First Drive 2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel
Giving the People What They Want
For nearly 33 years, Jeep's uber-popular Wrangler (preceded by the legendary "CJ" Series) has symbolized "the ultimate" in off-road-ready sport-utility vehicles—trucks that, when purchased new or used, can be taken into the boonies immediately after closing the deal.
In a bone-stock or modified state, it's a rig that's ready to blast across sand, plow through snow (or mud), ford streams, and "crawl" its way over rocks and other obstacles that are typically encountered in the non-highway areas in which the vehicles thrive.
A chassis and suspension designed primarily for off-road activity (but that's also street compliant) is one of the keys to Wrangler's long, successful run, as are drivetrain combinations that include manual transmissions, beefy axles, locking differentials (front and rear), heavy-duty springs and shocks, skidplates, ground clearance, and, of course, four-wheel drive.
For years, I-4 and V-6 engines of varying displacements have propelled Wranglers to their current level of greatness in the off-road community. However, based on the way those Jeeps are used, especially recreationally, "it really needs a diesel (engine)" has been the sentiment shared by most enthusiasts when it comes to ways the vehicle can be improved.
Well, the time has come! Jeep's vaunted Wrangler (four-door Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon only) is now available with a 3.0L EcoDiesel engine: a powerplant that boasts 442 lb-ft of torque at 1,400 rpm (Wrangler's highest torque ever) and 260 hp—and is coupled with an upgraded (stronger parts for all that torque) version of TorqueFlite 8HP75 eight-speed automatic transmission.
What makes this combination a "good thing" for Wrangler-Rubicon fans in particular, is the fact that other than the EcoDiesel's availability as an option ($4,500 more than 2.0L I-4 and $3,250 over the price of 3.6L V-6 gassers), other coveted drivetrain bits remain unchanged. The long-existing Command-Trac and Rock-Trac transfer-case options retain their 2.72 and 4.0:1 low ratios, and stout Dana 44 axles anchor the vehicle fore and aft. So, for less than five grand more than the cost of a base model, you're in a Jeep that now has the low-end grunt loyalists say the vehicle has needed for years.
We were among the first group of automotive media to wring out Jeep's new offering on-road and across, over, and through the rocky trails of Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane, Utah. Having driven Ram's EcoDiesel-powered '20 1500 Rebel (but unfortunately not a gas-powered Jeep Wrangler for direct one-to-one comparison) we were already familiar with the 3.0L powerplant's performance. In the Ram, it's very good—480 lb-ft of torque good! However, looking at vehicles with an apples-to-refrigerators mind frame, in the Wrangler, the diesel engine seems more responsive, and the vehicle itself is quicker, more nimble, and just plain fun to drive on traditional road surfaces. Of course, the reason for this can likely be attributed to gearing (Wrangler's axles carry 3.73 gears), the eight-speed transmission, and a big difference in weight. Our crude fuel-economy calculations and the Jeep's infocenter updates were synched at roughly 30-plus mpg on average.
Out in the aforementioned rocks, the diesel-powered '20 Jeep Wrangler truly showed off. Driving a Rubicon (we jockeyed a Sahara for 112 miles on our road tour) with the tire pressure lowered, lockers engaged as needed, front sway bar removed from the equation (all through flips of switches within easy reach from the driver seat), and using the Lo and Hi ranges of four-wheel drive accordingly, we journeyed twice through a challenging (and very imposing for a first-time off-roader) path of rocks, deep ruts, near-vertical inclines, and nose-diving descents. Summing the experience up as succinctly as possible, the EcoDiesel Wrangler ate it up.
The adage, old wives' tale, and words of perceived wisdom are: "Good things come to those who wait." Jeep fans have been holding on for a long time, hoping the brand's most popular model ever would someday have a diesel. We can say with confidence, the wait was worth it.