The iconic Jeep Wrangler of my youth retains its ruggedness — and actual sport utility — while getting a big interior upgrade with the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Leather! Carpet! Satellite radio!
By Kristen Hall-Geisler
THE BIG PICTURE
I grew up with Jeeps. When I was a mere infant, my parents and their friends would get the Wranglers and government-issue green beasts with the white stars together and head out into the wilds of Pennsylvania. We crossed creeks when they were flowing and when they were frozen. When I was a teenager, the first vehicle I attempted to drive was my dad’s black Wrangler with the back seat removed.
Driving the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was at once familiar and also a big improvement on past memories. The shape is basically the same, and the shifters — the tall one for regular driving and the short one for four-wheel drive — were in the right place. The hard top comes off, as do the doors, for the ultimate summer Jeep. But this time, the seats can be covered in leather, and there was carpet rather than bare metal on the floor.
The cabin is where the biggest improvements can be found. It’s as if Jeep realized in the past few years that human beings were going to be inside the Wrangler, and they might like a few nice things such as better materials and heated seats. The rear seat isn’t very big and it’s nearly impossible to get into. The front seat is a bit of climb, too. Those with limited mobility or a penchant for pencil skirts are going to have some very undignified moments entering and leaving the Wrangler. The pedals are spaced very far apart in the foot well, which is a blessing for large-footed ladies, but getting my feet in the right spots as I shifted took me and my size-sevens a little practice.
If your family travels light into some forbidding places, then sure, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is family-friendly. But most twenty-first-century kin require far more cargo space than you’ll find tucked behind the rear seat. If your family group consists of one or two people and one or two dogs, then the Wrangler could be perfect. If you take all the panels off the whole vehicle is one big open window — the very definition of dog heaven.
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon has airbags, stability control, traction control, roll mitigation (to help keep you from going upside down), hill-start assist, locking front and rear differentials for true off-roading, rock rails, and a skid plate shield that protects the fuel tank from whatever you just drove over.
GIZMOS AND TECH
Beyond all the four-wheel-drive wizardry mentioned above, Jeep has added some modern electronics to the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, like the available nav system and stereo that came in the test vehicle. The touch screen was large and easy to use — handy if you’re leaving the interstate system behind for God knows where. It also had Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio, both of which could be controlled on the steering wheel.
What better way to celebrate Jeep’s 70th anniversary in 2012 than by throwing a bag and the dog in the Wrangler and heading for the rugged Oregon coast? With Danny in the passenger seat and Little Steven’s Underground Garage on the satellite radio, we headed west into the sunset, a girl and her dog on an adventure.
Getting to the coast requires some time on the freeway followed by summiting a couple of low mountain passes on two-lane roads. The Wrangler did as well as any vehicle on the freeway, passing and being passed, though the massive, nubby tires gave my voice a vibrato quality even when I chose not to sing along with The Ronnettes. The Wrangler seemed happiest cruising at 55 mph, which seemed retro cool (and gas-smart).
On the twisty climbs over the mountains, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon required encouragement and a downshift from gas-saving sixth gear to the more slope-appropriate fifth. I thought the suspension handled the terrain fine, but Danny disagreed. His eyes were at half-mast as he swayed in the passenger seat, turning the seat belt warning sign in the dash on and off. Luckily, the Wrangler had automatic windows that rolled down quickly. Danny seemed to feel much better with his head in the cool breeze of the Coast Range. I missed the ability to hose down the Wranglers of yesteryear.
Over a week of town and country driving, I squeezed 18.7 mpg out of the 3.6-liter V6 under the big square hood of my Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. It’s not great, but this isn’t a commuting car, unless you’re a park ranger. You’ll get better mileage out of most CUVs on the road, but you’ll never get front and rear tow hooks as standard equipment. Nor will any exaggerated station wagon give you the undeniable cool factor of driving a Jeep at the beach with your dog riding shotgun.
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon adds enough interior upgrades to make it livable, but not so many that it makes a weenie out of an off-road icon. I only regret that it was cold and rainy during my test week, so I did not get to treat Danny to the full top-off effect.
The interior upgrades make the 2012 Jeep Wrangler far more pleasant to drive than past Wranglers.
The leather seats add panache, like a vintage leather satchel.
Those knobby tires are not highway-friendly, causing decreased fuel efficiency and reducing passenger comfort.