Jeep Wrangler JL 2.0L vs. 3.6L vs. 3.0L
Christian Hazel shares his thoughts on the three current engine choices for the new JL Wrangler.
"What's the best engine for a new Wrangler?" Among my circle of friends who know I'm a Jeep guy, I get that question all the time. With the 2007-2017 Wranglers, that's one question I never had to answer. With the JK series of Jeeps, you had one engine option for a new Wrangler. In the 2007-2011 models it was the 202-hp/237-lb-ft 3.8L and then for the 2012-2017 it was the 285-hp/260-lb-ft 3.6L. There's some conjecture amongst JK shoppers as to which one is preferable, but I'll joke (with a kernel of truth) that anybody who says 3.8L is wrong.
But then along came the JL Wrangler, and after production lines were sorted, we're now currently blessed with three engine choices and a fourth that will shortly be coming. So, back to that question, which is better for a Jeep Wrangler: the 270-hp/290-lb-ft 2.0L eTorque inline four-cylinder, the 285-hp/260-lb-ft 3.6L Penta star V-6, or the 260-hp/480-lb-ft 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 turbodiesel? (Hey, the V-8 Hemi isn't out on the streets just yet!)
Wrangler with 2.0L Engine: On-Road Drivability
In terms of performance behind the wheel, the 2.0L is my personal choice of engine. It is linear and seamless. The turbo bites into the power delivery way down low, providing a lot of gooey torque that gets you up and off the line in a hurry. There isn't the exhilarating top-end kick that you get from the 3.6L gasser, but from the driver's seat the Jeep feels like a spitball greasily being blown through a straw as it maintains speed on grades without downshifting or accelerates into traffic or for passing without a lot of vibration and fuss. Just put your foot down and enjoy the ride as you squirt forward. For me, the 2.0L blends the best balance between power and drivability while imparting the perception that the vehicle is lighter and airier despite the fact the engine is virtually the same weight as the gas V-6.
Wrangler with 2.0L Engine: Fuel Economy
In real-world driving I've been able to eke mpg numbers in the low 20s on highway drives. As much as 23 mpg at 75-mph freeway speeds in a soft-top Rubicon model is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering the aero was a bit dirtier than it would have been in a lower-slung hard-top Sahara. Around town I averaged a solid 16-18 mpg with a lot of stop and go. That's pretty darn good in my book, considering the in-town mileage on the JL 2.0L Rubicon was as good or better than the highway mileage I was generating in a 2007 3.8L Rubicon. You can run the 2.0L on regular-grade 87-octane fuel, but most of the time, even though I could barely tell any difference, I was filling the tank with the recommended 91-octane for best performance and efficiency.
Wrangler with 2.0L Engine: Off-Road Drivability
Everybody seems to bag on the little 2.0L off road, and to set the stage for my opinion, I have to admit that the vast majority of my seat time for this engine is in a Rubicon model with the 4:1 T-case that will greatly improve the torque multiplication. I find in slow-speed rockcrawling, the 2.0L definitely does offer a different driving dynamic than either gas or diesel V-6. Still, it's really no slouch, and once you get used to the slightly different tip-in characteristics, you quickly become adept at modulating the throttle for smooth rockcrawling. Conversely, when you're in the sand or mud or somewhere that requires more wheel speed, the power of the 2.0L comes in almost right off idle as compared with the V-6 that builds its power in a somewhat less linear fashion. The 2.0L gives plenty of off-road performance, so if you like how it drives on the road, rest assured it'll give you perfectly good off-road capabilities, albeit in a slightly different-feeling package than the gas or diesel V-6.
Wrangler with 3.6L Penta star Engine: On-Road Drivability
Personally speaking, the 3.6L gas engine would be my last choice if I were purchasing a new Wrangler. That's not to say it's a bad choice or not the perfect choice for many. Consider that until the Hemi Wrangler becomes a reality, the 3.6L Penta star engine will hold the title as the most powerful factory engine offered in the Wrangler. At 285 hp and 260 lb-ft with variable valve timing that helps to both flatten and push the torque curve down lower in the rpm range, the 3.6L Penta star V-6 gives acceleration performance that's on par with or better than any V-8 offered in the CJ Universal Jeeps of old. Especially when mated to the eight-speed auto that always seems to have a perfect gear for any on-road occasion, the V-6 will leave you plenty satisfied. That said, for me, the V-6 can feel a bit buzzy and peaky when you're really mashing the gas as compared to the 2.0L or 3.0L. Passing power is exceptional, though, and off-the-line performance is darn good. But a gear downshift is always there waiting for your right foot to make a move. It's not really a negative attribute to the vehicle, but for me it does lend a perception of unwieldiness that makes the Jeep feel less light and nimble than its 2.0L-equipped counterpart.
Wrangler with 3.6L Penta star Engine: Fuel Economy
Once again, the 3.6L Penta star V-6 proves to be no slouch in the economy department. Real-world figures that I've been able to generate in four-door Rubicons with hard tops hover right in the 19-20-mpg range on the freeway, keeping up with 75-80-mph traffic. When you've only got six engine pulses per every revolution to push an unaerodynamic brick through the atmosphere, that's not too shabby. What's even better is the in-town economy that matches the 2.0L's 16-18 mpg. The V-6 does tend to hover closer to the high 16s in town, perhaps 1 mpg less than the 2.0L, but there's a wide range of factors you can attribute to the difference when you're talking a margin that's that slim.
Wrangler with 3.6L Penta star Engine: Off-Road Drivability
There's just a lot more off-idle torque with the 3.6L Penta star V-6 than there is with the 2.0L. If you're not buying a Rubicon with the 4.0:1 T-case, that difference will become even more apparent. I've driven a Euro-spec two-door Wrangler with the 2.0L and manual transmission fronting the standard 2.72:1 T-case, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I stalled it once or twice trying to climb obstacles. The manual V-6 gas Wranglers with standard 2.72:1 T-cases I've off-roaded with have a better ability to crawl obstacles without stalling even if you're not touching the throttle. And no matter what the terrain, the V-6 will not disappoint with plenty of high-rpm wheel speed for mud and sand. Bottom line, it's hard to go wrong with the V-6 for any off-road situation.
Wrangler with 3.0L EcoDiesel Engine: On-Road Drivability
If the 2.0L feels light and airy to me and the 3.6L only less so, the 3.0L EcoDiesel makes a Wrangler feel as rooted to the ground as the Rock of Gibraltar. For me personally, it'd be a close Number 2 choice right behind the 2.0L four-cylinder. Without looking up any weight differences and going by seat feel alone, the diesel Wrangler feels heavy. That said, it's also got liquid squirt for days. Just mash the throttle at any speed, and those 480 lb-ft plant you firmly in the seat as the Jeep shoots forward like water out of a firehose. It's addictive, especially when you're traversing hilly, mountainous back roads. The 260 hp feels like it runs out much faster than the 2.0L and especially the 3.6L, but much of that is perception. When you think you're not moving quite as briskly as you think you are, look down, and the speedo will probably be clipping 80 mph. It's a velvety-smooth acceleration ramp that definitely delivers in spades when it comes to pounding a 5,000-pound Wrangler down the road.
Wrangler with 3.0L EcoDiesel Engine: Fuel Economy
Many will buy the diesel for the increased fuel economy. And if you plan on keeping the vehicle for the duration, you will eventually recoup your investment in the premium diesel package. But when you consider I generally knock down about 28 mpg on long highway drives with a 3.0L diesel as compared with about 23 mpg in the 2.0L, it'll take an awful lot of miles for that 5-mpg difference to add up to the diesel's added package cost. Likewise around town, where I generally get about 18-19 mpg from the EcoDiesel. It just takes a certain amount of fuel to push a certain amount of vehicle around town, accelerating from stoplights and such. Don't buy the EcoDiesel solely for the fuel economy. You will get better numbers at the pump than either gas option, but really what you're buying with your premium spend is the ability to keep your Wrangler rolling without loss of speed or momentum in any circumstance and (more than likely) with any aftermarket tire size if you're planning on upgrading.
Wrangler with 3.0L EcoDiesel Engine: Drivability
It's a tractor. It's simply a silly, fun, no-brainer tractor that you toss in the lowest gear and idle cleanly and smoothly through whatever obstacles are before you. When it comes to rockcrawling or navigating technical trail systems in low range, there's simply no comparison in tractive power application. The 3.0L V-6 EcoDiesel will just smoothly chug you through and cleanly let you modulate the throttle on shelf and other climbs. In the sand or mud there's plenty of juice to operate in high range, with the eight-speed generating copious amounts of usable wheel speed. Honestly, the throttle response in the dunes is also pretty darn sharp, with very minimal turbo lag, especially when you're surfing the dunes at higher rpms. Really, the only downside to the EcoDiesel in terms of off-road performance is the price you pay on the sticker, but once you're behind the wheel you'll never think twice about it.