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  • 2020 Diesel Light Truck and SUV Buyer’s Guide

2020 Diesel Light Truck and SUV Buyer’s Guide

New Diesels You Can Buy Here in the U.S.

Austin Lott
Sep 17, 2019
Things have changed a lot over the past year in the diesel segment, as 2020 is the first period in quite some time when new cars with diesel engines are not available in the U.S. That crossover and SUV future is now, folks. This year, there's a total of eight new crossovers, SUVs, and light pickup trucks available with an oil-burner under the hood.
Diesel engines continue to offer superior driveability and excellent fuel economy over their gasoline counterparts, with few of the caveats that plagued the segment in the past. Today, the space is occupied by a few recognizable faces and a duo from Jeep that proves die-hard enthusiasm still works.
We've gathered details on all the changes we could verify for model year '20, as well as the best photography available, and summarized all the important specifications in this guide. From paved roads to far beyond, nearly every model in this year's crop of vehicles has a variant that's capable of taking you literally wherever you want to go—and getting tough jobs done, too.
 
General Motors
Photo 2/39   |   You could easily surpass the difference in price between the '20 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and the Bison with the usual off-road pickup upgrades. This is some seriously good value.
 
Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon
The '20 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon are two of the strongest entries in the midsize diesel-pickup segment. Though the market is starting to get more fleshed out, the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and Nissan Frontier only compete on the gasoline side. General Motors is the sole automaker currently offering a U.S.-sold diesel in that group. Things should get interesting this year, as Jeep plans to roll out a diesel option for its newly introduced '20 Gladiator pickup (keep turning pages!), but we're guessing it'll compete mostly with the off-road trims of the Colorado and Canyon.
For the '20 model, the Colorado and Canyon pickups are available with the familiar 2.8L Duramax LWN. The I-4 engine puts out 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, and rear-wheel-drive models are capable of pulling 7,700 pounds of trailer. The diesel engine continues to only be available when paired with the crew cab, but fuel economy remains class-leading at 20/30 mpg city/highway for rear-wheel-drive models and 19/28 mpg for four-wheel-drive rigs.
Photo 3/39   |   002 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2019 Chevrolet Colorado Zr2 Bison Exterior Static 2
Alterations for the '20 model year are modest, mostly made up of changes to packages and option availability: The remote-locking tailgate is now standard or available on all trim levels, Tire Fill Alert is now standard, and the infotainment system is upgraded to the latest version. One of the most notable changes is the availability of the Safety Package (forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning) on Z71 and LT models.
The Colorado and Canyon duo run the gamut from simple work truck to off-road special editions. Though they're cut from the same cloth, the trucks represent two different paths: Chevy boasts the serious off-roader, while GMC tends to be more chrome and capability. When you're looking for an all-season rig, the Colorado Z71 and Canyon All-Terrain should be your starting point. Both the rear- and four-wheel-drive models feature an auto-locking rear differential, which can mean the difference between being stuck in that snow drift or waiting for the tow truck. At $42,075, a four-wheel-drive Z71, with its locking rear differential, is only $935 more than an LT with the same drivetrain.
Photo 4/39   |   006 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2019 Gmc Canyon Slt Diesel Exterior Action
 
If you're serious about doin' it in the dirt, look for these letters: ZR2. The Colorado ZR2 is a more-than-legitimate entry into the off-road truck segment, with seriously impressive Multimatic DSSV shocks. When they launched the short list of other road vehicles that shared the technology, it included the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 and the Ford GT. The ZR2 also adds a 2-inch lift, front and rear electronic locking differentials, rock sliders, and skidplates. This isn't a sticker-and-badge upgrade; ZR2 is bona fide good and very fun. Sister magazine Truck Trend recently spent a year with a diesel-equipped '18 Chevy Colorado ZR2. The editors were largely impressed with the truck, noting it's capable of doing everything they wanted from a daily driver, and it still allowed traction controls to be completely turned off for anything-goes action in non-highway conditions. Pricing for a diesel '19 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 starts at $47,495; the one Truck Trend tested was optioned up to $50,400.
Photo 5/39   |   While a Colorado won't replace a serious tow rig, it can more than hold its own for more modest towing duties.
Photo 6/39   |   005 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2019 Chevrolet Colorado Interior
The base '19 Colorado starts at $37,675 with rear-wheel drive, and $41,140 with four-wheel drive. The '19 GMC Canyon starts at $38,800. Pricing for the '20 model isn't expected to change much.
Photo 7/39   |   008 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2019 Gmc Canyon Slt Diesel Exterior Detail
Photo 8/39   |   007 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2019 Gmc Canyon Slt Diesel Interior
 
Mazda
CX-5
After what felt like an eternity, the '20 Mazda CX-5 diesel has finally arrived! Years ago, when Mazda promised an uncompromising diesel-sipping addition to its lineup, the landscape was significantly different. After Hyundai pulled the plug on Santa Fe diesel and General Motors axed the oil-burner option for Equinox/Terrain last year, the Mazda ended up being the only mainstream crossover with a diesel option that doesn't try to compete with the off-road crowd. The CX-5 was already one of the best-looking crossovers in the price range, and the long-awaited additional powerplant gives it the versatility we've been hoping for.
Photo 9/39   |   The '20 Mazda CX-5 is known for combining striking good looks with sporty handling— and with the diesel it can do all that with more range.
The Mazda is available with a turbocharged 2.2L I-4, called the Skyactiv-D, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission; a combination that puts out 168 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. It's worth noting the diesel is offered as a mono-spec model: all-wheel drive, diesel engine, six-speed automatic gearbox, and your choice between four exterior colors: Jet Black, Snowflake White Pearl, Soul Red Crystal, and Machine Gray Metallic. The diesel CX-5 is offered this year in the Signature trim level only, which is the most luxuriously appointed version. Not only do you get a nice leather interior, but Mazda thoughtfully placed USB charging ports throughout, meaning the CX-5 is nicely laid out for road trips with the whole family—tech and all.
According to the EPA the CX-5 is estimated to return 27/30 mpg city/highway. For comparison sake, an all-wheel-drive CX-5 with the gas engine returns 22/27 mpg. Typically, diesel models exceed their EPA estimates while gasoline models fall somewhat short. With the 15.3-gallon fuel tank, the EPA pegs the range at 428 miles, plenty of time between fill-ups. If the CX-5 beats its estimates like we think it will, you could be looking at 500 miles between fill-ups with careful driving.
Photo 10/39   |   011 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2019 Mazda Cx 5 Interior
Why offer the diesel on the most expensive model? We believe Mazda is noticing that diesel is thriving in the luxury segment, but every year there are less and less options. The starting price point of $42,045 for the CX-5 diesel seems steep, but the top-trim Mazda is much more generously appointed than the $35,000 Equinox that was launched and canceled after one year (see the sidebar in this story for more on that).
Now that Mazda has a legalized diesel engine, the company already announced its intent to put the same Skyactiv-D into the Mazda6 sedan. From what we've seen in the way of brown Nappa leather and a combination of wood and Ultrasuede trim, the Mazda6 will take a similar path to the diesel segment and aim for the upper end of the mainstream group. In a market devoid of diesel-powered cars, we're looking forward to driving this one!
 
Jeep
Photo 11/39   |   012 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2020 Jeep Wrangler Exterior Doors On
Wrangler
You read that right: The '20 Jeep Wrangler finally gets a factory-installed diesel-engine option! We'd argue that Wrangler is perhaps the most recognizable vehicle on the road today—and incredibly popular. In 2018, the model saw its first major redesign in years, and thankfully it updated a bunch but didn't lose the character and capability that made it an icon. What hasn't changed? Wrangler is a body-on-frame SUV, available with Dana 44 front-and-rear axles with electronic locking differentials, and it's instantly recognizable. So, what's been updated? It rides better on pavement, the style feels fresh without being ruined, and advanced driver-safety systems make an appearance (think adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning). Additionally, the interior balances soft-touch materials with the utilitarian style we've come to expect from the off-roader. Oh yeah, you can still remove the doors and windshield, too. This ain't your daddy's Wrangler with the death wobble.
Photo 12/39   |   013 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2020 Jeep Wrangler Exterior Doors Off
In response to what Jeep calls "overwhelming consumer demand," the diesel engine found in the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is available in the Wrangler. This isn't the same old EcoDiesel we've come to love—it's better and offers more of the good stuff. The new 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 is rated at 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque and is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Upgrades listed include a new turbocharger and a handful of top-end updates that help the engine run more efficiently and make more power. It's worth noting the diesel engine will only be available on four-door Wrangler Unlimited models and, so far, only with the automatic gearbox. Though it's possible, a manual-shift option seems like a stretch at this point. Fuel economy numbers aren't confirmed, but we expect them to land around 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The outgoing '19 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is rated at 20/27 mpg city/highway by the EPA, which is what we're basing that estimate on.
Photo 13/39   |   The go-anywhere-anytime off-road icon finally gets the diesel power it deserves.
Cost for a four-door Wrangler runs the gamut from the low $30,000 range to more than $50,000. Pricing for the diesel option is not yet confirmed, but looking to the previous generation of Ram 1500 EcoDiesel (now the Ram 1500 Classic), the EcoDiesel is a $4,000-plus option. In the mid-$30,000 sector, you can expect the Wrangler Unlimited Sport to handle reasonable trail driving. If you're looking at rock climbing, sand, and other more extreme trail driving, you'll want to look at Rubicon, which we imagine will start in the mid-$40,000 range. Jeep plans to begin deliveries of diesel Wranglers in late 2019.
Photo 14/39   |   The latest-generation Wrangler has much better on-road manners, but don't worry: It's still the king off the highway.
Photo 15/39   |   016 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2020 Jeep Wrangler Exterior Action
Photo 16/39   |   When Jeep redesigned the Wrangler in 2018, it nailed the balance between heritage and new technology.
Gladiator
Not only has Jeep brought a pickup back to the market, but it provided a diesel engine as an option. In fact, as you may have guessed by the styling, it shares quite a bit more than just a powertrain with the Wrangler Unlimited. Jeep is quick to point out, however, that the '20 Gladiator is far more than just a Wrangler Unlimited with a bed tacked on. The new Wrangler platform is designed with this truck in mind, and it shows when you see it in person. The Gladiator's interior has the same rugged utilitarian layout as the Wrangler, but it strikes a nice balance of being well made without feeling cheap. On the contrary, Gladiator feels newer than many of the established players in the midsize pickup market.
Photo 17/39   |   018 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2020 Jeep Gladiator Exterior Doors On
Photo 18/39   |   Would it be 100 percent Jeep if the doors and windshield didn't come off?
The Gladiator, which the manufacturer describes as "100 percent truck, 100 percent Jeep," is a modern vehicle despite the instant heritage it evokes with the Wrangler's looks. In addition to Jeep's excellent Uconnect infotainment system and a generous helping of USB charge ports and thoughtful storage solutions in the rear-seat area, the Gladiator has modern driver aids. Adaptive cruise control is available, as are blind-spot sensors, park-distance sensors, and braking-assistance systems.
Photo 19/39   |   Towing and hauling? Yep, the '20 Gladiator does truck stuff really well, too.
Gladiator, which is already on sale with a 3.6L gasoline-burning V-6, is slated to get the same 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 that will power the Wrangler sometime in 2020. Like the Wrangler, the diesel will be paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Pricing for the '20 Gladiator with a gasoline V-6 starts at $35,040, with the diesel likely carrying a significant premium.
Photo 20/39   |   022 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2020 Jeep Gladiator Interior
Photo 21/39   |   The rear seats are comfortable and feature a variety of lockable storage cubbies to keep things safely stowed when the doors and top are off.
 
Land Rover
Photo 27/39   |   Even though a majority of Land Rover's '20 Range Rover Sport SUVs won't see anything worse than a shopping center curb, it's nice to know the platform is still plenty capable.
Range Rover and Range Rover Sport
To the casual observer, the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport could be confused for trim levels of the same model. They're similar in many ways: For example, they can both be equipped with a turbodiesel 3.0L V-6 engine that makes 254 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque when paired with a fantastic eight-speed automatic transmission. While both are finished to an exacting luxury standard, the starting price belies the difference. The Sport starts $20,000 cheaper than the Range Rover. We'll take you through the different character of each, in addition to changes for 2020.
The '20 Range Rover Sport stays largely the same but adds a new gloss-black wheel option, makes the Smartphone Pack (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) standard equipment, and adds two new exterior colors: Portofino Blue and Eiger Gray. The Sport gets an EPA estimated 22/28 mpg city/highway with the diesel engine and has an estimated range of 545 miles. Think of the Range Rover Sport as the one you're more likely to take places, and that's what Range Rover is hoping for, too. Though many will never see dirt, the Sport is an incredibly capable vehicle. The reputation Land Rover is built on is still alive and well. In February 2019, the Range Rover Sport added "drive to the top of Heaven's Gate" in China to its list of accomplishments alongside feats like setting records at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. On top of all that, the Range Rover Sport has a neat "Activity Key" wristband that lets owners leave the key locked in the car while doing something they'd rather do keyless. There's even an optional third-row seat, though Range Rover admits it's only really meant for short trips or children. Pricing for the diesel '20 Land Rover Range Rover Sport starts at $70,795.
Photo 28/39   |   If you want to get serious, you can get a "Wade Sensing" system to let you know how deep the water is getting. Come on in, the water's fine.
Remember that the Sport is the one you'd take places? Well, the Range Rover is the rig you're just as likely to be driven to places in. The flagship of the brand is every bit as capable as the Sport, but in a more refined package. Fuel economy and range are identical to the Sport. Changes for the '20 model include the same blue and gray exterior paint options, a newly available Black Exterior Design package, and Shadow Walnut trim as standard on the two models available with the diesel engine: the Range Rover and Range Rover HSE. Here's a sample feature to illustrate the difference between the Range Rover and the Sport: A Range Rover can be equipped with front seats that heat, cool, and massage and heated/cooled/reclining rear seats. Yes, it can get that Activity Key, too. Pricing for the diesel '20 Land Rover Range Rover starts at $92,995.
Discovery
The Land Rover Discovery slots into the lineup below the Range Rover Sport and above the smaller Evoque and Velar, but between the Velar and Sport in price. In capability and mission, the Discovery is aimed more at people with families and friends they want to take with them on their adventures. The optional diesel engine is the same 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 found in the Range Rovers but is rated at an EPA-estimated 21/26 mpg city/highway with a range of 518 miles. As you'd expect of a $50,000 SUV, the Discovery is finished in leather and has the presence and feel synonymous with Land Rover. Changes for the '20 include the addition of blind-spot monitoring and upgraded mirrors to standard equipment and the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in place of standard navigation on SE trim models.
Photo 32/39   |   The '20 Discovery is the Land Rover for people who want to be able to go anywhere but without the attention, good and bad, that goes with the Range Rover badge.
The Discovery can be equipped with an arsenal of equipment that wouldn't be out of place on the most off-road-oriented Jeeps and pickups. Think electronic locking differentials, a transfer case, and a drive-mode selector for nearly any terrain you're likely, or unlikely, to encounter. It can even be equipped with a Wade Sensing system that tells you how deep the water you're crossing is and can warn you if you're getting in too deep.
Photo 33/39   |   035 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide Land Rover Discovery Exterior Action
In addition to the hard-core, off-road features, Discovery can also be equipped with niceties seldom seen in any segment. One of our favorite examples is the optional third-row seat, which can be equipped with not only heat, but an Intelligent Seat Fold feature. You can use buttons in the rows, controls in the infotainment system, or a phone app to fold a variety of combinations of the rear seats. Imagine having an awkward package to load and being able to tap a few keys and the rear seats are folded and waiting for you. Though the feature isn't unique to the Discovery, it has a trick gesture-activated tailgate too. Prices for the diesel '20 Land Rover Discovery start at $55,325.
Photo 34/39   |   036 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide Land Rover Discovery Interior
Photo 35/39   |   With the Intelligent Seat Fold feature, you can configure the Discovery however you want with just a few taps from your smartphone or infotainment screen.
Photo 36/39   |   038 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide Land Rover Discovery Interior Third Row
 
Where Are the Cars?
Well, you may have noticed that instead of the "Car and SUV Buyer's Guide" you're holding onto the "Light Truck and SUV" version. This year, there isn't a single new diesel car available in the U.S. As part of the massive market-wide shift toward crossovers and SUVs, General Motors nixed the compact Cruze in 2018 and Jaguar dropped the diesel option from its lineup. The changes for Jaguar seemed centered around the I-4 diesel, since Land Rover is quite happy to keep selling diesel-powered Land Rovers of several varieties with the V-6.
There is a silver lining for the future in Mazda: Not only does it plan to bring a Mazda6 sedan to market with the diesel engine available in the CX-5, but it's committed to developing the technology, perhaps even using some lessons learned from the variable-compression Skyactiv-X gasoline engine.
 
Looking Into the Crystal Ball of Diesel Fumes and New Vehicles
As you look through the pages of this Buyer's Guide, you may be wondering where a few familiar faces are: the Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Though Jeep simply noted the Grand Cherokee wouldn't be getting diesel power for 2020—leaving things open for interpretation (that might mean it's getting diesel power for 2021 or later)—General Motors confirmed the diesel option for the Equinox and Terrain was dropped after just one year due to "low demand."
When we asked Land Rover, one of the few manufacturers continuing to offer a diesel option, we were told the diesel engine usually made up 5 to 10 percent of sales. Looking through the current crop of diesel options, we noticed a trend: Diesel is moving up-market and niche. The Wrangler appeals to a wide audience, but it would be hard to describe as anything but a niche offering. Though the Colorado/Canyon are more mainstream, Mazda has positioned its CX-5 and forthcoming Mazda6 diesels toward the top end of the middle of the mainstream.
Apparently, the buyers most concerned with efficiency are turning to non-diesel options, since the fuel-economy leaders from last year have all dropped away (Cruze, Equinox/Terrain). Despite the bad rap diesel got from the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal a few years ago, it remains clear that diesel is here to stay, and there's a loyal group of us who are happy to have the option.
DIESEL ENGINE SPECIFICATIONS
Photo 37/39   |   003 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2019 Chevrolet Colorado Zr2 Bison Exterior Action
General Motors
Displacement: 2.8L
Configuration: I-4
Power: 181 hp at 3,400 rpm
Torque: 369 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm
Turbocharging: Single variable-geometry turbocharger
Bore x stroke: 3.70 x 3.94 inches
Compression ratio: 16.5:1
Valvetrain: DOHC with four valves per cylinder
Head material: Aluminum alloy
Block material: Cast-iron
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Photo 38/39   |   032 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide Range Rover Exterior Action
Land Rover
Displacement: 3.0L
Configuration: V-6
Power: 254 hp
Torque: 443 lb-ft at 1,750 rpm
Induction: Single variable-geometry turbocharger
Bore x Stroke: 3.31 x 3.54 inches
Valvetrain: DOHC with four valves per cylinder
Head Material: Aluminum
Block Material: Compacted-graphite-iron
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Photo 39/39   |   010 2020 Diesel Light Truck SUV Buyers Guide 2019 Mazda Cx 5 Exterior Action
Mazda
Displacement: 2.2L
Configuration: I-4
Power: 168 hp at 4,000 rpm
Torque: 290 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm
Induction: Sequential twin turbo
Bore x Stroke: 3.38 x 3.71 inches
Valvetrain: DOHC with four valves per cylinder
Head Material: Aluminum
Block Material: Aluminum
Transmission: Six-speed automatic

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