by Michael Waterman
The Jeep Wrangler is a genuine classic. It's the only vehicle that sports virtually the same design today as when it first appeared on the market 71 years ago (that's 1941 if your math skills suddenly fail you). It's an iconic, distinctive, off-road powerhouse that is my personal favorite for dirt road and mountain adventures.
Yet the Wrangler is also an oddball vehicle that makes little sense for most people as a daily driver. It's perfect for the outdoors but less-than-perfect in the city. But, logic be damned, I still love it.
Here are five reasons to drive the 2012 Jeep Wrangler.
The 2012 Wrangler looks pretty much like the 2011 or 2010 model or the 1977 CJ-7 Renegade that's still puttering around your neighborhood. It's a box on wheels with flared fenders, big knobby tires, and the ability to go anywhere at any time. My test vehicle arrived in a bright yellow-orange that evoked comparisons to pumpkins and road construction cones. Nothing subtle about this machine, and I believe that's the way Jeep Wranglers are best enjoyed. With its iconic design and the Dozer clear coat paint, you'll see this car coming a mile away. It cuts an indelible figure with a design that seemingly never goes out of style.
Americans love convertibles and Americans love SUVs and crossovers. The Jeep Wrangler is the only vehicle that brings these unique body styles together. Available in hardtop or soft top, all Jeeps can be quickly transformed into convertibles. Simply pop the top to let in the light.
Roll down the windows and remove the doors and you've got the ultimate wind-in-your-hair driver that looks perfectly natural when it's pointed up a mountainside. Though a convertible SUV will never be the most practical vehicle, it's arguably the most fun.
For years the Jeep Wrangler was powerful and competent off road. But it could be a dog on the paved highway with a bumpy ride and slow acceleration to freeway speeds. With the arrival of the Pentastar V6 engine in the 2011 model, all Wranglers now come standard with a 3.6-liter V6 the produces 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of delicious torque. It means the Wrangler now has an engine that is just as good on road as it is off the beaten path.
Four-wheel drive is standard on all Jeeps and whether you buy the basic Sport, the upgraded Sahara (my test model) or the dirt-road-dominating Rubicon Unlimited, you get a choice of two transmissions: a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.
The difference between the engine pre-2011 and post-2011 is dramatic. Zero to 60 speed increased by more than a second. My own personal comparison of a 2010 and 2011 model last year saw a two-second improvement in the race from a dead stop to 60 mph. Your experience may vary but your impression of the Wrangler as spry and peppy compared to older models won't. Expect to be impressed.
Fuel economy is improved in the latest Jeep, too, though the Wrangler will never fool anyone into believing it's a green machine. The 2010 Wrangler with the 3.8-liter V6 and four-speed transmission returned 15 mpg in the city and 19 on the highway. The EPA expects the 2012 model to improve by two mpg in the city and highway to push those numbers to 17 and 21 respectively.
I covered 285 miles in the Jeep Wrangler Sahara and averaged 20.3 miles per gallon. That's the same kind of number you'll find in many three-row SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. Even the two-row 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee averages 23 mpg on the highway. So by comparison, the smaller Jeep Wrangler is still a bit of a gas-guzzler. But it's slowly but surely improving.
With the 2012 Wrangler, you can choose optional leather-trimmed bucket seats, heated front seats, and the uConnect navigation/entertainment center with a 40 GB hard drive, GPS navigation, a 6.5-inch touchscreen display, satellite radio, USB connectivity–even Bluetooth audio. Put it all together and this Jeep is far more luxurious than you might expect for a car that starts at $27,000 and still looks best covered in dust and dirt.
Over the years, many Jeep owners fell in love with the idea of driving a Jeep, only to fall out of love with the experience of living with a rough-and-tumble Wrangler.
Not any more.
Today's Wrangler is comfortable enough you can proudly use it as a daily driver. Sure it only has room for four passengers, storage space is limited, and the ride is still a bit choppy. But compared to the Jeeps of yesteryear, the new Wrangler is a huge step up.
If you've always pictured yourself owning a Jeep but never pulled the trigger because of doubts about the Wrangler's practicality, it's time to take a serious look at this updated and thoroughly improved machine. The 2012 Wrangler is incredibly capable off road. It's a comfortable and even luxurious–by Wrangler standards–convertible SUV. In short, it's the best Wrangler yet.
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