2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4X4
Base price: $31,295
As tested: $37,425
MPG: 17 city/21 highway (3 – 6 liter)
- It can take you almost anywhere
- Unlimited model provides four-door utility and convenience
- Optional body-colored hardtop looks great
- Gas mileage
- Rough ride
By Mike Hagerty
Simple machines elicit simple reactions. The Jeep Wrangler comes down to this: You either want or need one, or you don’t. You probably don’t need to think much about it.
I’ve wanted one (but never really needed one) since my first fishing trip at age 9 in a 1950s steel-bodied Willys Jeep wagon. As a single guy in my early 20s, a CJ-7 (the forerunner to today’s Wrangler) temped me, but a low-mpg vehicle didn’t seem like a good investment.
Then came a wife and two kids, and a two-door Jeep simply wasn’t practical for my family. Jeep tried to fix that concern with the introduction of the Wrangler Unlimited — a four-door model.
Problem solved? Depends. First, today’s Jeep is no longer low-priced. Our tester started at $31,295 and wound up at $37,425. You can get a base model Wrangler Unlimited Sport for $25,695, but you’re giving up nicer seats, bigger wheels and, most importantly, air conditioning.
Second, while they’ve doubled the in-city gas mileage since my near-miss 33 years ago, it still gets only 16 mpg in town, and 20 on the highway. As gas prices rise and fall 50 cents either side of $4, that’s fairly sobering. (I chickened out over the 8 mpg CJ-7 when gas was just $1.)
Finally, despite incredible improvements to the Wrangler the past few years (and especially to the interior since Fiat assumed control of Jeep’s parent company, Chrysler), it’s still a rough-riding beast with few of the amenities most of us now take for granted. The hardtop is only optional; the doors don’t stay propped open since they can be removed; and road noise is high since insulation would make the doors and hardtop too heavy to lift.
If mud, sand, and snow-covered cow trails are part of your driving routine, a Jeep is hard to beat. But if you just need a sturdy commuter vehicle, and your worst driving conditions involve snow on paved roads, the Nissan XTerra and Toyota FJ will be preferable 90 percent of the time, as will many of the new crop of more car-like crossovers.