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.