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#17

in 2012 Affordable Compact SUVs

Avg. Price Paid: $20,790 - $31,043
Original MSRP: $22,045 - $33,770
MPG: 16 City / 21 Hwy
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2012 Jeep Wrangler Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

With a new 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes more horsepower and more torque, reviewers say the 2012 Jeep Wrangler is now more capable both on the road and off.

  • "In simple terms, this engine is a big deal - and it has a big impact on this, the most iconic of Jeeps." -- AutoWeek
  • "Combined with last year's extreme interior improvements and some additional soundproofing, no longer does driving a Wrangler on a freeway resemble marshaling mountain goats through a windstorm. There's still more noise than a family sedan, and the Bridgestones' chatter comes through the floor, but it's at a dinner-table level, not ‘Bad Girls Club.’" -- Jalopnik 
  • "There are few places it cannot go." -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Acceleration and Power

The Jeep Wrangler’s new Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 is more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the 3.8-liter V6 engine it replaces. Reviewers are grateful for this upgrade because regardless of the transmission you choose, it makes the Wrangler a lot more capable of tackling rough terrain than the 2011 model, and even sounds more refined and powerful.  

The Pentastar engine makes 285 horsepower, which is 83 more horsepower than the old 3.8-liter engine made. Reviewers say the power increase makes a significant difference in city and highway driving because passing is a lot easier.

Even with a horsepower gain, the 2012 Wrangler is more fuel-efficient than the 2011 model. Whether it is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic, the Wrangler averages 17/21 mpg city/highway, according to the EPA. Unlimited models average slightly less: 16/21 mpg with a manual transmission and 16/20 mpg with an automatic.

  • "Really, on-trail experiences don’t show off the Pentastar’s capabilities. It’s a stronger engine that’s most evident when darting around town. Still, the trail is more fun." -- AutoWeek
  • "Some of that mileage improvement can be attributed to the new five-speed automatic transmission (there's also a German-made six-speed manual available). The manual transmission is extremely smooth, and a few times during my test-drive I forgot to put the Jeep in the fifth or sixth gear because the Wrangler was so responsive. The automatic was equally as responsive, never hunting for a gear." -- The Detroit News
  • "Where the 3.8 feels pokey, the 3.6-liter actually makes the JK feel spry." -- Motor Trend
  • "When cruising, you'll be hard-pressed to hear a difference, as wind noise still dominates everything else that makes noise, including the engine. But when you give it the spurs, the new engine makes better sounds than the old lump." -- Edmunds
  • "Driver's Grievance: As good as the new Pentastar V6 is, we'd still love to see a V8 Hemi Wrangler or even a diesel. A diesel Wrangler would have the ideal torque characteristics for trail-running. And paired to the five-speed automatic, the right turbo-diesel would probably be even quicker on the street than this new V6." -- Popular Mechanics

Handling and Braking

While many reviewers say the 2012 Jeep Wrangler is more refined on-road than it used to be, a few say it still lacks the finesse of city sedans and crossover SUVs because it has a considerable amount of understeer and body roll and rides like a truck. Several test drivers say, however, that this is to be expected because the Wrangler is most at home off-road.  

  • "The suspension, while created for all of that crazy wheel articulation off-road, provides a smooth ride on the highway and county roads. Even the Rubicon model felt comfortable on the road." -- The Detroit News 
  • "On-road handling was competent, not unlike driving a modern full-size pickup truck." -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • "There was quite a bit of body roll as well as considerable movement front and rear, but considering that it’s designed to absorb bumps the size of Fiat 500s, it performed admirably on the twisting mountain roads." -- Winding Road
  • "The steering still remains more truck than car, but the suspension doesn't attempt to exhaust passengers with urgent updates about road seams; it also tracks towards just slight understeer. The weakest link is the brakes; soft as a deep-fried butter stick, you find the pedal down a few inches before the orders arrive to the wheels." -- Jalopnik

Off-Roading

Reviewers are very impressed with the 2012 Jeep Wrangler’s off-road abilities, calling it the toughest, most capable SUV in its class. It can wade in up to 30 inches of water. Jeep offers optional Trac-Lok, which is its fancy name for limited-slip rear differential, a mechanical system that keeps the Wrangler stable in low-traction environments by providing more torque. Trac-Lok is available on Sport S and Sahara trims.  

  • "That being said, once we hit the famed Rubicon Trail, the Wrangler showed its teeth. We exchanged our auto-shifting grocery-getter for a manual, military-green four door — with no doors. What a hoot. We crawled over rocks, forded creeks and generally tackled the most treacherous of terrain without breaking a sweat. Well, we did, but the Jeep was universally composed. The two-door version was equally capable." -- AutoWeek
  • "Off the road, it will chew up almost any terrain in front of it. It relishes every opportunity to get dirty. On the road, it feels like a nice SUV with a smooth ride." -- The Detroit News
  • "Off road, the Wrangler is as capable as ever. With electronic diffs locked and the transfer case in low range, the Rubicon model I drove up a rocky, rutted hill in the Tillamook National Forest barely broke a sweat." -- Road and Track

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