Jeep Wrangler dirt-dog SUV scores new 3.6-liter V6 engine

2012, Jeep, Wrangler

FOREST GROVE, Ore. -- A rough trace cut through the Tillamook State Forest in Oregon's rugged Coast Ranges presents a challenge for four-wheeling through tall timber.

There are big rocks and deep ruts to overcome, barricades of felled tree trunks to bump across, steep inclines to scale, rock-littered creek beds to wade and oodles of tire-sucking mud to traverse.

Run this trail in a new 2012 Wrangler Rubicon by Jeep, and this sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicle will quickly dispel all daunting trail fears and build driver confidence with a demonstration of its amazing off-road prowess.

Wrangler traces in concept and heritage to the original off-road Willys MB "jeep" vehicle of World War II fame.

A modern interpretation appeared in 1987 to replace the CJ series, while a fresh design in 1997 brought a progressive suspension system and strong ladder-frame chassis with superior ground clearance and generous angles of approach and departure, all necessary for moving into off-road recesses where conventional vehicles cannot tread.

Then in 2003 Jeep added Wrangler Rubicon, the ultimate dirt-dog trail vehicle outfitted with all the armaments needed to successfully scramble over walls of granite or slip down steep chutes on a Class 10 track like the Rubicon Trail in the Desolation Wilderness of California's Sierra Nevada Range, the most daunting four-wheeling trace on the continent.

For the models of 2007, Wrangler acquired a rigid new chassis plus a longer and broader body for both the two-door Wrangler and a new four-door Wrangler Unlimited, the market's first four-door convertible SUV.

For the Unlimited, Wrangler's 95.4-inch wheelbase was stretched by 20.6 inches. This extra length is utilized to forge a bigger back seat (with two more side doors added for easy access) and there's more room in the rear cargo area too.

Now for 2012, both the two-door Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited shed an antiquated iron-block engine in favor of Chrysler's new Pentastar 3.6-liter dual-cam V6 built with an aluminum cylinder block and VVT (variable valve timing) controls.

The Pentastar V6 generates 285 hp at 6400 rpm with 260 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm.

It represents a boost of over 80 hp to put a real kick in Wrangler's throttle and trim a whole second off the time it takes to run from zero to 60 mph.

Transmission choices for the Pentastar V6 are the NSG370 heavy-duty six-speed manual or a new W5A580 five-speed electronic automatic.

The 2012 Jeep Wrangler two-door and Wrangler Unlimited four-door vehicles are available in three trim grades: Sport, Sahara and Rubicon.

These trim variations forge a surprising mix of models ranging from a price-leader Wrangler Sport two-door with back-to-basics roll-up windows and a breezy soft-top lid to the top-tier Wrangler Unlimited Sahara four-door outfitted with a hardtop shell and plush cabin appointments including power controls for windows, leather upholstery and heated bucket seats.

Sport and Sahara trims offer two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive modes via the Jeep Command-Trac NV241 part-time transfer case for running in 2WD High, 4WD High and 4WD Low.

But the Rubicon creates a class of one for 4WD prowess.

Particulars of Rubicon equipment range from a two-speed NV241OR Off-Road Rock-Trac transfer case with four-to-one low-range gear ratio to driver-selectable Tru-lock differentials fore and aft with Dana model 44 axles and electronic-disconnecting front active sway bar to increase suspension articulation plus an electronic rear-axle locker, heavy-duty black-painted steel rock rails, black fender flares and 17x7.5-inch painted cast aluminum wheels capped by BF Goodrich Mud Terrain LT255/75R17 on/off-road black sidewall tires.

A driver can ply pedals and toggles of the tri-lock differentials and active sway bar system to modulate the tire-gripping manners depending on demands of the terrain -- from rock-claw mode in full lock of all wheels, rear-wheel lock when also needing nuance input for steering or totally unlocked wheels for running on smooth pavement.

All Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited models sport classic round headlamps, a seven-slot Jeep signature grille, trapezoid wheel flares, exposed hinges and removable doors with options for full-framed doors or half doors.

The convertible gear includes a fold-down windshield, the soft-top lid and a wash-and-wear cockpit.

Wrangler Rubicon models for 2012 gain a body-color hardtop option that comes on the Sahara model.

A lengthy list of active electronic safety equipment goes to every Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited model, such as ABS (anti-lock brake system), BA (brake assist), BTC (brake traction control), ESC (electronic stability control), TSC (trailer sway control) and HSA (Hill start assist), plus ERM (electronic roll mitigation) which monitors the vehicle's roll attitude and estimates the potential for a rollover.

Jeep publishes a new MSRP chart for 2012 Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited models. The bottom and top price points extend from $22,090 (Wrangler Sport) to $33,575 (Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon).

By Bob Plunkett

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2012 Jeep Wrangler
2012 Jeep Wrangler
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the interior with a view
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from the top up