First drive: Jeep Wrangler Pentastar 2012 at Jeep Jamboree Dubai
The Jeep Jamboree is an annual event held in various parts of the world, where Jeep owners get together and go offroad over the course of a day. The UAE edition, of course, involves a whole lot of sand, and we were one of the few media peeps invited for the 2011 run, us being actual Jeep owners notwithstanding. While the general public had to bring their own Jeeps, we were given a factory-fresh 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, the one with the new “Pentastar” 3.6-litre V6. We were really looking forward to driving that one, and we were getting to do it straight where it belongs.
We followed a well-organised convoy from the Dubai Festival City towards the outskirts of town, somewhere off the road to Hatta. On the 80 kph on-road drive, we immediately noticed that the character of the Wrangler hadn’t changed much, even with the new engine. It still sounds like an industrial vacuum cleaner on acceleration, and it’s still very slow to take off. However, the difference came as the revs climbed, with a fair bit more juice at the top-end.
Once we hit the sand, we deflated our own tyres and then started following the crowd into the desert. The only problem was, while we were expecting to drive in an organised convoy, it was the complete opposite, as everyone else scurried off in random directions into the wilderness. While we were given a route book, no one was particularly following it on the way to landmarks such as Fossil Rock. We could also see random people getting stuck here and there, with no one stopping to help them out, and there were hardly any marshals around.
After having to slug it out in the wild by ourselves for hours on end, we’ll go ahead and warn would-be Jeep aficionados that this is not an event for amateurs. After having to use every ounce of my extensive theoretical knowledge and limited practical experience over the course of four unchaperoned hours in the desert, I came out of it with more hair on my chest than ever before.
The Wrangler performed respectably in the situations we threw at it. Sitting in 4-high with the traction control off and shifting it to first gear on the 5-speed automatic, that’s how we rolled most of the time, aside from the limited use of 4-low to get unstuck and the occasional use of second gear on flatter surfaces. We climbed a lot of slippery dunes with ease, although there were quite a few other dunes that the Wrangler could not drive up, at which point we were left wishing for more low-end torque.
Surprisingly, we never got stuck, even though we were expecting to at many points in the journey. It was simply a matter of not continuing to spin the wheels once we bogged down, whether on the way up a steep dune or in a the middle of a sandy ditch. All we had to do was slip the shifter into reverse and back out of our predicament, sometimes with the help of the 4-low gear. There are no electronic gimmicks here, as the transfer-case has a proper shifter of its own, although each time we shifted out from 4-low, we had to remember to turn off traction control again.
Even with the power deficit compared to, say, a V8-powered 4×4, the 285 hp Wrangler might be the best trucklet to go hardcore offroading without worrying about leaving car-parts behind. The frontal approach angle is so high that on many ultra-steep downhill slopes, we were expecting to scrape the front bumper, but nothing happened. We even gained enough confidence to go down quicker than most others. There is even a hill-descent control feature, but that doesn’t really replace a steady right foot. When we checked the bottom of the car for damage, all we found was sand on the skidplate, the only surprise being that it was made of plastic.
Having had to pull off all the usual and unusual offroad manoeuvres, such as balancing over the peaks of dunes to avoid trees and sliding down slopes sideways to avoid slower traffic, we can safely say that it isn’t that hard to get the hang of offroading if you know the basics. And driving a vehicle that isn’t a delicate blingmobile further puts you at ease.
That said, at one point in the late afternoon, we found ourselves completely alone in the middle of the desert, again, so we finally decided to stop tempting fate and headed for the nearest signs of civilisation in our final run of offroading somewhere in the Maleha area. Apparently we had reached Sharjah, and we eventually reached the road to Fujairah. We started heading back to Dubai in a convoy of one. We hear the event ended soon after anyway, as the sun was going down and there was a barbecue waiting back at the hotel.
There is no lack of power at all on the highway, with rather good overtaking juice at speed. The Jeep actually rode very smoothly with deflated tyres at 80 kph, but after we filled them with air, the ride firmed up a bit. Still, while the ride was just fine, it’s the wind noise beyond 120 kph that plays havoc on the ears, even with the ill-fitting roof panels all still on the car. Handling isn’t the Wrangler’s forte, with abrupt steering inputs unsettling the car noticeably, but body roll isn’t overly excessive.
The new interior is more pleasant than before, with more rounded edges, more metal-look plastics and even padded armrests for once. The multi-speaker stereo with Bluetooth and USB, the power windows and the keyless entry, all are still there too, though rear parking sensors would’ve been appreciated. The headroom is immense, the rear legroom is just about adequate, and the cargo capacity is useful enough.
Make no mistake, the 2012 Jeep Wrangler is a very capable vehicle now. While it can’t go everywhere that some monster 4x4s can, it can still manage to get around without breaking anything, and that makes it the ideal offroader for casual adventurers. If you’re deaf anyway, dare we say it, the Wrangler might actually be a good daily-driver too now.