2012 Jeep Wrangler
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  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler 3.6-liter Pentastar V6

  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler
  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler 3.6-liter Pentastar V6

New V6 Shows Us The Way Up The Mountain



Despite the global economic crisis and the effect it's had on recreational vehicle sales, the Jeep Wrangler is doing better than ever in the icon's 70-year history, selling a record 14,355 units in July in the United States alone. That trend should lead to sales of more or less 150,000 units in 2011, with the added benefit of creating over 1,000 more jobs at the company's famous Toledo, Ohio plant as Fiat-Chrysler pushes to make the Wrangler an international hot seller.

Even though the introduction of the four-door Wrangler Unlimited deserves much of the credit for this growing success (it now accounts for 60 percent of sales), we wanted to grab a two-door model, as it's the purest model in the line. If you want to know just how addictive really good off-roading can be, grabbing the short-wheelbase model is a no-brainer. Two-door Wrangler fanatics like us have willingly lived with the paved-road compromises inherent in a short wheelbase, ladder-framed, mountain-climbing dirt dog. But plans are afoot within Fiat-Chrysler to address these on-road issues as the next-generation Wrangler is readied for 2014 or so.

We began our test drive on road in northern Oregon with a Wrangler Sahara painted Retina-Singe Blue with a matching removable hardtop. Once off in the woods, we switched to a red Wrangler Rubicon with an open soft-top – the best configuration we can think of as we prepare for the promised Apocalypse in 2012. (Hey, we saw the movie and Hollywood never lies.)
2012 Jeep Wrangler front view2012 Jeep Wrangler rear view

This latest Wrangler launched in 2007 with a traditionally skimpy interior treatment. Finally, for the 2011 model year, the cabin received a 21st-century upgrade to go with its best-in-class off-road reputation, a tacit (if belated) acknowledgement that around 80 percent of Wrangler owners don't do much more than drive their rigs on dirt roads.

"If 2011 was all about the interior," Wrangler and Liberty chief engineer Tony Petit tells us, "then 2012 is all about the powertrain." And, indeed the driveline updates are clearly the biggest developments, because the Wrangler now gets a V6 that is worthy of it. Pulled from the Grand Cherokee, the new 3.6-liter Pentastar provides 40 percent more power and 10 percent more torque than the outgoing iron-block 3.8-liter boat anchor could ever muster. Plus, fuel mileage improves greatly (admittedly when driven timidly and on the road in particular) and the aluminum-block Pentastar weighs some 33 pounds less than that old 3.8. Though we wouldn't pick a Wrangler for high-speed runs, it's telling that while the old 3.8 in the two-door offered runs to 60 mph in well over ten seconds, Jeep says the 2012 Wrangler Sahara with 3.73:1 rear axle ratio can do the deed in just 8.5 clicks. We did a dry run with the 3.21:1 standard axle and even that got us there in 9.7 seconds.



Jeep had a 2011 Wrangler Sahara two-door on-hand so that we could do back-to-back road runs against the 2012 model to feel the difference. After giving us this enlightened opportunity, we came away realizing that the 2011 with its heavy, 202-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 is a bit of a toad. Whereas this outgoing motor feels like it's pushing us as best it can with great effort, the 285-hp Pentastar V6's flatter 260 pound-feet of torque eagerly pulls us along and asks for more. Overtaking traffic is now a matter of simply depressing the pedal and gobbling, whereas the old motor requires a floor-punch and a crossing of the fingers since flooring it produces a lot of impressive noise but little added urgency. At 70 mph in top gear, the 3.8 is noticeably louder at 2,500 rpm, while the Pentastar sits calmly at 2,000 rpm. In towing, too, the two-door Pentastar's 2,000-pound maximum (3,500 lbs. in the four-door with 3:73 axle) doubles what the 3.8 can pull.

One Jeep representative told us that the configuration of the Pentastar 60-degree V6 with its lower backpressure exhaust is going to be an aftermarket sweetheart thanks largely to the easier mounting of any forced-induction performance bits. The alternator is now mounted up top and faces toward the back. This is a new Pentastar setup required by packaging dimensions as well as the need for at least 30 inches of water fording capability. A full-face air-conditioning compressor has been introduced, significantly upgrading the Wrangler's ability to cool the cabin area quickly under the boiling dusty sun.



Of course, another key component to making all of this civility possible is the new five-speed W5A580 automatic transmission with hill hold included for the gnarly downhills, also borrowed from the Grand Cherokee. The difference is both tremendous and immediate, with a much more useful spread of gears versus the less robust four-speed auto box in the 2011. Engineer Petit reminds us that the retired four-speed transmission was originally built for transverse-engine application and was reworked to fit the north-south orientation without being significantly strengthened. The new five-speed has been engineered from the get-go for north-south placement and is, in Petit's words, "strong as an ox." While the four-speed constantly kicks down to find more help under stress, the five-speed setup with its greater horses and torque just holds its gears more readily.

Our only small critique is that the departing four-speed D-2-1 console gate kept the gearlever effectively locked in place to prevent it being unintentionally nudged into shifts by errant legs and whatnot, and we liked that feature. The new five-speed lever's gate allows left-right "manual" shifts, which are fun to do in general, but we had two occasions where unintentional downshifts were caused by right-seat passenger left knees – not exactly an ideal situation. However, the overall improvement by giving the Wrangler a grownup five-speed auto cannot be denied. Among other things, it makes 70-mph asphalt cruising at 2,000 rpm a reality.

2012 Jeep Wrangler instrument panel2012 Jeep Wrangler gauges2012 Jeep Wrangler dashboard storage2012 Jeep Wrangler dashboard

We can say that pretty much everything else remains the same with this legend, and that's fine by us. We can even announce that the base price remains the same as on the 2011 for the high-volume Sport trim at $22,045 for the two-door with six-speed manual and $25,545 for the Unlimited four-door. Both Sahara and Rubicon trims add roughly $300 to the base sticker.

Oh, yeah, and the six-speed manual, lest we forget, has been given a longer 0.797:1 overdrive top gear to make highway driving more acceptable. This is, by the way, the first time a manual has been mated to the Pentastar. This is an exciting development, but you may choose to boo and hiss us, because by the end of our day driving the new five-speed auto and existing six-speed manual, we had to admit that we would choose the new automatic to mate with the Rubicon's 4.10:1 standard axle ratio – even if traversing the Wrangler's namesake Rubicon Trail. We know, we know, believe us. Shower us in your ridicule and call us duffers, but the auto box with its specifically enhanced oil cooling is exceptional. Will the six-speed manual go away for good someday? We asked, and the general consensus among Jeep bosses and Jamboree-hardened volunteers was that Wrangler will always have a manual available for the purists who just gotta have one, but it didn't sound like they personally married to the idea.



For the burly-as-all-get-out mountain top circuit we drove on, the Rubicon with that standard final ratio, newly beefed-up auto shifter, 4:1 Rock-Trac transfer case, electronically detachable sway bars, and fully locking front and rear live axles is just the best thing since hard-boiled eggs in brine, Cletus. The need to lock the front axle is only there really when those giddy left-right-left-right nose fwumps start happening for the off-roader magazine covers. The articulation from our two-door's short 95.4-inch wheelbase along this tortuous trail was vintage Jeep Wrangler, and the Rubicon-standard BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tires (LT255/75 R17 111/108Q M+S) performed in the dry loose stuff as promised while mated to the gas-charged shocks.

Now, too, Rubicon owners cannot only get the body-color hardtop enjoyed by Sahara trim buyers, but they can also opt for the less steep 3.73:1 axle ratio only with the automatic. There must be demand out there, probably for those who do a bunch of road driving while desiring the cachet of that Rubicon badging. There's a flavor for every taste.


We then entertained some curious talk with engineer Petit and Ray Durham, Jeep's vehicle line executive for rear-wheel-drive SUVs, on how the legendary ladder steel frame, live-axle, short-wheelbase with high ground clearance tradition might evolve in the future. Because the interior is finally as it should be and the powertrain is well handled, that leaves the underpinnings to be brought into the 21st century without ruining the recipe. Can even the two-door Wrangler somehow find an adaptive multi-setting suspension that works with (or can completely detach from when required) the current basic setup that makes trail crawling so much fun? Will the recirculating-ball steering rack with 3.3 turns lock-to-lock that works so well get replaced by a rack-and-pinion system as most larger trucks have already done? All of this is apparently up for discussion within Jeep R&D, and a much-updated next-gen Wrangler would not at all surprise us now.

Over the road, the Wrangler should really offer a solution to make things less jittery and less slosh-y in the curves – at least as an option. The steering could also do with some further electro-hydraulic style sophistication, purists be damned (just a little) – its looseness at 60 mph and above is a bit too nostalgic for us to enjoy for longer drives.



The Wrangler team got all of this improved performance from the Pentastar plus per-gallon mileage that cracks the 20-mpg barrier on the base Sport and Sahara editions with the 3.21:1 axle ratio and six-speed manual. The EPA rating for the two-door now reads 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, or 16/21 for the four-door. Add a turbocharger or supercharger and we predict you could get even more from it. Add direct injection and per tank range would get much better, too, and CO2 numbers would decrease as well. Get all of this and a 2.8-liter CRD diesel and, wow, now we're talking.

Like we said, it's all on the table for the next generation Jeep Wrangler. For now, however, we'd be lying if we said we weren't thoroughly pleased after attacking the mountain with this icon's newly fortified Pentastar V6 and properly engineered five-speed automatic. Bring on the apocalypse.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 85 Comments
      sirjaysmith
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wow, already talking about the redesign? I, for one, hope Jeep continues to expand on the JK platform, it is simply THAT good. The TJs were laughed at in overseas markets where Landrover and Toyota dominated, now the JKs are bringing serious competition without all the driveline weaknesses, there are just SO many possibilities on this platform, a total redesign would be foolish.
        Epic
        • 3 Years Ago
        @sirjaysmith
        You can hope in one hand and sh*t another. You'd luv to see that happen wouldn't you? Foreign markets will likely never perceive the Jeep brand as being a suitable alternative to Toyota or Landrover --it's practically written in stone .. quality (fit & finish) & reliability woes with the Jeep brand preclude this from ever happening. More than a decade of recall woes (involving almost every major system) plagues the Jeep brand: Here's a sample --- http://www.motortrend.com/used_cars/11/jeep/wrangler/recalls/ The best thing that can happen to Jeep is to be acquired by Toyota .. revamped .. stripped of the union presence .. redesigned/remarketed and then .. maybe then we'll see RESELL values on the Jeep brand rise .. being acquired by Chrysler was a dark day for the Jeep brand.
      Shiftright
      • 3 Years Ago
      An American original and international icon keeps getting better. Love it!
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Shiftright
        [blocked]
          Mike D
          • 3 Years Ago
          The jeep was conceived in America and is built in America. The parent company being partially owned by Italians doesn't make it Italian. Try to troll harder next time.
      hunterboston
      • 3 Years Ago
      great post. But I sure hope they never stop putting in manual trannys in wranglers. I would never buy a jeep without one.
      WillieD
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sucks for those who bought a Wrangler 2 years ago. In fact, I have a friend who did just that. Sucks to suck.
      jamiescale
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wow...looks like my 2008 may be headed for a trade-in sooner rather than later.
      Sixspeed
      • 3 Years Ago
      Now I want to see a Compass try to do that! ;)
        spanky
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Sixspeed
        We could throw a few compasses into that hole easily!
      Epic
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great write up on the 2012 Wrangler Matt .. Here's a cool video I came across of a Wrangler in action .. enjoy .. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvdgdtIrtYM
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        Jason
        • 3 Years Ago
        Much better offroaders? Bwahahaha! In whose dreams??
        Anthony Guido
        • 3 Years Ago
        Agreed. I had an 08 Jeep JK Wrangler and that thing was a nightmare to drove on road and the quality was horrid. I now have a 2011 FJ and it goes 90% of the places my Wrangler went AND also drives wonderfully on road, doesn't beat me up, No death wobble, ect.. Will take a lot to get me back in a Chrysler product.
        MAX
        • 3 Years Ago
        THE WRANGLER HAS THE BEST RESALE VALUE OF ANY VEHICLE AND OUTSELLS THE FAILED FJ CRUISER (FAKE JEEP) 10 TO 1. THE FAILED XTERRA IS BEING DISCONTINUED AND THE FJ(FAKE JEEP) SOON WILL BE.
          Epic
          • 3 Years Ago
          @MAX
          Really?! OMG the FJ is being phased out?! Please tell me you're joking!! Wait .... isn't their a 2012 FJ rolling out from production? Hmmm ... so when you say "soon" how soon are you talking? Better resale value? Really? I recently slapped a Heep lover with these numbers I pulled from kbb.com: Compared a 2007 FJ Cruiser with 4WD, manual tranny to a 2007 Wrangler 4WD with manual tranny and 70,000 miles. Both were rated in "good" condition: Private Party values: FJ= $19,555 Wrangler=$15,340 difference=$4,215 Trade in Value: FJ=$18,825 Wrangler=$14,425 difference=$4,400 Care to comment? Please post your source on the resell value fellow .. you can find me here: http://www.autoblog.com/2011/08/31/toyota-fj-cruiser-takes-to-the-rocks-with-new-trail-teams-editio/#aol-comments Not only are you smoking crack by making that statement -- but the extensive recall history of the Wrangler precludes any shoring up the massive disparity in resale values between the FJ and the Dodge Wrangler: http://www.motortrend.com/used_cars/11/jeep/wrangler/recalls/ Can't wait to see what you come up with ...
        sotsov
        • 3 Years Ago
        Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your Troll
        Mike D
        • 3 Years Ago
        Better offroaders? Seriously? The XTerra is a very respectable vehicle on and off road but it can't stand up to the wrangler offroad. If I was looking for an old Cherokee Sport (XJ) replacement that would be it. As far as the FJ, I actually like to see the obstacles I'm coming up on or even the traffic light I'm stopped at. The visibility in that thing is horrible and I believe it still requires premium fuel which is an annoyance (I could be wrong but I do know it did require premium at one point).
          Epic
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Mike D
          You are wrong. The FJ takes any grade octane you may choose. As for visibility issues -- the FJ for some people (who don't know how to use mirrors/common sense and such) does pose certain challenges .. i've driven Jeeps of all types -- the Wrangler isn't exactly like driving in a fishbowl either .. to get past its blind spots - one must remove top and doors -- not helpful during the winter.
        A_Guy
        • 3 Years Ago
        Wasn't the FJ frame cracking in half on trails? (literally)
          MAX
          • 3 Years Ago
          @A_Guy
          Not only do the frames crack, the front fenders crack and distort so bad on a FJ that's been off road that the front doors won't open properly. Toyota uses the weakest most rustprone metal they can find. Just Google Tacoma frame rust or Tundra bed bounce.
          Epic
          • 3 Years Ago
          @A_Guy
          Half the trails? Really? Hmm .. are there any recalls on this issue issued by Toyota or even TSBs? No .. there aren't. These reports are speculations/unfounded accusations made by bitter FJ owners that had unrealistic expectations of their rig (after equipping it with a ridiculous/garbage Fabtech or Procomp 6" lift (requiring severance of the cross member (which Toyota didn't install for the hell of it. Let me crawl under your rig and start cutting sh*t and let's see if I can't make some fender bulges myself. Do some research before you post stuff making you look dumb ..
        Epic
        • 3 Years Ago
        Wow the Jeep crowd sure is a collective bunch .. 22 thumbs down!?? Sorry Fried_Rice .. the Heep crowd will never relinquish their false sense of hope that with each production year - Jeep (aka Chrysler/Dodge .. the same company that brought America the Horizon, the Lebaron) will work out the shoddy engineering & quality control woes (and they never do). We could try to rescue these ignorant owners by pointing out the massive disparity in resale value between the Wrangler & the FJC .. here's an example of what we might show them: Compared a 2007 FJ Cruiser with 4WD, manual tranny to a 2007 Wrangler 4WD with manual tranny and 70,000 miles. Both were rated in "good" condition: Private Party values: FJ= $19,555 Wrangler=$15,340 difference=$4,215 Trade in Value: FJ=$18,825 Wrangler=$14,425 difference=$4,400 But they could care less. We might also try to intercede for their benefit by reminding them of the incessant recalls the Wrangler has been subject to over the years affecting everything from air bags, brakes, tranny issues to electrical woes. http://www.motortrend.com/used_cars/11/jeep/wrangler/recalls/ By way of comparison, the FJC has but one silly recall involving a gross vehicle weight decal in its 5+ years of production. We might also remind them that on Toyota forums nearly every day .. people are posting/reporting actual IQ increases of 5+ after trading in their Wrangler/Jeep what have you for an FJ: http://www.fjcruiserforums.com/forums/general-discussion/27959-iq-jumped-5-points-today-traded-jeep-fj.html We might post a few video clips showing IFS FJCs pulling stuck Jeeps (with their glorious SA up an incline my 6 year old could climb with his big wheeler -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvdgdtIrtYM But you'd be wastin your time -- these fool will swear on a stack of bibles that the Wrangler is WORTH every penny they've paid for it (at least many would) and they will proclaim the glory of solid axle (something FJ owners are already doing conversion wise) - they will beat their chest as they tell you that the Wrangler "is cool & popular" (as is evident by sales #s (which actually hurt the Wrangler's value as the market's inventories are saturated with Wranglers galore ... God could descend from the heavens and proclaim that owning a Wrangler is a road to bitter disappointment (even if their pride precludes them from admitting it), but they would turn their nose up. You see .. Heep fans are crazy stupid ..not only for the fact that they own one -- but in the defensive and offensive arguments they wage. It's futile Fried_Rice ... just plain out futile ... Debating the Heep crowd is as futile as debating the NASCAR idiots with F1 (real auto racing).
      Mad_Science
      • 3 Years Ago
      Too bad it took them this long to get a good motor and interior in the JK chassis. By all accounts, there was pretty much no reason to buy a JK over a TJ ('96-06)...now there is. ...especially if Fiat decides to forget what makes a Wrangler a Wrangler and ruin it in '14. A Wrangler is a platform for future modification, with the end goal being 33-35" tires, lower gearing and massive suspension travel. To date, no one's delivered an independent suspension setup with enough travel and robustness (CV axles and the like) to meet these goals. While there's certainly precedent for it working (XJ Cherokees), I'm curious what Chriat thinks they could gain from going unibody. Weight, safety and NVH are typical reasons for unibodification, none of which matter on a Wrangler. Meanwhile, the drawbacks of increased cost and difficulty to modify are certain turn-offs. They already sell the Compass (unfortunately) and Liberty for those that want a cute-ute with a Jeep grill. Take a page from Toyota's 4Runner and remember that there are still people out there who want, need and will buy real SUVs.
        sotsov
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Mad_Science
        2014 is too soon for a Wrangler update. I hope they stick to the 10-year-cycle. Jeeps are already full of such old technology that there's no point in doing it sooner. But it does sound like the 2012 and last years of the JK will end up being the "year to have" in the world of Jeep. The Chrysler Skunkworks have all kinds of great ideas but management isn't taking any notice and will force new design parameters on them that will finally destroy the Jeep brand's core. A 2012 Rubicon has everything you want - Dana 44s which were totally redesigned back in 07, a fantastic motor, a decent interior (whatever) and lots of other options, as opposed to the TJ Rubicon which had air lockers, terrible steering, a mid-90s interior and two trim packages.
      cashsixeight
      • 3 Years Ago
      I would think 300hp-ish in something like that with low gearing would be pretty fast. What gives?
        VROOOM!
        • 3 Years Ago
        @cashsixeight
        It has a big bore (high reving) and a short stroke (torque made higher in the RPM range). Definitely designed as a car engine. For Comparison purposes: VQ40DE which is Nissan's 4.0L in the 4000+ Lb xterra has a slightly smaller bore and much bigger stroke and with a higher gearing and does 0-60 in 7 secs or so. Technically this penta star engine could be more efficient in this car and gain some performance by stroking and adding an additional gear.
        thealzabo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @cashsixeight
        1) It isn't designed for speed. 2) It's less aerodynamic than the garage you'll park it in.
          cashsixeight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @thealzabo
          Aero doesn't matter much for a 0-60. And I don't care what it's designed for. 280+hp, AWD, crazy low gearing should equal fast.
          cashsixeight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @thealzabo
          Look jackass. I didn't BUY this car to go fast, I was asking a question. And sure, 4wd isn't AWD, I get that if you want to nitpick. But still. ALL FOUR WHEELS ARE POWERED, 300hp, super short gearing. It should go fast; the old Grand Cherokee sure went pretty quickly.
          jtav2002
          • 3 Years Ago
          @thealzabo
          Well you should care what it's designed for. You're overlooking the point of the vehicle. It also weighs over 4,100lbs. Its also not AWD either. There's a huge difference between AWD and 4WD. Anyone launching a Wrangler in 4WD trying to get good 0-60 runs obviously purchased the wrong vehicle.
        WillieD
        • 3 Years Ago
        @cashsixeight
        It's 4100 pounds, it has large tires, and the aerodynamics don't help. And it's only 285 hp. I wouldn't expect that to get to 60 in as fast as it does.
      Buckets81
      • 3 Years Ago
      Nice to finally see a suitable engine in the last real Jeep. My Cherokee is starting to get a bit worn out. I might have to start saving my pennies for a Rubicon.
      Ryan Goimarac
      • 3 Years Ago
      In response to truevoice's rather ignorant and dumb comment, the 5spd in the grand cherokee is a phenomenal transmission setup that can handle the torque and added hp of the pentastar. Now, I've heard some complaints about the tranny in the previous two generations of GC but this is a different story, and so far, every major auto magazine and editorial of the GC and its transmission have been all positive. My father has a 2011 GC overland with the v6 and the tranny is the smoothest I've felt in any suv. Save the mercedes ML and sedans its borrowed from. Let's also not forget that the durango and GC have bested both the ford explorer and honda pilot...and almost every other suv in its class in all facets.
        sotsov
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ryan Goimarac
        The Ford Explorer isn't really in that class anymore....
        WillieD
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ryan Goimarac
        How has it bested the Explorer in all facets?
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