EXPERT REVIEW

Mother Proof's view


When my mom laid eyes on the 2012 Jeep Wrangler, she promptly said, “Isn’t that the cutest thing?” and then, “You should go find a river to drive through.” Following my mama’s advice, I couldn’t find a river nearby but did find a stream that the Wrangler and I giddily pounded through. I found the ride to be unexpectedly smooth, though still inclusive of some classic Jeep bounce.

Some things never change. Mama always knows best, and the Jeep is “cuter” than ever but remains filled with just as much off-road, Jeep-y goodness as it ever has been.

I love the 2012 Jeep Wrangler, but the two-door Wrangler Rubicon model that I tested is not a family car. In fact, detailing the many ways the two-door Wrangler cannot accommodate your family would be unfair. It’s all about fun and off-road capability with the Wrangler; there is a four-door Wrangler Unlimited that’s likely a bit more family-friendly.

For 2012, the Wrangler gets a new 3.6-liter V-6 engine and gains a few miles of fuel economy. All Wranglers have standard four-wheel drive, and a new five-speed automatic transmission is available.

The 2012 Wrangler is offered in three trims: Sport, Sahara and Rubicon. The Sport is the base model, the Sahara is filled with some of the nicest features and the Rubicon that I test-drove is the best equipped for off-road duty. The Wrangler Sport starts at $22,970 (including a $925 destination fee). The Rubicon trim level’s price starts at $30,920; the as-tested price of my test Jeep was $36,640.

EXTERIOR
The adjective “cute” has never been synonymous with Jeep, but I think my mom was onto something. My test car came in Cosmos Blue with the available body-colored three-panel hardtop. It was bright, stood out in the crowd and exuded positive energy. It made me feel young, cute and happy to drive this off-road legend.

As for my kids, they couldn’t reach the door handles, which are way too high for children to grab, and climbing in unassisted was impossible for my 2- and 3-year-olds but my 5-year old could do it. I had difficulties climbing in to the Jeep while wearing a skirt.

Despite my children’s struggles with the SUV’s doors and step-in height — not to mention the limited legroom for their small legs in the rear — they loved this vehicle. My son repeated in awe, “I didn’t know we’d get a real Jeep!” All three of my kids oozed infectious joy when riding around with the hardtop off.

For those who can reach them, the doors are lightweight. My only complaint is you have to really slam them to seal them shut. The “door open” indicator came on many, many times during my week with the Wrangler.

The tailgate has a full-size spare tire on it and an easy-enough handle that unveils a barely-there cargo space.

With the rear seats in use, fitting groceries into the cargo area is a challenge. It’s also difficult to fit all three pieces of the removable hardtop, which Jeep calls the Freedom Top. You can fit the two roof panels from above the front seats, but you’re better served to remove the three roof panels at home since you can’t fit the third in the rear. The backseat folds down to create more cargo space.

Because this is an SUV made for off-roading, there are all kinds of features and options to enhance the off-road experience. The side doors are available in full or half-size and can be removed entirely. The windshield folds down if you really want to get dirty. The front and rear axles are solid and there are underbody skid plates. Sixteen-inch wheels are standard. My test SUV came with the available 17-inch wheels, and 18-inchers are also available.

The Wrangler’s new 3.6-liter V-6 engine makes 285 horsepower. My test SUV came with the optional five-speed automatic transmission ($1,125), though a six-speed manual is standard. The Wrangler gets an EPA-estimated 17/21 mpg city/highway. Regular unleaded fuel is required.

SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Not Really
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On

INTERIOR
It’s not the height of luxury, but the Wrangler’s interior has an attractive, rugged look. Circular air vents along with a couple of circular speakers on the dash look quirky and sporty. The available 6.5-inch touch-screen in my test car seems luxurious in a Jeep, but access to GPS navigation would be beneficial if you’re lost on some backwoods trail. Additionally, the available Connectivity Group ($385) includes Bluetooth cellphone connectivity and an USB/iPod input that ensure that you’ll never be removed from civil society, no matter the surroundings.

Since this is a Jeep, a few features that you might take for granted as standard are actually options. For instance, power locks cost a bit extra. Thankfully, my test car came with power locks, power heated side mirrors and one-touch power windows as part of the Power Convenience Group ($685).

The available leather seats in my test car were comfortable, especially for the driver and front passenger. The rear seats are a different story, not because of the leather — it’s fine — but because of limited space. There is room for two people in the rear, but they must be two who don’t mind getting cozy. I wouldn’t imagine any full-grown adult sitting comfortably back there for extended periods of time. Furthermore, hopping up and scrambling into the backseat requires some agility thanks to the step-in height and a front passenger seat that doesn’t have much room to slide forward.

The Wrangler has four cupholders, with two on the floor in the front row and two on the floor in the second row. It isn’t convenient to have them on the floor, but when off-roading, it makes for less spilling.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny

SAFETY
While the Wrangler excels in the fun-to-drive category, it hasn’t fared as well in crash tests. The 2012 Wrangler received the top score of Good in front crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but it earned the lowest score of Poor in side crash tests when the Jeep isn’t equipped with optional side-impact airbags. In rear crash tests, it earned the second-lowest score of Marginal, and it hasn’t undergone roof-strength tests. In rollover crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2012 Wrangler earned three stars out of five.

Airbags are few and far between in the Wrangler. Front-impact airbags are standard, but that’s it. Side-impact airbags are optional, and there are no side curtain airbags.

The Wrangler has standard four-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with anti-roll control and traction control, and hill start assist. All these features combine to make this one solid off-roading machine.

While wedging a child-safety seat into the Wrangler’s backseat was difficult, installing it was a relatively easy exercise. The two sets of lower Latch anchors are visible and easy to use. The tether anchors were on the seatbacks and best accessed through the cargo area.

I was able to maneuver two convertible seats into the second row, though it was a struggle. Installing a rear-facing infant-safety seat abolishes what little legroom the front passenger has, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Get more safety information about the 2012 Jeep Wrangler here.

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