The world is divided into two types of people: those who love Jeeps and everyone else. This was reinforced to Peter while driving the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport when a proud Jeep owner — it even said so on his personalized plate — pulled up next to him at a light. So would we become converts?
Appearance: Seven-slot grille. Round headlights. Clamp-down hood. Rear-mounted full-size spare. No mistaking it, this is a Jeep. Our tester — bright Flame Red — was the Unlimited Sport, which is the entry level of a half-dozen trims. By removing its Sunrider soft top, you're left with a padded sport bar/chassis frame, but this is no easy convertible. It's a job for two, requiring a lot of unzipping, tucking and folding. Don't try it if you're in a hurry. Oh, and watch your fingers. Lyra's got pinched in the top frame when folding it back. Ouch. Our tester was the four-door version, and the doors are removable for a completely open feel. The towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. There are two front hooks and one to the rear.
Performance: The Wrangler has Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine with a 5-speed automatic and Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel-drive system. We didn't have the opportunity to take it for a serious off-road test, but Lyra did take it for a spin near the Gandy Bridge, where sand and bumps were no problem. The 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque seem moderate on paper, but the new V-6 provides plenty of pickup. Says Lyra: "What a fun ride!" Peter thought the brakes took a long time to bring the Jeep to a stop. It has a reputation of being noisy, but what do you expect with 17-inch off-road tires and a soft top? The chassis and ride felt solid, but you will feel the bumps. If you want quiet or have a bad back, this is not the vehicle for you.
Interior: The reclining cloth seats are comfortable, offer good support and absorb some of those bumps. The interior is made to get dirty and has a lot of plastic. The floor is washable and there is a drain plug. You don't have to give up creature comforts with this off-roader: AC, heated mirrors, USB port, Bluetooth connection, Sirius satellite radio, media center with six speakers (some mounted overhead) and steering-wheel-mounted controls. Major nit: The interior is not well-lit enough. At night, the console controls can be hard to see. The cargo space is decent, with 46.4 cubic feet behind the second row.
Our 3 favorites
Bold look: With no more Hummer, nothing says macho better.
Front bumper: It's big, with integrated fog lights.
Features: Lots of options you might not expect in an off-road vehicle.
Tradition: Maintains the iconic Jeep traits and personality.
Top down: Perfect for a ride to — and on — the beach.
Cure for boredom: Go topless and doorless, and enjoy Florida. Don't forget the sunscreen.
The bottom line: It's probably not the best daily driver, especially if you have to go to work in a suit or heels. Road noise is significant and, yes, the ride is a bit rough. But it sure would make a fun get-away-from-it-all vehicle.