Conceived and born of necessity during World War II, Jeep vehicles were raised as America’s four-wheel-drive answer to anything off-road. When he was a general shortly after the war, President Dwight Eisenhower said, “The Jeep, the Dakota airplane and the landing craft were the three tools that won the war.”
More than 70 years and 11 presidents later, the Jeep brand has withstood the test of time. The iconic Wrangler is the Jeep today that most resembles the first Willys MA/MB US Army Jeep, but Gen. Eisenhower might not recognize the 2012 Wrangler.
Unveiled last month in the mountains outside Portland, the 2012 Wrangler remains America’s iconic off-road choice. New for 2012 is a powertrain with a stronger and more fuel efficient 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 hooked to a 5-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual. With this new engine, the Wrangler has a 0-60 mph time of 8.4 seconds, which makes this Jeep almost as fun to drive to the end of the pavement as it is after it gets there. Almost.
The Wrangler, introduced in 1987, has been a stalwart of the Jeep brand for years, but this year through July, sales were up 49 percent, according to the company. In July, Jeep set a record with 14,355 Wranglers sold in the United States, officials said.
The 2012 Wrangler got new power, but big changes were made inside as well. Jeep describes the interior as an “upscale power tool” look. You’ll find upgraded materials, automatic temperature controls, heated seats, power mirrors, coat hooks and new steering wheel controls. Remaining are the signature seven-slot grille, classic round headlamps, removable doors with exposed hinges, a fold-down windshield and more removable tops than a Vegas showgirl. Connectivity systems interfaced through Uconnect include voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming audio, navigation and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
The real Jeep adventure begins at pavement’s end, and the pavement ends quite abruptly at Oregon’s Tillamook Forest, where auto journalists were invited to navigate the Wrangler on some of the steepest and most challenging trails around. The Wrangler gobbled up boulders, holes, and hills thanks to a best-in-class approach angle of 44.6 degrees, a ground clearance of 10.6 inches and a departure angle of 40.6 degrees. A lower first gear in the automatic transmission gives the Wrangler more capability via a lower overall crawl ratio.
Safety features include standard stability and traction control, electronic roll mitigation, trailersway control and a hill-start assist. But when you’re on the extreme inclines of Tillamook, Jeep has a new feature that can be a life saver. If you find yourself having to stop at a steep angle, turn the engine off and release the clutch. When you’re ready to resume the climb, leave the clutch out and the Jeep will start in gear while crawling ahead a few feet.
Meanwhile, the Wrangler is born and bred in the USA. The 2012 Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited are built in the Toledo Supplier Park in Ohio. The new engine is manufactured at the Trenton engine plant in Michigan. The automatic transmission is produced in Indiana, and only the 6-speed manual is built out of the country.
Pricing for the Wrangler Sport and Wrangler Unlimited Sport, surprisingly, begins identically to 2011 models: $22,045 and $25,545 respectively.
After WWII, thousands of Jeeps were left overseas and thousands more surplus Jeep vehicles were offered inexpensively to the American public.
Jeeps may no longer be inexpensive, but they’re still a favorite in the USA.