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AUGUST 22, 2011: The 2012 Jeep Wrangler is hitting the dealerships now, but unless you take the test drive, you may not immediately notice the difference from the 2011.  The 2012 Wrangler is now powered by the aluminum block 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and that alone is an improvement worth noting.  Horsepower?  40% more, now at 285 hp.  Torque?  10% more, now at 260 lb.-ft.   Match this great powerplant with either the A580 5-speed Automatic or the NSG 370 6-speed Manual and the result is summed up in one word: Fun…simply put, the power made the 2012 Wrangler fun to drive.

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I had the opportunity to test drive the 2012 Wrangler in and around the Tillamook State Forest outside Portland OR.   Tillimook has wineries and cheese as far as you can see…and plenty of twisty winding roads to get around.  The Pentastar V-6 powers well up the the hills and through the turns.  The 4-door Sahara hard top we were driving handled well, though we could get the inside rear tire to unload on hard cornering (the ABS would trigger).  Brake fade was present, but not unnerving.  Passing (50mph to 90+mph…sshhhh) was admirable. Our Pentastar V-6 was paired with a the A580 5-speed Automatic and it shifted precisely.  Downshifts under quick power changes happened promptly…none of that irritating hesitation.  Braking (60 to 0) was straight and controlled, even the transition from the pavement to the gravel shoulder was barely noticeable.

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I’ll be the first to admit I want to experience that power across Vail Pass on I-70…with a 3500# camper in tow.  Tillimook was fun, but the grades were not steep enough or long enough to truly push the Pentastar.  I’d also be curious on decent, how the transmission gearing holds back the trailer weight.

Offroad, it’s a Jeep.  For most terrain, you point, it goes.  ‘Nuf said.  Our offroad testing opportunity was understandably limited, since the Pentastar power is most appreciated on the road.  We had the opportunity (under Jeep Jamboree handlers) to run a short and simple off-road course.  The Pentastar V-6 makes nice steady power, and the throttle is easy to control.  My first run was with an A580 5-speed Automatic and one of the Jeep Jamboree spotters wondered if i had the 6-speed manual…climbing power was smooth.  Second run was with the NSG 370 6-speed Manual and I barely touched the throttle the entire climb (and it if hadn’t been for traffic, I wouldn’t have needed the clutch either)  The Pentastar V-6 lugs down sufficiently and the fuel injection system keeps things running.

Inside, you’ll notice few differences from the already improved 2011 models.   Jeep has conveniently added storage points in the rear deck for the hardware used to hold the factory hard top in position.  (yet, the two hand-screws for the t-tops still don’t have a storage spot…)  Road noise with the full hard top was very acceptable.  A few other factors inside tie the iconic Jeep form together.

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Outside, the side and rear window sizes are increased helps reduce those irritating c-pillar blind points.  The factory hard top and flares are available as color-matched on the Sahara and Rubicon models.  And check out the windshield…yes, it’s the little things…

Honestly, no one notices when a design works cleanly…but everyone notices when a design fails to come full circle.  Nothing jumped out at me as being out of place in the design and aesthetics.  Hey, no one wants an ugly truck.

Mechanically, the axle ratios are now available in 3.21, 3.73 and 4.10.  73:1 crawl ratio with an appropriately equipped Rubicon model.   3500# max towing capabilities.  The alternator is mounted HIGH on the engine to keep it dry.  Equal length exhaust and 20% less backpressure for smooth flow and quiet sound.

Simply put, I’m a fan.  The “no replacement for displacement, gota have a Hemi” crowd will be mostly silenced.  Jeep has completed the circle with the Pentastar V-6 and has pushed the Wrangler from off-road capable, on-road acceptable into a truly enjoyable off- AND on-road experience.

Final note:  The approximate average age of a Wrangler Unlimited owner is 44.  Buyers are 75% male.  60% have college degrees.  As a 44yo male with a college degree,  I guess it’s time to go shopping!

 

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