2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4x4 review: 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4x4

You'll have to forgive us for not attempting to put the tippy brick of a vehicle through any performance-driving paces, but that hardly seemed like the point here. For our brief soft-roading tests, which involved climbing a few massive construction-site dirt mounds and generally crashing through any mud puddle we could find in the whole of the San Francisco Bay Area, and for what I believe are most drivers' needs, the slushbox should do just fine.

This rugged SUV makes short work of all but the largest of obstructions thanks to its massive ground clearance and torque-y power train.

The 4x4 system works the same way as it has for as many years as I care to remember. Switching from 2WD (best for streets and efficiency) to 4WD high (best for improving grip in rain and snow or for most moderate-speed off-road situations) is as simple as pulling a lever. You can even do it when the vehicle is in motion. However, switching down to 4WD low--an extremely low-geared 4x4 mode that's best used for maximizing torque multiplication and speed control during, for example, rock crawling and other low-speed, high-grip off-roading situations--requires shifting the vehicle's transmission into Park or Neutral, then shifting the transfer case through its own neutral setting and into the lower drive mode. It's tricky to do and requires quite a lot of elbow grease to get the gears to mesh if you're not on a perfectly level surface.

Other off-roading features are a mix of the high- and low-tech. For example, the Wrangler can electronically lock the front, rear, or both axles to further maximize grip in situations that would call for such a thing. The electronic antisway bar can be decoupled at the touch of a button (at speeds below 18 mph) to allow the wheels to more freely articulate over uneven surfaces, and can be re-engaged to help keep the SUV relatively flat during on-road cornering.

Fuel economy is not this vehicle's strong suit. I managed to empty most of the 18.6-gallon tank in two days of running errands around town in hilly San Francisco. The EPA fuel economy estimates for the Wrangler Rubicon 4x4 are 17 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. The trip computer hovered around 16 mpg for the duration of my light-footed testing, so let's just call the EPA's estimates "optimistic" and move on, shall we?

There's not a vehicle in Jeep's lineup that's better suited to wear the Trail Rated badge.

Cabin tech: Listen to Nero fiddle while Rome burns
The Wrangler may be a blunt instrument--a decidedly simple vehicle built to be as unbreakable and infinitely useful as a fire axe in a zombie outbreak--but that doesn't mean that it's not without its creature comforts.

Ours was equipped with a Uconnect voice-controlled Bluetooth hands-free calling system with A2DP audio streaming, which will display song metadata if the paired device and the audio playback application support it. Additionally, there's a USB port for MP3 and iPod playback, a 115-volt power outlet for powering your gadgets when the grid goes down, and a fairly kick-ass Infinity audio system.

The seven-speaker Infinity audio system consists of a powered subwoofer, front midrange speakers mounted in the lower dash rather than in the doors, a pair of rear midrange speakers hanging from the roll cage, and two tweeters housed in dashboard-mounted frog-eyed pods. For spoken-word programming, such as talk radio or audio podcasts, the system is pretty lackluster. However, connect your MP3 player of choice and feed it some bass-heavy hip-hop, hard rock, or electronica (it's the end of the world, no one's left to judge your crappy musical tastes, so why not go ahead and crank some dubstep!) and the audio system springs to life. The powered subwoofer fills the Wrangler's otherwise plasticky, echoing cabin with bass and easily overcomes wind and road noise even with front panels of the Freedom Top removed. To my ear, there's actually a bit too much bass at the system's flat setting, and I found that the optimal EQ setting for most types of music involved dialing down the bass a few ticks and cranking up the midrange to match.

Can you even get navigation technology in this vehicle? Sure you can. The Wrangler Rubicon is offered with two different navigation options: the Media Center 420N option features a 6.5-inch screen, a 40GB hard drive with 20GB devoted to ripped audio, and a navigation system powered by Garmin that's similar to that of the 2012 Chrysler 300 we recently tested. There's also the more expensive Media Center 720N option, which is mostly identical, but gets its turn-by-turn directions from the automaker's own MyGig system. Then again, if you're driving a Wrangler the right way, you'll be outside of the realm of turn-by-turn directions most of the time anyway. Most certainly, the post-apocalyptic roads will be too clogged with stalled cars to navigate anyway. So just, toss a PND in the glove box for emergency navigation when the infrastructure crumbles and use your Bluetooth-paired smartphone for daily driving.

In sum: World War Z or weekend warrior?
The same features and design elements that make the 2012 Jeep Wrangler great for zombie outbreaks also make it great for weekend warriors of the less violent type. It goes almost anywhere, it's ridiculously easy to modify and maintain, and although it's not the smallest or most efficient vehicle, it's much nimbler and thriftier than a Land Rover or a Hummer. When society collapses, look for me hightailing it to safety behind the wheel of a Wrangler clad in improvised armor.

But until the dead rise and the grid goes down, you'll have to live with keeping the Wrangler in polite company. Unsurprisingly, the newest Wrangler Rubicon is pretty good for that too, if you don't mind a lot of compromises. You see, the Jeep Wrangler is to off-roaders what the Mazda Miata is to driving enthusiasts: it's everything you need to get the job done and nothing else. However, like the Miata, the Wrangler is pretty much rubbish at everything outside of its designed purpose. You could live with it--the Bluetooth and various forms of MP3 connectivity, the premium audio system, and optional navigation make for a surprisingly comfortable daily driver--but unless you see regular off-road excursions in your commute, the Wrangler is probably best relegated to second-car status.

The Wrangler is a vehicle that wants to crash through mud holes, over rocks, and off the beaten path. If your Wrangler isn't covered in dirt at least once per month, you're missing the point.

Our Flame Red 2012 Wrangler Rubicon started at $29.995, but the Freedom hardtop adds $735 to the bottom line. Additionally, our tester was outfitted with heated leather seats (a $900 indulgence in a Wrangler), the $385 Uconnect Bluetooth and USB Connectivity Group, $685 for power mirrors, power locks, and remote keyless entry, and $1,125 for the five-speed gearbox. Along with the $800 destination charge, that brings our as-tested price to $34,625--which is a small price to pay to survive the fall of mankind in style.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Jeep Wrangler 4x4
Trim Rubicon
Power train 3.6-liter V-6, 5-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city, 21 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy n/a
Navigation Available
Bluetooth phone support yes
Disc player single-slot CD
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audio SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Audio system 7-speaker Infinity premium audio with powered subwoofer
Driver aids n/a
Base price $29,995
Price as tested $34,625

What you'll pay

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