PORTLAND, Ore. -- With the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, introduced five years ago, Jeep discovered that off-road enthusiasts like upscale features.
For the 2012 model, Jeep is taking another step upscale by replacing the outgoing model's iron-block 3.8-liter V-6 engine with the more powerful, more refined and lighter Pentastar V-6.
The 0-to-60 time tells the story: A Pentastar-equipped 2012 four-door Wrangler Unlimited with an automatic transmission will go from 0 to 60 in 8.4 seconds compared with 11.4 seconds for the outgoing model.
The aluminum-block 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 cranks out 285 hp, a 41 percent increase from the 202 hp of the V-6 that powers the 2011 model.
The 2012 model arrives in showrooms this month.
More than a niche
When Jeep introduced the Wrangler Unlimited in 2006, planners figured it would fill an important niche but not become the dominant seller in the Wrangler lineup.
Not only does the Unlimited outsell its two-door stable mate by a 3-2 ratio, it has driven the Wrangler brand upscale by attracting younger, more affluent customers.
The average age of Wrangler Unlimited customers is 44, and the average household income is $110,000. That compares with an average of 50 years old and $95,000 for the Wrangler two-door.
The four-door model has transformed the Wrangler from a cult vehicle beloved mainly by off-roading enthusiasts into an all-purpose hauler with broader appeal.
"It starts to become a day-to-day vehicle," said Ryan Nagode, lead interior designer for the Wrangler, speaking at the media launch here. "They're not buying it just for trails."
To appeal to upscale customers, Jeep has expanded its offering of fender flares and removable hard-top roofs painted the same color as the body. Jeep offered the matching-color roofs and flares for the first time on 2011 Wrangler Sahara model. Now they will be offered on the top-of-the-line Rubicon model as well.
Chris Ellis, head of Jeep brand marketing, says, "It makes the car look a lot more premium."
Portland-area Jeep dealer Ralph Martinez predicts that Wrangler "sales are going to go even higher" with the new engine.
Ellis agrees: "There's a certain section of our owner base that wants to upgrade."