2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara

The Porsche GT3 is made for track-day enthusiasts out from the box similarly the Jeep Wrangler is offroad-ready from the factory. If one thinks Porsche is more superiority than the Wrangler, this person has been living at the bottom of a filthy rich well for too long.

If a sports car is meant for the track, a sports utility vehicle is meant for playing in the sand, mud, boulder, water, and any obstacles in the concrete jungle such as wheel stops, potholes, curbs, speed bumps just as easy. Wrangler can do a lot more than any of the Porsche sporty cars. Consider this scenario, which car would you take to the beach with your favorite date for the million dollar sunset romance, and then drive right down onto Malibu downtown without getting looked down? Or going to the remote desert of Death Valley for some outdoor action, and then some orgy in the five-star hotels at Vegas?

The Wrangler, of course, the Squashed Beetle-On-Steroid (SBOS) will be stuck at the beach sand ten feet from the paved surface and never made it to Malibu. The SBOS doesn’t have a backseat or even a trunk for the needed space, or even survive the nature of Death Valley.

What kind of analogy is this? Comparing a Jeep to a VW Beetle/Porsche? Jeep and VW Beetle/Porsche have knowing each other quite well in fact. How? Porsche are based on VW Beetle from WWII Nazi. Jeep is based on WWII ally jeep. They had competed in battlefield once before. And guess who won?

Despite the in differences between the jeep and the beetle, they are now serving both the same intent, and for the same filthy demographics. One is for the filthy rich. One is filthy dirty from all the outdoor activities. Both customers are adventurous, spontaneous, desire a personal sense of freedom, and vehicle to reflect their personality, cool, fun to drive, and legendary. Great majority of buyers are male and earning six figures income.

Background – It all began in WWII.

The Jeep Wrangler’s gene pool is traceable to The Willys Military Jeep from World War II, often referred to as World War II Jeep. Designed with simplicity and reliability in mind for operating in harsh conditions, it equipped with Willys’ L134 “Go Devil” 2.2L all-iron I-4 engine that produced 60 hp @ 4,000 rpm, and 105 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm from the 79.4 mm x 111.1 mm overly undersqaure bore-to-stroke layout with compression ratio at only 6.5:1 and a single barrel carburetor. After the war in 1944, the civilian version was introduced to the market as the CJ (Civilian Jeep). The CJ was in production until 1987 when American Motors Corporation (AMC) was bought by Chrysler in 1987. AMC was then dissolved into Chrysler’s Jeep/Eagle division. The CJ officially became the Jeep Wrangler.

The first Jeep Wrangler (chassis code: YJ) was introduced to the market in 1987. It retained the fundamentals of the CJ but refinements were made to further enhance “civilian”. The wider leaf springs, trackbars, and swaybars were fitted under for better handling. The wider body also spotted a larger windshield for urban duty. The notable engine used was the AMC 4.0L I-6 that generated 190 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. The second generation Wrangler (chassis code: TK) was released in 1997. Urban refinements were further enhanced. It featured coil-spring suspension, 4-speed AT, and the AMC 4.0 I-6 was carried over.

The third generation (Chassis Code: JK) was released in 2007. It debuted at the New York Auto Show in 2006. The Wrangler Unlimited has become the first 4-door Wrangler in history. To accommodate the extra pair of doors, the shorter-wheelbase 2-door Wrangler is elongated by 20.6”. Mechanically, the powertrain, and suspension layout remain identical to the 2-door model.

In 2012 Wrangler Unlimited is available in Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon. The Rubicon is the top of the lineup with emphasis on offroading. It comes standard with 4.10 axle ratio, Dana 44 heavy duty front axle, and Tru-Lok electronic differential locker, electronic sway-bar disconnect system, Rock-Trac two-speed 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio transfer case, BF Goodrich Mud Terrain LT255/75R17 tires, and heavy duty rock rails.

Our Sahara in Dozer color was assembled in Toledo, Ohio. It contains 86% North American parts content. Its $ 35,310 MSRP include the following standard equipment: power locks, and windows, 115-volt outlet, SIRIUS Satellite radio, roll cage with full padding, leather wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, power heated mirror, tubular side steps, and body color fender flares. The equipped options are the body colored 3-piece roof panels, and the 5-speed automatic transmission.

Impression – Go anywhere and do anything.

Our 1,500 miles test drive took us from San Francisco Bay Area to Pismo Beach via the windy part of US101, from the jam-packed urban concrete jungle of Los Angeles to the wide open desert highway on I-15 to the idling Las Vegas. We evaluated the Wrangler’s 4WD system on the beach, high speed cornering on 101, tight freeway on-ramps in LA, and the low-end torque requiring LV Strip. Test drive review doesn’t get any more comprehensive than this.

From this extended test drive, we observed the following on the road, 1) during a lane change others were willingly to slow down for us to merge, 2) backing up from parking spot, cars were able to spot the Wrangler much easier and created room for the maneuver, 3) the Wrangler turns head in urban and rural settings alike, and 4) the Wrangler receives thumb ups by fellow offroaders at Pismo Beach.

Powertrain Performance and Refinement – New heart in old skeleton.

Wrapped in the Wrangler’s old chassis is the new Pentastar engine that has been recognized as one of the Ten Best Engines by Ward’s Automotive in both 2010 and 2011. The Pentastar is Chrysler’s corporate workhorse engine, and currently found in the Chrysler 200, 300 and Town & Country, and Dodge Avenger, Challenger, Charger, Durango, Journey and Grand Caravan, Jeep Grand Cherokee… Variances are made to the engine to better fit each application.

This made in Trenton, Michigan Pentastar V6 engine replaced the ancient 3.8L push rod, iron-block V-6 unit, generated only 202 hp @ 5,200 rpm, and 237 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm that struggled to propel the Wrangler. Under the tester’s clamshell hood, the all-aluminum Pentastar has 3.6L displacement and consists of 24-valve DOHC with variable camshaft timing on both intake and exhaust. Below the heads is the 96 x 83 mm oversquare bore-to-stroke layout with 10.2:1 compression ratio.

This new heart produces 285 hp @ 6,400 rpm, and 260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm. In the Wrangler, the intake system is revised to include a manifold that is specifically tuned for mid-range torque, and the throttle body is placed at the left side of the engine. The upper and lower oil pan has been reshaped for the engine to fit over the front axle, and to keeping the oil pickup submerged even at steep angles. The alternator is relocated to the top of the engine block to accommodate the Wrangler’s 30” fording depth to protect against the elements.

Behind the traditional seven-slot front grille are the 20% larger air-conditioning condenser, a standalone transmission cooler, and variable-speed electric fan that can reduce the demand on the high mounted alternator to reduce engine load which ultimately further enhance engine efficiency.

Mated to the backend of the engine is a five-speed automatic transmission (transmission code: W5A580). This Mercedes sourced tranny, produced in Kokomo, Indiana, features adaptive electronic control that adapt to different road conditions and vehicle usage. The torque converter clutch is electronically-modulated that can vary shifting speed and smoothness, Chrysler’s Electronic Range Select (ERS) manual mode is allow featured. This W5A580 is also found in the Grand Cherokee.

Astern of the tranny is the manual operated Command-Trac transfer case housing the center differential to provide 2WD High; 4WD high; neutral; and 4WD low driving modes. The 4WD low-range has 2.72:1 ratio to further shorten the 3.21 gear ratios from the front and rear differentials.

Pin the pedal to the floor, the torque delivery arises with pleasing engine note. VVT action can be heard via the limited sound insulation and follow by surge of acceleration. On paper, this powertrain is capable of bringing the Wrangler from the dead stop to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, and a quarter mile is reached in 16.4 seconds at 85.1 mph while overcoming the lack of aerodynamic, and its 4,294 lbs curb weight – power to weight ratio of 15 lbs/hp, and 16.5 lbs/lb-ft.

On the road, the Wrangler feels more powerful than indicated, the long 1st and 2nd gear ratios do affect acceleration from a dead stop, particularly, the 2nd gear can reach supercar like 80 mph. Once in motion, the engine has good passing power. But we greatly appreciated the powertrain’s linear response to throttle input. The drive-by-wire pedal provides excellent feedback, and the throttle map feels as natural as a cable operated throttle body with excellent tip-in response. The heavier and longer travel pedal gives precision control for offroading excursion where unwanted foot movement cause by rough ground affects throttle control.

In the era where tree-huggers stare at the JK with antagonism, but yet they are impotent to go deep into the forest for a tree-hug orgy in their Priuses. To ease these antagonisms, an artificial economy mode is implemented in the JK to keep huggers happy. During “eco on” mode, the much appraised throttle immediacy is diminished. Driver needs to rapidly smash the pedal to get any meaningful acceleration. This action alone causes global warning, as the driver will exhale more carbon dioxide for exerting work on the pedal. Good news though, “eco off” mode is the default driving mode and we highly recommend leaving it on.

The ERS manual shifting mode in the transmission helps the acceleration. The ERS mode is engaged by pulling the shifter in “D” toward the driver to downshift. Upshift is done by pushing the shifter toward the passenger. The head-scratching occurs when wanting to go back to auto mode. It has to be pushed and hold at the passenger for couple of seconds. In ERS mode, the transmission will hold gears at 6,400 rpm engine redline, and will auto downshift when necessary. No downshift rev match is offered.

Cruising at 70mph, engine revs at the relaxed 2,000 rpm with the torque converter unlocked to conserve fuel. Our observed average fuel consumption was 19.3 mpg with worst and best at 17.3, and 21.6, respectively, which agreed with EPA’s 16 City, 20 highway, and 18 combined ratings.

Thanks to the generous fuel tank capacity at 22.5 gallon, plus running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere is never good, the Wrangler can easily travel over 350 miles in one tankful of regular unleaded.

One thought on “2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara

  1. Impressive beast, great report. If you really like this type of vehicle I suggest a mullet and pack on two hundred pounds to fit in with the off roading crowd.

Comments are closed.