2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Review [Video]

Nov. 13, 2011 By Josh Burns, Photos by Josh Burns and Jaime Hernandez
We took the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon through the Cleveland National Forrest to test its off-road mettle.

In 2012, the overhaul of the Jeep Wrangler that first started in 2011 is now complete. With major interior upgrades to last year's model, the 2012 Jeep Wrangler receives a new, more powerful engine that increases horsepower output by 40 percent while still improving its efficiency over the 2011 Wrangler V-6 engine. This, and a host of other changes, all add up to make what was already the most capable production-model off-road vehicle even better.

At the heart of the 2012 Wrangler upgrades is the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, which was fitted to the Wrangler for 2012 after first being used in the 2011 Grand Cherokee (only a different intake manifold and oil pan are need for its adaptation). Whatís impressive about the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is that itís not only more powerful than the previous 202-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 on the 2011 Wrangler, producing 83 more horsepower and 10 percent more torque (260 lb.-ft.), it manages to be more powerful while being more efficient. The 2011 Wrangler featured a 15 City, 19 Highway rating, while the 2012 Wrangler with the new Pentastar engine features a rating of 17 city, 21 highway (for the manual model).

But the 3.6-liter Pentastar doesnít go it alone. Jeep engineers removed the four-speed transmission previously used and fitted a new five-speed transmission on the 2012 Wrangler. This new transmission features an added gear that allows for more refined shifting and gear selection in a more fuel-efficient RPM range. The lower first-gear ratio also allows the new automatic transmission to have a lower crawl ratio in off-road situations. Depending upon the model, gear ratios are available in 3.21, 3.73 and 4.10 (the Rubicon we tested was equipped with the 4.10). Off-roaders will also be happy to know that Jeep fitted its first application of a manual transmission to the Pentastar V-6, offering a six-speed manual option on the 2012 Wrangler.

At the heart of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler is the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine. Producing 285 horsepower, the Pentastar engine is more powerful and more efficient than its predecessor.

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The Wrangler is available in a number of different packages, though most hard-core off-roaders being most intrigued with the Rubicon package we tested. The Rubicon features tunable monotube shocks, front and rear Tru-Lok locking differentials, water-fording capability up to 30 inches of water (thanks to a raised engine air intake), sway-bar disconnect for off-roading, and 32-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires. The Rubicon model also features stout Dana 44 front and rear axles, and the Rock-Trac NV241 two-speed transfer case features a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio. All in all, the Rubicon package combines to create, in our opinion, the most off-road-savvy production vehicle available. 
The  2012 Jeep Wrangler is available in two- and four-door options, and in a variety of different option packages depending upon your needs. Photo Courtesy of Chrysler

Aside from the Rubicon version, the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited are also available in Sport, Sport S and Sahara packages. The Sport and Sahara models feature a driveline combination of a Dana 30 front axle and Dana 44 rear axle, utilizing a Comand-Trac NV241, part-time, two-speed transfer case, which features a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio. A limited-slip Trac-Lok rear differential provides added torque and traction in low-grip situations.

Jeep engineers paired a new five-speed transmission (replacing the previous four-speed trans) with the new 3.6-liter Pentastar engine on the 2012 Jeep Wrangler.

For those looking for comfort in their off-road-capable Jeep Wrangler, the 2012 model comes loaded with pretty much any modern amenities one might need. Jeep redesigned the interior in 2011 using upgraded materials and adding functions such as steering wheel controls, automatic temperature controls, heated seats and power mirrors. Thereís the Uconnect system that features voice recognition functions, Bluetooth streaming audio and phone connection capability, integrated navigation and a SiriusXM Satellite Radio option. We must confes, the buttons on the steering wheel do truly make some functions easier to control while driving, especially when answering a phone call or adjusting the stereo volume.

When pavement ends, the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is still right at home.

The Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited come equipped with a number of safety and security features, such as standard electronic stability control, electronic roll mitigation, trailer-sway controls, hill-start assist (to make hill starts safer and easier). Our Unlimited Wrangler Rubicon was also equipped with Downhill Assist (a feature found on all automatic Wranglers), which allows the driver to focus on steering the Jeep while the vehicle will handle the breaking to navigate difficult downhill terrain.

Our 2012 Rubicon made scaling most off-road obstacles a breeze, thanks in part to its front and rear locking differentials in the Dana 44 axles.

Before getting our 2012 Wrangler in the dirt, we drove it around town for a few days, running daily errands to the supermarket, beach and dog park. Around town, the Wrangler drives smooth on the street. The new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine provides improved low-end power and torque. When leaving stop lights or getting on the freeway, the 3.8-liter engine found on the 2011 Wrangler felt, at times, underpowered. It lacked oomph and made the JK Wrangler, especially the Unlimited four-door version, feel heavy and slow. The power delivery on the 2012 Wrangler, however, feels much stouter; when punching the throttle it responds with confidence. The five-speed transmission provides smooth shifting whether on the highway or cruising city streets. Also, the "Eco" display will inform the driver whether the Wrangler is operating in a fuel-efficient RPM range, which comes natural thanks to the new transmission unless the driver is really heavy on the gas.

The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon we tested comes equipped with 32-inch BFGoodrich Mud Terrain tires on 17-inch alimum wheels for added off-road traction. Although slightly louder than a conventional street tire, they are still pretty quiet on paved roads. Besides, the added off-road traction is worth a little bit of added road noise.

The instrumentation keeps track of a number of things, such as trip distance, temperature, compass gauge, but it also records fuel consumption data as well. In an effort to verify its accuracy we also kept track of our fuel stops. Just driving around town and occasionally jumping on the freeway, we averaged 18.5 miles per gallon, which is in the middle of the 16 city, 20 highway mpg rating for automatic 2012 Wrangler. Itís also the same number the instrumentation read during our first tank of fuel. For our next fill up, we covered over 50 miles of off-road terrain mixed in with some city and highway driving. We still averaged 16.5 mpg on this tank, which the gauge also accurately gauged. Weíd have to say the fuel consumption feature is pretty accurate for those wanting to keep track. 

The 2012 Jeep Wrangler tackled our climb 4000 feet in elevation up Black Mountain Truck Trail in Cleveland National Forrest in comfort and style. We were also impressed the integrated Garmin GPS actually located the fire road.

To get the Wrangler dirty, we headed south of the LA area to San Diego County to the Cleveland National Forest. We traveled on recently opened fire roads and plenty of off-shoot trails that offered a little more challenge. There were lots of large ruts washed out from previous rains, rocky slopes to navigate on hill climbs, and even the occasional fallen tree to climb over, but none of these things presented much challenge for our 2012 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.

The interior received updates on the 2011 Wrangler, and overall the integration of technology and an ergonomically friendly design made the 2012 Jeep Wrangler a fun drive on and off road. Photo Courtesy of Chrysler

With its locking front and rear differentials, the Wrangler crawled over off-road obstacles with little struggle. It actually made most uneven rocky slopes look easy. We didnít take it into any hard-core crawling environments (since it wasnít technically ours to beat up), but we certainly put it to the test and never experienced much struggle. The engine also provided more that enough low-end torque to help us scale any hill, rut or obstacle we encountered. Itís nice to see the new engine isnít just an improvement for on-road applications Ė it performs great off-road as well.

The Sway Bar disconnet and front and rear lockers are controlled by switches just to the left of the steering wheel.

Even on uneven ground, the 2012 4x4 Jeep Wrangler excelled in off-road situations.

The new 2012 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon certainly blends durability with comfort (more comfort than ever before), but donít think for a second its off-road prowess has been compromised. Even the modern off-road functions can be useful, such as the Downhill Assist function. This is purely an off-road, slow-speed function for 4WD Low applications, and when activated it controls the braking for the Jeep to allow the driver to focus on, well, driving. Itís a great feature for tricky off-road sections or for those whoíd rather focus on driving and not operating the brake as well.

The Rock Rails on the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon helps protect the body from rocks and other things that can nick up the undercarriage of the vehicle. The Rubicon also features added protection with a transfer case and fuel tank skid plate shield.

Thereís plenty of room for storage at the back of the four-door Jeep Wrangler. The 60/40 split rear seats also fold down when larger items need to be loaded.

The 115-volt AC outlet is a nice tough on the Wrangler Unlimited, offering the ability to plug in or charge home electronics while on the road.

The engine air intake on the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon allows it to ford up to 30-inch-deep water sections on the trail with no worries.

The 2012 Wrangler is a great example of American ingenuity Ė Jeep took something that is great and made it even better. Not all off-roaders will want or need all the modern amenities found in the new Wrangler, but the important thing is that Jeep took the JK Wrangler and improved it for on- and off-road driving. With a number of different option packages available, thereís a 2012 Jeep Wrangler out there to fit most any need.

For more information, visit Jeep.com.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Specs
General Information
Body Style Four-door sport-utility vehicle
Assembly Plant Toledo Supplier Park, Toledo, Ohio
EPA Vehicle Class Multi-purpose vehicle
Introduction Date 2007
Engine: 3.6-liter, DOHC V-6
Type and Description 60° V-type, liquid-cooled
Displacement 220 cu. in.
Bore & Stroke 3.78 x 3.27 (96 x 83)
Compression Ratio 10.2:1
Power 285 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 260 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm
Fuel Requirement Unleaded Regular, 87 octaone
Oil Capacity 6.0 qt. (5.7L)
Coolant Capacity 14 qt.
EPA Fuel Economy MPG (City/Hwy) Automatic (16/20), Manual (16/21 - 4x4)
Electrical System
Alternator 160-amp
Battery 600 CCA, maint. free
Transmission: NSG 370 - Manual, 6-Speed Overdrive
Availability Standard on all Models
Description Synchronized in all forward gears and Reverse, top- mounted shift lever
Clutch Hydraulic Actuation
Gear Ratios
1st 4.46
2nd 2.61
3rd 1.72
4th 1.25
5th 1
6th 0.797
Reverse 4.06
Axle Ratio 3.21 Standard, 3.73 optional (4.10 Rubicon)(
Overall Top-Gear 2.53 Standard, 2.95 Optional (3.24 Rubicon)
Transmission: W5A580 Automatic, 5-Speed Overdrive
Availability Optional
Description Adaptive electronic control or Electronic Range Select (ERS) driver-interactive manual control and electronically modulated torque converter clutch
Gear Ratios
1st 3.59s
2nd 2.19
3rd 1.41
4th 1
5th 0.83
Reverse 3.16
Axle Ratio 3.06:1
Overall Top Gear 2.54
Dimensions and Capacities
General Overall Length 173.4
Overall Width (without mirrors) 73.9
Height 70.8
Wheelbase 116
Track, Front/Rear 61.9
Max. Payload 1,000 lbs.
Fuel-tank Capacity 22.5 gal.
Curb Weight (as tested Wrangler Rubicon, Auto.) 4,340 lbs. (1969 kg)

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