that improve the Wrangler's day-to-day livability will never compromise its off-road capability.
As if to prove it, part of our drive of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler included stints in the off-road-focused Rubicon model up a trail that was crafted to show off the depth of the truck's talents. To the uninitiated, the path would appear impossible, yet the Wrangler crept up and down the steep, rocky, log-strewn, rutted pass littered with sinkholes the size of Kias without even breathing hard.
Though the electronic throttle calibration doesn't always provide instant response, there's ample torque down low in the new engine. It runs cool, too, thanks in part to a new variable-speed 600-watt cooling fan and a larger A/C condenser and transmission cooler. Hell, the A/C didn't even flinch in the hot weather no matter how slow we crawled. The Wrangler remains a staggeringly capable off-road steed.
No Compromise Imagine, all that added capability and the 2012 Jeep Wrangler even burns less fuel. Yes, its EPA fuel-efficiency numbers are now 17 city/21 highway mpg for two-door models, a 2-mpg bump up last year's numbers.
All that, and Jeep held the line for pricing of base models, while the MSRPs of high-zoot Sahara and Rubicon models swell by just $300.
It's like having your cake, eating it, and then finding out it lowers your cholesterol, too. Even traditionalists will have a hard time arguing with that.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.
Is the 2012 Jeep Wrangler a good car? Edmunds experts have compiled a robust series of ratings and reviews for the 2012 Jeep Wrangler and all model years in our database. Our rich content includes expert reviews and recommendations for the 2012 Wrangler featuring deep dives into trim levels and features, performance, mpg, safety, interior, and driving. Edmunds also offers expert ratings, road test and performance data, long-term road tests, first-drive reviews, video reviews and more.
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How do people like the 2012 Jeep Wrangler? Consumer ratings and reviews are also available for the 2012 Jeep Wrangler and all its trim types. Overall, Edmunds users rate the 2012 Wrangler 4.3 on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Edmunds consumer reviews allow users to sift through aggregated consumer reviews to understand what other drivers are saying about any vehicle in our database. Detailed rating breakdowns (including performance, comfort, value, interior, exterior design, build quality, and reliability) are available as well to provide shoppers with a comprehensive understanding of why customers like the 2012 Wrangler.
Review I custom ordered a 2012 Black Jeep Wrangler Sahara (6-Speed), and finally took delivery 2 weeks ago. This thing is awesome! I've owned a 1998 Jeep Wrangler Sahara, and this one is substantially better in every way. Build quality feels strong and as if it will last a very long time. A few things... 1) Don't buy a Jeep Wrangler without test driving and loving everything about it. If you have a big smile on your face each time, you are good to go. 2) There is at least $4,000 or so in markup, so do your shopping research and negotiate. Mine stickered at $32,500, got it for $27,800. 3) So far in city driving I'm getting about 320 miles per tank. 4) Custom ordering took 7 weeks.
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What options are available on the 2012 Jeep Wrangler?
Available Jeep Wrangler 2012 Submodel Types: SUV
Available Trims: Unlimited Sport, Unlimited Sahara, Sport, Unlimited Rubicon, Sahara, X, Rubicon, Unlimited X, SE, Unlimited Rubicon Recon, Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock, Unlimited Smoky Mountain, Willys Wheeler, Unlimited, Unlimited Winter, Unlimited Chief, Unlimited Willys Wheeler, Unlimited Altitude Edition, Unlimited Freedom, Unlimited 75th Anniversary, Unlimited Sport RHD, S, Unlimited 70th Anniversary, 75th Anniversary, Unlimited Backcountry, Unlimited Big Bear, Unlimited Freedom Edition, Base, Black Bear, Freedom Edition, Unlimited Black Bear, 70th Anniversary, Backcountry, Rubicon Hard Rock, Winter
Exterior Colors: Black Clear Coat, Bright White Clear Coat, Billet Silver Metallic Clear Coat, Black Clearcoat, Granite Crystal Metallic Clear Coat, Bright Silver Metallic Clearcoat, Firecracker Red Clear Coat, Rhino Clear Coat, Anvil Clear Coat, Flame Red Clearcoat, Gobi Clear Coat, Chief Clear Coat, Hydro Blue Pearl Coat, Bright White Clearcoat, Red Rock Crystal Pearlcoat, Tank Clear Coat, Xtreme Purple Pear Coat, Natural Green Pearlcoat, Flame Red Clear Coat, Stone White Clearcoat, Steel Blue Metallic Clearcoat, Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearlcoat, Rescue Green Metallic Clearcoat, Jeep Green Metallic Clearcoat, Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl Coat, Baja Yellow Clear Coat, Light Khaki Metallic Clearcoat, True Blue Pearl Coat, Hypergreen Clear Coat, Mango Tango Pearlcoat, Amp'd, Black Forest Green Pearlcoat, Moss Green Pearlcoat, Commando Green, Cosmo Blue Paint, Copperhead Pearl Coat, Midnight Blue Pearlcoat, Sunset Orange Pearl Coat, Crush Clearcoat, Deep Water Blue Pearlcoat, Detonator Yellow Clearcoat, Dune Clear Coat, Copper Brown Pearl Coat, Dozer Clearcoat, Mojave Sand Clear Coat, Patriot Blue Pearlcoat, Rock Lobster Clear Coat, Sahara Tan Clearcoat, Deep Beryl Green Pearlcoat, Flame Red, Gecko Pearl Coat, Rugged Brown Pearl Coat, Sunburst Orange Pearlcoat, Surf Blue Pearlcoat, Crush Clear Coat, Dark Charcoal Pearlcoat, Flame Red CC/Black ST, Gecko Pearlcoat, Patriot Blue Pearl Coat, Shale Green Metallic, Sienna Pearlcoat, Solar Yellow Clearcoat, Electric Lime Green Pearlcoat, Light Graystone Pearlcoat, Shale Green Metallic Clearcoat, Stone White, Winter Chill Pearlcoat, Anvil Clear Coat (Late Availability), Chili Pepper Red Pearlcoat, Dozer Clear Coat, Forest Green Pearlcoat, Intense Blue Pearlcoat, Solar Yellow CC/Black HT, Steel Blue Pearlcoat, Black, Black CC/Black HT, Bright White, Bronze Star Pearlcoat, Colorado Red, Deep Amethyst Pearlcoat, Emerald Green Pearl Metallic, Impact Orange Clearcoat, Jewel Blue Pearl Metallic, Lapis Blue, Medium Fern Green Pearlcoat, Poppy Red, Steel Blue Pearlcoat/Black HT, Stone White CC/Dk Tan HT
Interior Colors: Black cloth, Black leather, Dark Slate Gray/Medium Slate Gray cloth, Black leather/cloth, Dark Slate Gray/Medium Slate Gray leather, Black/Dark Saddle leather, Dark Slate Gray, Dark Slate Gray/Medium Slate Gray vinyl, Dark Slate Gray cloth, Dark Khaki/Medium Khaki cloth, Khaki, Agate, Black/Dark Saddle cloth, Black premium leather, Dark Khaki/Medium Khaki leather, Khaki cloth, Black, Black/Dark Olive leather, Freedom Edition leather/cloth, Black/Dark Olive premium leather, Black/Red premium leather, Dark Khaki/Medium Khaki vinyl, Camel, Camel/Dark Green, Dark Saddle premium leather
Popular Features: AWD/4WD, Fold Flat Rear Seats, Rear Bench Seats, Stability Control, Tire Pressure Warning, Aux Audio Inputs, Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel, Post-collision safety system, Alarm, 3500lb Towing Capacity, USB Inputs, Bluetooth, Trip Computer, Hardtop, Soft Top, Towing Hitch, Navigation, Heated seats, Remote Start, Upgraded Stereo, Auto Climate Control, Leather Seats, Upgraded Engine