I find few vehicles as much fun as a Jeep Wrangler. They’re unique. Imagine driving any other convertible up a defunct (albeit snowless) black diamond ski hill. Not that I took the hardtop roof off — it was December. Its Rubicon Trail rating means it can go nearly anywhere. Just be careful.
Way Off Road
A secondary shifting stick takes you from 2H (2-wheel drive in high gear) to 4H (high) and again to 4L, low. Off-road, you’re more likely to use the 4L. On the black diamond, you’ll only use it.
The 17-inch aluminum wheels look positively menacing. Their nubby BSW Off-Road tires grip the surface like a drowning man on a buxom lifeguard. It has best-in-class ground clearance — and on a severe pitch you may think it’s about to tip — but there’s a low centre of gravity that co-grips with those tires.
Fun as the Wranglers are, the Unlimited Rubicon may be a tad big for city dwellers. Frankly, there’s not much need for the axle lock button. Nor is there much chance you’ll disconnect the sway bar to tilt on a curb. Heck, you probably wouldn’t use the 4-wheel drive. And ‘best-in-class clearance’ translates to several feet off the ground. ‘Unique’ may start to feel like ‘conspicuous.’ The nose rings and tattoos will glare. (Just remind yourself their leather trousers are made from dead methane producers).
And mileage? The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 boasts a 3.6-litre V6 VVT (variable valve timing) engine. Such a big body demands a strong heart — but that comes with an appetite. The 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4 rates 13.2 L/100 km in the city and 10 on the highway. That’s according to the Government of Canada’s optimistic testing standards. The same vehicle by American guidelines gets 14.7 L/100k in the city, 11.2 on the highway and, in my experience, America usually has better highways than us.
Still, despite its girth, being so high up makes parking easier than you’d expect. You see all. Almost. Just be careful of the full-sized spare tire mounted behind the rear gate! Like an A-student with a heavy backpack on the subway, the spare adds dimension that you’re not conscious of — but others are.
Fortunately, I Was Out of the City for Most of the Week
It’s on the country roads that you see other Wrangler drivers who salute you driving by. You’re an instant member of an international unspoken fraternity. They understand: the performance suspension produces that uniquely Wrangleresque experience. In the past, I’ve compared it to driving a bouncy castle. Every pothole is a spinal massage.
I cut my own Christmas tree from a neighbor’s farm in Huronia, Ontario. The ‘road’ into the woods behind the barn called on the Wrangler’s best till-n-pitch qualities. We even forded a tiny stream. A 60/40 split of the folding seats in the back meant we could fit in the tree without losing much space.
On the Maybe side: This model had the new available automatic 5-speed transmission with a side-shift for sport mode. Still, unless you’ll be loaning yours to a nervous mother-in-law, consider staying with the classic standard transmission. Packaged with Hill Descent Control and Tip Start, the automatic is a $1,400 expense for what amounts to, yes, a bit more work but way more fun.
On the Definitely side: Go with the remote start. It’s a mere $375 upgrade for months of immediate early morning comfort. Also, pricey as the ‘Katzkin’ leather seats may seem ($1,195), you’ll want something you can wipe down easily and that won’t retain scents. A year into ownership of an outdoorsy beast like the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, you’ll wish you’d taken that option. (Upon return, this one no longer smelled of pine tree.)
Some nifty standards include power heated mirrors, fog lamps, rock rails, 1 rear and 2 front tow hooks, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Sentry Key Theft Deterrent System and a security alarm. You don’t want your tools stolen, nor God forbid, your Wrangler.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4
Base price: $34,495
As driven: $45,930
Image courtesy of Steven Bochenek.