Big Changes in Daily Drivers… My New 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.
What?! I thought this site was about Off-Roadin’, and now you’re bringing up Daily Drivers??
Hey, if you’re into off-roading, chances are it’s more than just a hobby or passing fad, it’s a passion, a state-of-mind, maybe even a lifestyle. You just dig ridin’ around in something different. Something uniquely individual. Something with a little more character than every other average vehicle on the road. It’s probably a big, possibly jacked-up, Pickup Truck, Bronco, Jeep, Toyota, Blazer or something else that gives you capability, function, and potential for instantaneous adventure, the ability to Bug-Out, or get to your favorite fishing, hunting or camping spots.
Now sure, it’d be ideal to have a Chevy Volt for the daily grind, a super-fast, great-handling, two-seat convertible for sunny Fridays, a tow-rig / hauler, and a dedicated wheeler, but unfortunately, that’s just not how most of us roll. This means your Wheeler and Daily Driver are probably related because it’s likely that either your tow-rig or your wheeler IS your Daily Driver.
Me, I just made a potentially game changing decision… I traded-in my F-350 Crew Cap Diesel, my Daily Driver and tow-rig / hauler, for a new, 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. While I still have my ’72 Bronco, the new Jeep just might also become my wheeler.
OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve always wanted a Jeep. I wanted one for my first car, but back in the day, Jeeps had a nasty reputation for rolling over, making them every parent’s nightmare for their new drivers. (Hey, it still worked out pretty great! I ended up with a Fast and Furious, Bitchin’ Firebird! I won a lot of races and had some great times in that thing!) Oh yeah, back to the Jeep… My wife and I have rented Wranglers (TJs) on a couple of vacations, and we loved ’em. Talk about a fun vehicle for cruising around local beach towns…even on the road! But as cool as they were, I never considered one as a Daily Driver, for a couple of reasons. The two door, short wheelbase versions always seemed too small to be practical, or usable for what I wanted. And while I hate to say it, a part of me wondered if getting one that wasn’t my first car, kept for sentimental reasons, might seem a bit juvenile. Plus, without modern conveniences like power door locks or power windows, the Wrangler was traditionally a bit too rough around the edges for my daily driving needs.
Now, ever since I sold my Firebird for a 4×4, I’ve been searching for what I’d consider the Holy Grail, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, of vehicles: a comfortable, respectable daily driver with modern amenities AND truly capable, go-anywhere, weekend wheeler. Something refined and civilized for the weekdays, but still an animal on the weekends. My 1991 Ford Explorer with a 2″ lift and pizza cutters for tires wasn’t it. I was too poor to re-gear her, and she was a dog as it was. She certainly didn’t have the power to turn bigger meats. Next up was my 1997 Ford explorer with 4″ lift and 33s, which was pretty cool! But that wasn’t it either. The trans behind the V6 was weak at best. The Independent Front Suspension (IFS) just couldn’t handle the rigors of big, heavy tires, especially off-road. Lastly, there was very little aftermarket support. In fact, there are still a bunch of explorer diehards waiting for the aftermarket cavalry that may, or may never, show up…
Then in 2005, I was finally in a position to get a vehicle specifically for local cruising and off-roading. After a lot of research, some disappointments and some hard negotiating, I ended up with a 1972 Ford Bronco. (I really started out looking for a 1997 or newer TJ, but the desire for something a little different, plus good old fashioned, hard economics directed me to a clean, rust free 1972 Bronco. She already had a Monster Stroker Motor, Big Suspension Lift and Big, Aggressive Mud Terrain Tires. It didn’t hurt that one of the major off-road rags crowned the 1966-1977 Bronco as “The Best Four Wheeler of ALL TIME!” Who could blame them for loving this small, trail friendly vehicle?! Many of these Classic, or Early Broncos were originally built with truly off-road worthy parts, stuff that is coveted today, like Ford 9″ and Dana 44 axles, V8 engines, removable tops and doors. Plus, just like the Jeeps, Land Cruisers and Scouts, the Classic Bronco still enjoys tons of aftermarket support, and a cult-like following.)
So, with a more serious off-road rig in the stable, in 2007 it was time to replace my well worn ’97 Ford Explorer with a new Daily Driver. Jeep had just released the then new, and somewhat revolutionary JK Wrangler Unlimited, with four (4) doors. It really got me thinkin’… Those two extra doors suddenly made the traditional “kid’s vehicle” into a much more practical, even family friendly ride. The longer, extended wheelbase gave it a safer, smoother, more predictable and more comfortable on-road / on-highway ride. Yet it remained traditional Jeep at heart. Built with body on frame construction, solid (or live) axles front and rear, a manually shifting transfer case, removable tops and doors, Jeep kept it true to its off-road heritage, and to a relatively small, still trail friendly size. Jeep was really onto something. They deserve a lot of credit for staying true to their heritage and giving their customers what they want. I definitely thought about it for a while.
However, there were still a couple of big downsides. All reports indicated the motor was a dog, barely able to get out of its own way in stock form, forget about being lifted and shod with bigger tires. It also still lacked modern conveniences considered standard equipment on many competing choices in the price range. Really, between the lack of interior refinements, missing modern amenities and lack of power, and at it’s price point, it wasn’t for me at the time. It was too pricey for what it was, with too many pretty serious downsides.
At the same time, I was also lost in Bronco-Mania… I had committed some money, plus a lot of blood, sweat, tears and time into trying to make that ‘ole Bronco into exactly what I wanted. Plus, coming from a mid-sized SUV, I wanted a full-size tow-rig. I wanted a Big Dawg. (Hell, if yer gonna go, GO-BIG!) I was living and working in suburbia. I had no plans of moving, or working back in the Big City, so long commutes and city parking weren’t worries. I had visions of hauling cords of firewood, all kinds of building materials, yards of dirt, mulch and stone and literally tons of block. I also envisioned hopefully monthly towing trips to go wheeling and attend off road events.
So, I bought a 2008 F-350 Crew Cab Diesel, Lariat edition. It was one of the first ones on the road in my area, and man did it turn a lot of heads. I mean this thing was a TRUCK! The Mac Daddy! It was big, powerful, with a hard-core drivetrain providing tons of capability. But with plush leather, dark wood trim and conveniences everywhere, it was a Cowboy Cadillac. The 6.4L Turbo Diesel made it an Eight Thousand Pound Hot Rod. It took off like a rocket when the sequential turbos spooled up (yes, there were two). On the highway it rode like a limo at 85mph+, yet it could still pull buildings off their foundations. While a half-ton would fit my needs just fine, I would have regretted not going big. Admittedly, I wanted it more than I needed it. I got a really great deal it, and down the road we went…
I was just like that guy in the Chevy Silverado commercial… (Mine was a Ford, but you get the idea.)
Notice: I make NO claims about the timing, availability or eligibility of any cash back, financing or other offers mentioned in the ad referenced above.
What’s Different Now?
Well, reality hasn’t quite lived up to my initial visions. Yes, each year I’ve towed my Bronco to numerous wheeling events, anywhere from 2-1/2 to 7 hours away in one direction. But I’m certainly not getting out there once a month. (And with kids just getting into their own sports and other interests, I’ll have even less time in the near future.) Yes, I’ve hauled firewood, full sheets of plywood, all kinds of 2-x’s, a bed full of railroad ties, yards of mulch and a trailer full of stone dust. Again, just not nearly as often as originally thought I would.
Then in May of 2008, my company decided to move us back to the Big City. Gone are the days of taking back country roads to work, wide open parking lots with generous spaces, and commuting in the Bronco a couple times a week. “Hello” commute from hell, frequent, expensive fill-ups and parking garages that come with their own set of wonderful conveniences. Now I get to deal with vehicle height and length limits, tiny parking spaces, parking attendants I’m not sure even have driver’s licenses, and those generous people who all too freely give you dents, dings and scratches. (Hey a$$holes, some people actually give a sh!t about their vehicle, and don’t want you carelessly opening your doors into theirs…)
Another thing on my mind was that the warranty on my F-350 ran out, on everything but the engine. (An engine you’ve got to take the cab off the frame to fix. Seriously.) Now, I could have purchased an extended warranty, but she’d still be expensive to run and maintain. With a big truck comes a pretty high total cost of ownership. At the end of the day, and while am very happy to have had her for a while, I came to the conclusion that the Big ‘Ole F-350 just wasn’t the right Daily Driver for me. I thought about a smaller pickup, like a half-ton or a Tacoma, but with the price of today’s nicely equipped half-tons, cost was a big factor. (Who isn’t watching expenses these days?) Plus, for as long as I’m still working in the City, a half-ton crew cab is still more than I need 95% of the time, and wouldn’t be all that much different from the 1-ton on an every day basis. Guess where all this leaves me?
So, why the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, since I wouldn’t consider one before?
The 2011 and 2012 model years brought a host of major, and significant interior refinements:
- Refinements like a redesigned dash with a new, classier instrument cluster.
- Redesigned, more comfortable and functional door panels, with real places to rest your arm.
- Features previsouly unheard of in the Wrangler, like power door locks, power windows, heated side mirrors, a rear window defroster, a rear window wiper on the hard top, and optional heated leather seats. (Like I said earlier, in this day and age, and at this price point, not having some of these, like at least power windows and door locks, would be deal breakers, especially in a four door.)
- A host of truly usable electronic gizmos like the power outlet conveniently located on the outside of the console where I can easily charge and access my cameras, iPhones and other devices, the USB port in the console, bluetooth based “Uconnect” handsfree connectivity to the stereo system from your mobile phone and music devices, optional multimedia systems with Garmin navigation, and optional remote start.
- Premium trim and the premium sound system with the dash tweeters, speaker bar and sub-woofer are now standard on Sahara and Rubicon editions
- Options previously only available on the Sahara, are now available on the Rubicon. This includes things like the body matched hard top and fender flares.
At the end of the day, the 2012 Wrangler JK is really a classy, refined, well appointed, convenient and user focused machine – but still pure Jeep at heart.
But the really big news for 2012 is the new to Wrangler 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine with 285 HP and 260 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers represent noticeable, felt-in-the-seat power gains over the previous year, and they come with increased mileage of 16 / 21. Other major drivetrain improvements new for 2012 include the optional Mercedes W5a580 5-speed, Triptronic auto trans, (with an off-road friendly ultra low, 3.59:1 first gear ratio), and the optional NSG370 6 speed manual. Model year 2012 marks the first time a 6 spd manual has been offered behind the Pentastar engine. Yes, you can still get 4.10s in the diffs. It’s standard issue on Rubicons with the 6-spd manual, and optional for those who choose the auto. (If 33 -35″ tires are anywhere in your future, be sure to get the 4.10s. That gear ratio with the new, more powerful Pentastar will eliminate the costly need to regear for up to 35s.) So, while it’s not the V8 Hemi many hoped for, the Pentastar V6 and new transmission choices are major improvements.
Given the significant improvements, inside and out, that came with the 2011 and 2012 models, the 2012 Wrangler truly is the most refined, most powerful, and most capable Wrangler ever built! And the pricing is relatively in-line with 2011 prices, making the 2012 it a very good value. Refined, relatively practical, unique, fun to drive and always ready for adventure! Man, everybody knows these things are cool! Jeep really hit it out of the park with the 2012 Wrangler! (Did I mention the 5-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, or the 0% financing?)
I picked mine up Saturday with 7 miles on the odometer. Being a Rubicon, it’s pretty Bad-Ass right from the factory. Who knows, with a small lift, some bigger tires and a few other mods, this just might finally become the Holy Grail of vehicles I’ve been after since the early 90s. And so it begins…