My first encounter with a Jeep Wrangler was a used 1990 with a hard top, straight 6, and a five speed. It was a brute of a machine. I could see daylight between the hard top and the full doors. Needless to say it was noisy, drafty and not very comfortable on city streets let alone the highway. Test driving it in the winter did not help. Hard-core Jeep enthusiasts will call me wimpy, but while I enjoyed the idea the Wrangler in that it was both a convertible and a four-wheel drive vehicle, I needed a little more day-to-day comfort than what it could provide.
The latest Wrangler has been vastly improved over all previous models. First let’s start with its new engine, the corporate 3.6L Pentastar V-6, which in the Wrangler has 285 hp and 260 lb ft of torque — a huge improvement over the 2011 model year’s comparatively anemic 202 hp V-6. It also gets better fuel economy with 17 City/21 Highway vs 15 City/19 Highway in last year’s engine. The engine isn’t the only improvement, with a much needed additional gear in the automatic that gets the same gas mileage as the manual.
While the powertrain improvements are exemplary, the interior is the largest differentiator between the 2012 and previous models. It is downright pleasant with greatly improved cabin insulation, soft touch materials, and available niceties like steering wheel controls for audio, cruise, phone connectivity, heated seats, navigation, and automatic climate control.
My test model was a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport two-door with notable features like 6-speed manual transmission, leather-wrapped steering wheel with the aforementioned controls, three-panel hard top, power windows and locks, keyless entry, and heated power mirrors. The cloth seats felt durable and along with the controls and ergonomics felt comfortable. The back seat tumbles forward from the rear opening for a lot more suitcase room and has a shallow under-floor storage area.
The engine did not feel overly powerful like I expected given its 285 horsepower. The 6-speed manual transmission was pretty smooth and shifted much like Toyota’s FJ Cruiser, the Wrangler’s main rival. I did not even feel the need to engage 6th gear (I am used to a 5 speed) on the highway. The ride, given the 2 door model, was firm yet not jarring like in previous versions, even over rough pavement. Again, it was also on par with the FJ Cruiser. I experienced some wind noise at highway speeds, but let’s face it, this thing isn’t exactly aerodynamic. The interior was shockingly quiet and rattle free throughout my drive.
Overall, this is an outstanding leap forward for the Wrangler expanding its market to people like me who liked previous models, but wanted fewer rough edges. This model would find a welcome home in my garage. I just need to convince the wife.
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The Wrangler is available in 2-door and 4-door models, in a variety of styles and option packages starting around $25,000. To explore them go here.