2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Introduction
While it might at first seem that a four-door edition of the iconic Jeep Wrangler would upset purists and alienate long-time customers of the brand, the opposite is in fact true. The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon has emerged as the perfect compromise for Jeep fans who have longed to get behind the wheel of the rugged SUV but had to temper their passions due to the requirement for legitimate five-passenger practicality and a functional trunk. Stretching out the Wrangler's platform has brought with it a few other benefits as well, altogether creating a surprisingly popular addition to the company's trail-rated lineup that doesn't water down the image or capabilities of what is perhaps the best modern off-road vehicle that can be bought off of a showroom floor.
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon finds itself facing a motley crew of tough sport-utility vehicles that have managed to survive the crossover gentrification that has largely eliminated body-on-frame options from the market. In terms of mission, the closest rival to the Wrangler Unlimited is the Nissan Xterra, which offers four-doors, an available PRO-4X trim level to dial-up off-road prowess, and a decent level of around-town comfort. The Toyota FJ Cruiser provides additional access to its back quarters via a second set of rear-hinged doors and comes with a good reputation on the trail, although the mid-size SUV hasn't been updated in recent memory and its age is starting to show. Bigger, more comfortable vehicles like the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon can be outfitted with off-road packages in order to improve their competence when the going gets rough, but as far as dedicated rock-crawling platforms go they are left in the dust by the Wrangler Unlimited.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Pricing and Trim Levels
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited starts out in base Sport trim (MSRP $25,545) and tops out at the Call Of Duty: MW3 Edition (MSRP $40,455), which yes, is based on a video game. The Rubicon trim represents the most capable of the Wrangler Unlimited models, named after the Sierra Nevada's Rubicon Trail, and retails for an MSRP of $33,770.
After factoring in the optional equipment on the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon provided to us for our week-long test by Chrysler Canada, we came to an out-the-door price of roughly $37,105.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Exterior
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon benefits from one of the most familiar sheet metal shapes to have ever hit the open road. The Wrangler's basic styling language is at its core unchanged since the vehicle appeared all the way back in 1941 as the go-anywhere transporter of choice for the U.S. Army. Obviously, over the years the Wrangler has grown in size and gained a few more rounded edges to offset its hard, industrial origins, but the seven-bar grille, the upright windshield, and the over-sized fender flares remain. Perhaps the greatest change to the Wrangler's visual personality occurred in 2007 when the four-door Unlimited model was introduced and the vehicle's wheelbase was stretched out to accommodate the longer look. Although at first glance the extra doors on the Jeep might look a bit awkward - especially to those accustomed to seeing two-door Wranglers for most of their lives - it's not long before the four-door Unlimited feels as natural as the original model. The SUV's tall ride height, plastic bumpers, fog lights, and short overhangs are complemented by 32-inch BFGoodrich mud tires wrapped around 17-inch rims.
Like all Wranglers, the Unlimited Rubicon features a removable soft top, an available hard top, and side doors that can be taken off the vehicle in order to give the driver a better look at the terrain he or she is traversing. We kept the doors on our test vehicle firmly latched, but we did experiment with the convertible aspect of the Rubicon's roof. While it was definitely a blast to cruise around with the sun directly over the front two positions, we had trouble folding the canvas material back so as to completely clear the second row of seating. We also had a rather sheepish moment after blasting through a mud pit and realizing that the top hadn't been securely latched over the right side of the vehicle, drenching at least one passenger and requiring a cleanup on aisle Jeep.
The zip-up rear window that came with our Wrangler Unlimited also posed problems when it came time to load up the Jeep via the swing-away tailgate. After undoing the window zipper we had to dangle the entire panel off the back of the vehicle until it was time to close everything up again, which had us nervous about scratching or otherwise damaging either the window or the Wrangler's paint.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Interior
The inside of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon presents an interesting mix of utilitarian design themes and a genuine attempt to bring the SUV more in line with what potential customers expect out of a 21st century truck's passenger compartment. Roll-bar padding, fabric grab handles, and tethers on each of the doors remind you instantly that you are sitting in a vehicle that has for decades been designed with function over form in mind. The noisiness of the soft top, the limited visibility from the rear plastic windows, and the fact that you can wash out pretty much the entire cabin using a garden hose without doing any damage are further indications along these lines.
Don't get us wrong, however - there's a lot to like about the straightforward, no-nonsense presentation of the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon's interior. Big dials, easy-to-access buttons, and comfy seats with tons of rear legroom were highlights of the Jeep's passenger compartment, as was the Uconnect system that managed navigation, Bluetooth, and entertainment options. We have consistently found Chrysler's Uconnect feature to be amongst the most user-friendly interfaces available in an affordable vehicle, and the Wrangler Unlimited was no exception. Our Rubicon tester also came with nice-to-have features such as steering wheel controls for the stereo system and cruise control, heated seats, and automatic climate control.
Immediately in front of the driver sits a small vehicle information screen, two binnacle gauges that keep track of engine and vehicle speed, and of course indicator lights to show us the status of the Wrangler's four-wheel drive system and other off-road goodies. The actual shift handle for engaging four-wheel drive was located just to the left of the automatic transmission's gear selector, underneath the dash. The dashboard and door panels were covered in an acceptably soft black plastic, and Jeep has mounted the SUVs speakers on the dash and the second-row crossmember for the roll bar, which means that even with the top down and the doors off you'll still be able to enjoy your tunes. At one point, we had the Jeep so covered in mud that satellite radio reception became an iffy proposition, but we can hardly fault the Wrangler for that.
Campers and trail enthusiasts will also enjoy the fact that the Rubicon comes with several 12-volt outlets sprinkled throughout the interior, as well as a 115-volt AC outlet for powering a laptop or other small-draw devices. Despite our issues with the plastic rear window, we found that the Unlimited was a great cargo mule with the rear seats folded forward. We were able to stash a complete drum kit inside the Jeep with room to spare - an impressive feat given the bulkiness and unusual size of this type of gear.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
The big news for the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is the replacement of last year's boat-anchor V-6 with an all-new 3.6-liter Pentastar unit that has been tuned to provide 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque from its six cylinder, managed by either a five-speed automatic (as in our test vehicle) or a six-speed manual transmission. Four-wheel drive is of course included with the Rubicon (one of several different systems that can be ordered with the Wrangler Unlimited), and fuel mileage checks in at 16-mpg in city driving and 21-mpg on the highway. This represents an improvement of one and two miles per gallon for each respective measure when compared against the 2011 Wrangler.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Driving Impressions
Let's get this out of the way right now: while it's a lot better than it used to be, in no way should the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon be judged by how well it drives on a smooth, paved surface. The Rubicon is outfitted with electronically-locking Dana 44 solid axles front and rear and rides on a suspension system that has been designed to offer great travel and articulation when picking one's way from rock-to-rock far off of the beaten path. These specs simply do not translate to a daily drive comparable to even a large SUV featuring a full frame design. Think washboard shudder over broken pavement, the rear end stepping out when you hit a bump in a curve, and a steering system so vague that it's almost like you're shouting commands from the bridge of a trawler, and you get the picture.
We don't want to give you the impression that the Wrangler Unlimited is horribly uncomfortable or unsafe when asked to tackle commuting duties - it's not. It's simply not designed to excel anywhere other than the Big Backyard, and it's necessary to keep this in mind when exploring the limits of its handling and braking capabilities. In fact, the Unlimited is much more forgiving from a comfort perspective than the regular Wrangler thanks to the stabilizing effect of its longer wheelbase.
One aspect of the Rubicon that worked equally well regardless of what environment the SUV found itself in was the Pentastar V-6, which provided more than enough grunt to chirp the tires on the asphalt as well as spin them through the mud. Acceleration is considerably quicker than the languid forward progress offered by the 2011 edition of the Wrangler - over three seconds faster to 60-mph - and the 3.6-liter engine never feels like it's being asked to work too hard when passing uphill or negotiating a steep segment of trail. The Unlimited's automatic transmission was also quite capable of keeping up with right foot prompts, and it offered the ability to select and hold individual cogs as long as necessary by simply slapping the shift knob to the left or the right.
Montreal is a city whose infrastructure is crumbling on an almost daily basis, and so it was easy enough to find areas of deep mud, standing water, rock heaps, and hilly moguls to test out the Rubicon's unique four-wheel drive system. The Rubicon comes with Rock-Trac four-wheel drive, which makes excellent use of the Wrangler's departure and approach angles to really dig into whatever traction is available and keep the SUV moving forward. Rock-Trac comes with a 4:1 crawl ratio that makes it much easier to apply engine torque without spinning the wheels, which is important when trying to avoid digging your Jeep its own muddy grave out on the trail.
Four low was helpful to us - in conjunction with the Rubicon's hill descent system - when mounting rocky outcroppings with the vehicle, as well as when descending extremely steep dirt berms. In the four-wheel high ratio we were able to hit thicker mud pits at speed without worrying about getting slowed down by the wave of sludge that we pushed ahead of us. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon was an excellent off-road companion that never felt anything other than sure-footed as we bashed our way across some of the bumpiest, hardest, and muckiest trails that Montreal has to offer. What else comes with the Rubicon to help keep it safe where other SUVs fear to tread? Full rock rails, underbody skid plate armor, and the ability to remotely unhook the front swaybar for extra articulation and compression are some of the model's highlights.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Safety
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon comes standard with multi-stage front airbags for both the driver and front passenger. It's possible order the Wrangler with seat-mounted side impact airbags up front as well for added protection. Electronic stability control and traction control are offered free of charge with the Jeep, which relies mostly on its strong roll cage and crush zones to help protect occupants in the event of an accident.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Final Thoughts
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: Final Thoughts
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon has one wheel planted in the day-to-day driving world (long, stable chassis, revamped interior, more powerful and fuel efficient engine) and three wheels firmly plowing through the mud and dirt that represents the off-road universe. The Rubicon is more capable of stepping out into the wilderness and coming through the other side completely unscathed than any other vehicle available for sale today, and it will definitely plaster a smile across your face as you bounce, grind, and claw your way past obstacle after obstacle.
Would you want to drive one to work every day? The Wrangler's sales figures indicate that for many people, the answer to that question is a resounding yes, as the Unlimited's spacious cabin and practical four-door design gloss over its less-than-polished on-road dynamics. The Rubicon has gotten better for 2012 without sacrificing any of its brashness or all-terrain skill, which means that there has never been a better time to get behind the wheel of a Wrangler.
What We Like About The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
- Classic Jeep looks
- Completely unstoppable in any environment
- Great rear passenger room, and lots of cargo space
- Good power from new 3.6-liter V-6
We Aren't So Hot On:
- Tricky-to-use soft top
- Disconnected on-road steering
- Loud inside at highway speeds
- Compromised visibility from plastic windows