New Car Review: 2012 Jeep Wrangler

Front 3/4 view of blue 2012 Jeep Wrangler in mountains
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler.
Regular TireKicker readers know of my fondness for purposeful, iconic design. Well, right up there with the Porsche 911 (but one heck of a lot less expensive) is the Jeep Wrangler.

Remarkably, I've never owned one. This, despite spending 16 years of my life in the High Sierras and 27 in the Desert Southwest. Came close once, in Reno in 1978. But the CJ (as it was then known) was crude, thirsty and expensive. I bought a Toyota Corolla instead.

Now, though, the Jeep Wrangler appears to be in a sweet spot...having acquired comfort, practicality and everyday usefulness (well, some of those things, anyway) without sacrificing its rugged go-anywhere capabilities.

A lot of credit for that goes to the new Pentastar 3.6 liter V6. 285 horsepower, 260 pounds per foot of torque...and it's standard in every Wrangler...even the base $22,045 Wrangler Sport. That engine brings with it a much better mileage picture, too...EPA estimated 17 city/21 highway.

Our tester was the two-steps-up Sahara, which adds air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, power locks and windows, body-color fender flares, deep tint sunscreen glass, and 18 inch satin silver painted wheels. Base price for the Sahara: $27,970.

Interior view of 2012 Jeep Wrangler with panoramic mountain vista through windshield
2012 Jeep Wrangler interior.

The other major improvement in the Wrangler? The interior. Chrysler/Fiat (or Fiat/Chrysler)'s attention to detail in the cabins has spread to the Jeep and it is now a remarkably nice place to be, while still maintaining the ruggedness of materials and construction a real Jeep needs.

Our Sahara also had a big batch of optional equipment...leather-trimmed seats (heated in front) for $900...Customer Preferred Package 24G (a remote USB port, electronic vehicle information center and Uconnect voice command with Bluetooth) for $385...a 5-speed automatic transmission with hill descent control for $1,125...Trac-Lok limited slip rear differential for $295...a body-color 3-piece hardtop with rear window wiper, washer and defroster and a storage bag for $1,715...a Media Center upgrade (AM/FM/SiriusXM/CD/DVD/mp3/HDD/Navigation system with SiriusXM Travel Link and a 6.5 inch touch-screen display) for $1035 (a bargain when you consider many nav systems are $2,000 or more)...and a remote start system for $200.

Fold in the $800 destination charge and the bottom line is $34,425. No, that's not cheap. But it's not outrageous, and it's possible to shave almost 12 grand off that price and still get the great engine, decent interior accomodations and off-road and poor weather capability.

The Wrangler is getting very close to being an offer too good to pass up.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

Base price: $27,970.

As tested: 34,425.

Likes: New Pentastar V6 engine, vastly improved interior, and it's still a real Jeep.

Dislikes: Can I get back to you on that?

EPA estimate: 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway.