THE RIDE:

2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

THE REVIEW:

When I last drove a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon in 2007 it sported a cheap, hard plastic interior and a powertrain that made the Wrangler about as inspiring to drive in the mountains as a Smart car. Fortunately, it would appear Jeep has addressed their transgressions with a fresh new interior and some major work under the hood. The hard plastic interior surfaces that bruised my elbows in the 2007 model have been replaced with quality, soft materials. The boring interior has been brightened and modernized with chrome accents and great storage spaces throughout. The Wrangler even has optional heated seats making it an almost luxurious off-road experience. The exterior of the Jeep has also been beautified for 2012 with optional body color hardtops and fender flares.

The most exciting changes, at least in my opinion, are under the hood. The 205-hp 3.8-liter V6 that once plagued the Wrangler has been replaced with a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. The old-school four-speed automatic replaced with a five-speed. There is also an optional NSG 370 six-speed manual available with a new clutch assembly. The new V6 puts out 285 hp and a very strong 260 lb-ft of torque – an improvement of 80 hp and 20 lb-ft. The new power is noticeable and astonishingly along with that power comes a 10 percent fuel-economy benefit. Towing capacity for the Wrangler is 2000 pounds, which can be upped to 3500 lbs with an optional tow package.

The new 3.6-liter V6 is all-aluminum, dropping 90 pounds of weight compared to its cast-iron predecessor. The engine is also 9cm shorter which allowed engineers to pack in an improved intake system while raising the alternator which allows for higher water clearance. It’s impossible to overstate the dramatic improvement in acceleration with this new V6. Jeep says the new engine is good for a 25 percent improvement in 0-60 acceleration. I believe it. Compared to the old Jeep that drove like it was saddled to a heavy trailer, this one drives like a sports car.

Colorado is well known for its off-roading opportunities so I would be amiss if I hadn’t taken the Wrangler out to get dirty. Crawling up wet rock, over fallen logs and up steep mountain grades proved that this Wrangler holds true to its off-road heritage with a new penchant for power.

The Jeep Wrangler has never been a refined road machine. But the new interior, combined with the revised power-train, has made this 2012 model the most powerful, livable and quietest one yet. And as good as it is on the road, Jeep made sure the Wrangler remains the most capable off-road vehicle you can buy.

BRAGGING RIGHTS:

A more sophisticated and powerful Wrangler that’s still ready to handle the roughest off-road situations.

WINDUP:

The 2012 Jeep Wrangler is decidedly more refined than its predecessor and the all-new power-train is the most powerful Wrangler yet combine these enhancements with the Wrangler’s continuing off-road excellence and you have a highly capable backroad vehicle that you won’t be ashamed to drive to the office.

THE PHOTOS: