Road test: 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara


In January 2014, my wife and I traveled to Aurora, Colo., for a medical procedure. We’d arranged to rent a compact care, but upon our arrival, the lady at the rental counter explained the Denver area was expecting a massive snowfall that night. As a result, she could only rent us an all- or four-wheel-drive vehicle. That reduced our choices to a rather unattractive Subaru, a Jeep Compass or a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

Needless to say, we chose the Wrangler.

For the next week, I drove that JKU around the Aurora-Denver area, contrasting it with Smokey and generally gaining a much more favorable view toward the four-door Jeeps, which, until then, I’d derided as being something less than true Jeeps.

Sizing it up

Our rental was a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara in Bright Silver Metallic with about 32,000 miles under its belt. It had Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 power plant, a five-speed automatic transmission and 3.21 gearing. The 18-inch wheels were nice enough, though I preferred Smokey’s Moab wheels to anything else that came on a factory Jeep at that time.

It was neat to see the little “Easter eggs” Jeep’s designers included in the vehicle. It’s these kinds of quirky touches that appeal to die-hard fans of any vehicle model.


I’d read the JK’s new-for-2011 interior was more comfortable than my 2009’s, and while I easily prefer the more spartan look of the older interiors, I must admit the seats provided far more comfort and lumbar support than Smokey does.

Opening the tailgate to put away our luggage, drew an immediate guffaw from both of us. Even with the back seats fully upright, the cargo space dwarfed our own Jeep’s like Gulliver standing over his Lilliputian hosts. I can see why the four-doors are so popular with overlanders.

A quick glance in the back seat, too, garnered a “wow” or two. There’s actual, usable leg room back there. In a Jeep, no less!

Inside the cabin, I had only one real complaint — the turn-signal chime. I don’t know if something was broken in our rental, or if Jeep changed the sound from my 2009, but the high-pitched, repeating twang sounded like a spring breaking, over and over again. Before long, I couldn’t bear to use my signals unless absolutely necessary for safety.


Pulling out of the rental lot and up onto the adjacent Peña Boulevard toward Aurora, two things immediately struck us. First, hardtop JKs are quiet, compared to their soft-topped brethren. Real quiet. Not three minutes into the drive, my wife, Jennifer, turned to me with a smile and said, “Cary, do you realize we’re not having to yell to talk over the wind noise?”

Like I said, it was quiet.

The second takeaway was how much more grunt the 3.6-liter had than the Jeep we left at home. Getting up to speed on a highway incline? No problem. Passing cars and trucks like we belonged on the highway? Absolutely. In fact, if I had any complaint with the 3.6, it was that the motor sounded like it was having a coronary. Though the Pentastar easily handled everything I threw at it, the high-pitched grunt from the engine bay tried to convince me otherwise.

Needless to say, I didn’t get to take our rental off-road (not that I’d have done so in someone else’s Jeep, anyway), but on wet, dry and snow-and-ice-covered pavement, it performed flawlessly.


Before we’d even reached our hotel, Jennifer already was talking about replacing her Saturn SUV with a JKU when the time comes. I had absolutely no problems with the notion.

That first night, and into the next morning, nearly a foot of snow fell on Aurora. Like my own Jeep, that JKU had no trouble handling slick snow-covered and icy roadways. Unfortunately, I had to return the keys. It was just as well, though, as I don’t know how I’d have fit a JKU on a jetliner, anyway.

My nearly week-long experience driving a four-door Jeep made a believer out of me. I can’t say I’d have an Unlimited Wrangler as my only Jeep, but I’d happily add it to my garage.

I wonder if Jennifer would drive one with four inches of lift and 37s?



One comment

  1. The longer wheel base makes the four door JK a lot nicer to drive and actually a little better at hill climbs and some forms of rock crawling. I remember when I was looking at getting a JKU for the space (I was driving an 02 Camero convertable at the time.) My girlfriend insisted we look at 2 door models. She thought the 4 doors were huge like trucks and didn’t want to have to park one. It took her walking up to the a JKU to realize that it’s actually a pretty “small” vehicle compared to larger SUVS like the Ford Explorer her mom drives. We ended up with a 13 Sahara. Dana 30 in front is a damper, but like everything with the JKs it isn’t quite the same. Apparently the only difference between a Dana 30 front and a Dana 44 front is the differential size and pinion gears. The axle tubes are the same. That’s what I’ve read anyway. It does get annoying because the Dana 30 on the TJ was actually very different from a 44 front on the TJ.


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