When I was just a little guy in the early Seventies, the neighbourhood kids used to love popping in to my Dad’s garage in Don Mills. There was always a some race car or another in there, along with a super cool, Meyers Manx dune buggy. I was fully aware of the coolness I was surrounded by, but a guy down the street drove a bright yellow Jeep CJ-5. He was always driving around with the top down with the tunes blaring and I so wanted to go for a ride. Years later, my Wife and I almost bought a new YJ when they first appeared on the market but the nonexistent back seat caused us to make a more practical choice. The “Jeep Thing” just wouldn’t fit our lifestyle.
Fast forward a few decades and our family has grown to include three kids, two of whom are pretty much adult sized. Naturally, I thought it would be interesting to try to cram everyone into a modern Jeep for a long weekend road trip. Our chariot would be a Cosmo Blue, 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. When the TJ was fully redesigned in 2007, the replacement (now the JK) was renamed Wrangler and was offered in two and four door models. The styling remained classic Jeep, but the functionality was improved dramatically, while the off road capability remained intact.
The longer, four door Wrangler Unlimited format provides actual seating for 5 people. The seats are comfortable enough, although if they were any more cushy it would feel like like a Jeep. As one might expect, the interior is visually spartan with body colour steel panels and easy to clean surfaces. That is not to say it is old school in any way. Our tester was equipped with the optional navigation and connectivity package which includes a USB port and bluetooth connectivity. These, along with the satellite radio are must haves on a road trip with kids these days. Cargo area was a weak point with previous generations of the Wrangler and that has been addressed in a big way. We managed to stuff my daughter’s giant dance bag, along with five rolling travel bags. Add in a few days worth of outlet mall shopping and surprisingly I was still able to see out of the rear view mirror!
The removable top is a huge part of the Jeep Wrangler mystique and designers have done a great job. The primary top available on the Unlimited is the 3 piece hard top. Removing the two front panels takes just a few moments, which meant that we spent most of the weekend driving with them off. Removing the rear shell is a two person just that requires the removal of eight screws and then lifting the fairly light roof off. Care must be taken though, as it is easy to scratch the body side when removing the top. We didn’t have a chance to try out the optional soft top, instead we removed it to free up a bit more cargo space.
Our tester was the Rubicon model, which Jeep has stuffed full of some hardcore offroading technology. These are the dirty bits that make the Rubi one of the most capable off road vehicles ever to leave a showroom floor. The big torque, low gearing and giant mud tires are perfect when driving off the beaten track, but they drastically affect on road manners. The tires are noisy and cause the truck to wander on the highway. Given the long wheelbase, the ride is smoother than expected but is miles away from minivan smooth. As one might expect, fuel economy is not the Rubicon’s strong point, but we still managed to eek out an average consumption of 12.2 l/100 km, do mostly to the smooth shifting five speed automatic transmission.
For those who want to get into a real Jeep but aren’t concern with all the connectivity toys, the four door Rubicon starts at a more than reasonable $31,795. Our tester had every conceivable option and rang in at $44,430 before taxes and freight. The “Jeep Thing” isn’t for everyone, but for the active family that wants a cool vehicle that is capable of carrying five people, tons of gear and towing a trailer while letting the sun in, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon can’t be beaten.