2012 Jeep Wrangler Long-Term Road Test - Wrap-Up

2012 Jeep Wrangler Long-Term Road Test



Read the introduction of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler to our long-term fleet.

See all of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler long-term updates.

What We Got
We had an itch for another project car. So we set our sights on one of the most modified vehicles on the road today, the Jeep Wrangler. Rather than spend the money on a highly optioned Wrangler, we opted to go bare-bones. The money saved on comfort items like a hardtop, navigation and four doors would go toward performance modifications instead.

After some searching we located a black 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport to suit our needs. It had the new 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and virtually nothing else. The sticker read $23,740 and the only optional item was air-conditioning. Skillful negotiation and a month-end sale landed the Wrangler in our garage for $22,570.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

The first few months of our test focused on the Jeep as a stocker. We used this time to establish a baseline for comparison. Then we opened the parts catalog, adding a lift, new wheels and tires and even a winch for tricky situations off-road. We were impressed by the Wrangler in its stock form and even more so once it was built to our liking. Here's a sampling of our more memorable impressions.

Our Impressions

  • "One of the main reasons we decided to get a Jeep Wrangler was this new engine. It may be smaller in displacement than the old 3.8-liter V6, but it delivers far more power and torque. This is not unusual for newer engines, but in this case the new V6 is a huge leap forward for the Jeep. As torquey as the old motor was, it sucked wind at any moderate rate of speed. This new engine is stronger across the board.... Obviously, the Wrangler is no street racer, but the engine makes it far more enjoyable to drive no matter how you use it. Gets better mileage, too. A definite win-win." — Ed Hellwig

  • "The gearing is kind of tall, so in heavy traffic, there was a lot of room to hang out in 1st gear, and when that wore out its welcome, well, there was 2nd gear. If there's a tricky part of driving the Wrangler in heavy traffic, it's the long, slow clutch engagement, which starts somewhere off the floor and finishes high. Makes sense for an off-roader, but makes it vulnerable to clumsy-footed city dwellers." — Erin Riches

  • "They really don't look like much, but these are great seats. Providing equal parts comfort and support, they are probably the nicest part of the Wrangler's interior. I know this after spending several hours in them bouncing around in the rocks earlier this week. No off-road butt. No hot spots. No lumbar issues. They just work." — Josh Jacquot

  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

  • "The Wrangler is making me realize more than ever that my favorite cars are those that are unapologetically honest. It knows what it is, it's up front with its faults and if you don't like it, well, buy something else." — James Riswick

  • "When I heard we were putting some real meats on the Jeep I was pleased. Figured anything would be a huge improvement over the donuts that come from the factory, at least in terms of looks. Turns out, the new tires make it drive better, too. It feels more controlled over bumps and it's far less jumpy on the highway. The noise is pretty minimal for mud tires, too." — Ed Hellwig

  • "The stock final-drive ratios have got to go. I spent most of the time in 4-Low, not because of the steepness, per se, but because of the combined effect of the factory gears and the bigger tires. It needs new shocks and springs. When I opened it up a little, the heavy unsprung mass of the new tires had their way with the suspension as we crashed over the bumps.... A lift kit would be nice. The rear tires rubbed inside the fender wells a couple of times." — Dan Edmunds

  • "It's firmer around town (with the new lift kit), but then it would be with stiffer springs and more damping force in the shocks. In many situations that's preferable to the way it was before when the stock suspension had its hands full with the 90-pound unsprung mass of these large wheels and tires. That's no longer a concern, as the big Mud Terrains now stay firmly planted all the time. Despite the 3-inch lift and the higher center of gravity that results, the Jeep corners quite securely, even when midcorner bumps rear their ugly head. But the key word is firm.... As expected, the ride is hardest on pavement cracks, concrete joints and other small imperfections, but control and impact absorption are dramatically better over larger stuff that gets the suspension really moving." — Dan Edmunds

  • "The 10-mile trail led mostly along a wash with deep sand interspersed with rocky sections. That made careful wheel placement and a bit of spotting necessary to prevent any body and/or undercarriage bonks. Now, the Jeep didn't have any trouble, but the combination of the short wheelbase and the spring setup made it a very jarring ride. Even with the tires aired down to 25 psi, every single rock said hello and anytime a bump stop was 'reached' it was so violent I would jump out and check for damage.... From there it was a quick trek via some sandy valley floor single-track back out to California Hwy 14. Now that's where this thing shines. Higher speeds and no rocks made our trip back to the asphalt world much more enjoyable." — John Adolph

  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

  • "Mopar issued a new UConnect upgrade kit to offer relief to those wishing to add Bluetooth streaming audio and phone, voice commands and iPod/USB input capability to the RES base radio they've already got.... Performance is pretty damn good. Bluetooth pairing and phone dialing with the UConnect button is easy. The system downloads your phonebook automatically so you can voice dial anyone in your existing contact list. The UConnect lady's voice is a bit robotic, but you can press on through and make voice calls in one long compound command and get past her.... I've found Bluetooth audio to be quite robust, too. You select it using the 'aux' button.... The music or podcast auto-pauses when a call comes in and auto-resumes when it hangs up.... It works like a factory system." — Dan Edmunds

  • "I was about to go on an upland adventure. It was going to be me, my hunting buddy, and my dog.... I found the rear seat can fold and then tumble forward... but it does not lock in position. Driving around town I found it flops about quite a bit. Not good for my gear or the dog.... Thankfully the seat is removable. Not only that, but it's a snap to take the whole bench out. Pull a handle to tumble forward, a release bar underneath unlocks the hinges and it lifts right out with ease." — Scott Jacobs

  • "The same way a kid isn't a ball player until he's taken a fastball to the ribs, a Wrangler isn't a Jeep until it's cracked its windshield. Our Wrangler has proven itself a Jeep multiple times during its stay with us. This growing crack, nearly spanning the length of the glass, only solidifies it." — Dan Frio

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance:
The Wrangler requested routine service at 8,000-mile intervals. In 19 months we changed the oil and rotated the tires, among other necessary items, a total of four times. One was a do-it-yourself job. The next was in conjunction with the speedometer recalibration. Our third oil change was free, courtesy of a cylinder head recall on our Pentastar V6. The final service was part of a standard dealer oil change. All told, we averaged just $39 for routine maintenance.

Hands-free phone capability is a must nowadays. So we installed a Bluetooth UConnect kit for $349. For the sake of accounting we considered this a non-warranty repair, as we did the $459 replacement windshield.

Service Campaigns
A few issues outside of the norm occurred during our test. We consider the broken rear headrest and idler pulley bearing failure to be normal failures. By normal, we mean that they weren't the result of any modifications we made.

Some problems were the result of our enhancements to the Wrangler. The rear license plate screws backed out following a washboard road weekend, which we attribute partially to stiffer suspension upgrades. An oversize spare tire also took its toll on the tailgate welds. This was likewise the result of our doing, so we can't hold it against the Jeep.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

The primary reason we bought our 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport was to spend the money saved on off-road modifications. Check the chart for a full breakdown of parts and cost:

Upgrade Cost
33-inch, LT 285/70R17 BF Goodrich Baja Champion Mud Terrain T/A KM2 tires $ 1,370.00
17-inch aluminum Mopar wheels $ 1,295.00
Mount and balance BFGs $ 125.00
Recalibrate speedometer for BFGs $ 85.00
TPMS sensors for BFGs, installed $ 297.27
Mopar 3-inch JK Wrangler Pre-Runner Suspension System: Stage II Performance, DIY installation $ 2,400.00
New IPF headlight reflectors and Philips H4 bulbs, DIY installation $ 118.77
Superwinch Talon 9.5iSR, DIY installation $ 1,602.00
Expedition One Trail Series JK, DIY installation $ 1,059.95
AEV ProCal speedometer recalibration tool $ 149.00
Teraflex front stabilizer bar disconnect $ 130.00
Total $ 8,678.09

Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy:
Fuel economy was recorded with stock tires and with 33-inch tires. In stock form, the EPA prepared us for 17 city/21 highway and 18 mpg combined. We averaged 17.3 mpg and documented a best single-tank range of 315 miles.

After we swapped to larger wheels and tires the mpg decreased expectedly. Our average with the BFG tires fell to 16 mpg and our best range to 304 miles. The majority of our fill-ups occurred with the big tires mounted, which was reflected by our combined overall fuel economy for this test of 16.3 mpg.

Resale and Depreciation:
Over a year-and-a-half ago we purchased a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport for $22,570. We drove it 32,249 miles and spent more than $8,600 in performance modifications. We considered it to be in average condition, with some minor, unresolved issues at the time of sale. Edmunds' TMV® Calculator valued the Jeep at $17,397 based on a private-party sale. And we found a buyer in our midst that agreed to the price and made it his own. In the end it depreciated 23 percent in value, which is a hair below average in our experience.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Summing Up

Pros: Still sets the bar for affordable off-road vehicles, new V6 offers better power and reasonable mileage, simple seats are comfortable for the long haul, easy-to-use climate controls, easily modified for serious off-road use, inexpensive routine maintenance.

Cons: Off-road-oriented suspension delivers a bumpy ride in the city, long clutch pedal travel, tall 1st gear can grow tiring in traffic, convertible top zippers get hung up easily.

Bottom Line: The 2012 Jeep Wrangler remains a one-of-a-kind vehicle that combines a simple design, extraordinary off-road abilities and an affordable price into a reliable, fun-to-drive package that does exactly what you expect of it.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: $155.04 (over 19 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: $807.85
Warranty Repairs: Replace idler pulley bearing, replace left-side cylinder head
Non-Warranty Repairs: Replace windshield, add Uconnect Bluetooth
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 4
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Days Out of Service: 2
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Best Fuel Economy: 17.3 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 16.0 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 16.3 mpg
True Market Value at service end: $17,397 (private-party sale)
What it Sold for: $17,397
Depreciation: $5,181 (23% of the paid price)
Final Odometer Reading: 32,249 miles

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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2012 Jeep Wrangler Research