2019 Jeep Wrangler eTorque Review

Christian Wardlaw | Aug 15, 2019

Introduction

Just a year after redesigning its legendary SUV, Jeep adds a new engine option for the 2019 Wrangler. It’s a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with electrical assistance, which means it is a mild-hybrid vehicle. Making slightly less horsepower and slightly more torque, this engine provides similar acceleration and performance to the standard 3.6-liter V6 engine, combined with better fuel economy. Jeep calls this mild-hybrid technology eTorque.

Based on J.D. Power data, fuel economy is what Wrangler owners are least satisfied with when it comes to their Jeeps. By happenstance, a brand-new vacation rental had this new eTorque engine under the hood, creating an opportunity for a real-world test of the mild-hybrid Wrangler turbo.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Silver Front QuarterFor this review, J.D. Power evaluated a rented 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport S equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder eTorque engine, an automatic transmission, and a 3-piece black hardtop roof. The price came to $40,435, including the $1,495 destination charge. The rental had less than 600 miles on it before we added another 500 miles to the odometer.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Jeep Wrangler, it is helpful to understand who buys this SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

J.D. Power classifies the Wrangler as a compact SUV, and there are many differences between Wrangler owners and compact SUV owners as a whole. For example, 70% of Wrangler owners are men, compared to 50% for the overall segment. They are younger, too, with a median age of 53 years (vs. 59 for the segment). A Wrangler owner’s median annual household income is $141,477 (vs. $92,841).

Most Wrangler owners agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (75% vs. 63%). They are also more likely to agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (74% vs. 56%).

Wrangler owners are not as concerned about fuel economy, reliability, or high maintenance costs. Just 30% agree that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon (vs. 67% for the segment), 90% agree that reliability is a first consideration (vs. 96%), and 81% agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (vs. 91%).

At the same time, 90% of Wrangler owners agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from a crowd (vs. 67%), and just 21% agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (vs. 44%).

Safety and environmental friendliness are less important to Wrangler owners. Just 76% agree that they’re willing to spend more in order to ensure that their vehicle has the latest safety features (vs. 81%), and 38% agree that they are willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (vs. 56%).

Owners say their favorite things about the Wrangler are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, visibility and safety, engine/transmission, and infotainment system. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Wrangler are (in descending order) the climate control system, driving dynamics, seats, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Jeep Wrangler measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

With the latest Wrangler, classic Jeep design is modernized in deference to safety and fuel efficiency requirements, but the look still screams “Jeep!” with no more than a glance.

In fact, the easiest way to tell the difference between the redesigned Wrangler JL and the previous Wrangler JK is by the rear license plate mounting location. The new Wrangler embeds it into the bumper rather than under the taillight. You can also check to see if the headlights bleed into the grille area or not. On the old JK, they don’t. The new JL also has fender vent trim that is missing from the old JK.

Sport trim is basic, identified by its black steel wheels. In Sport S trim, silver aluminum wheels visually indicate its higher stature on the trim level ladder. Sahara trim adds design details for a more upscale appearance, while Rubicon trim is clearly off-road-ready. Altitude versions come with a blacked-out appearance, and a Moab special edition of the Rubicon is also available.

Interior

Every Jeep Wrangler has drain plugs in the floor, under the carpeting. Why? Because these SUVs are designed to get muddy, and to get hosed out afterwards.

Thus, rubber and plastic are the rule inside of a Jeep Wrangler. You can get leather in the Sahara trim, along with simulated leather on the dashboard, but most Wranglers have cloth upholstery. If you’re looking for a more refined interior, you’ll need to get a different vehicle.

Seats

Seat satisfaction is not high on the list of Wrangler owners’ favorite things, and I think I understand why.

Both front seats offer manual height adjustment, and the Unlimited provides plenty of rear seat space for adults, along with air conditioning vents. A heated steering wheel and heated front seats are also available.

However, the driving position is close to the steering wheel, which could bother some owners. Also, I’ve noticed that over time, as I enter and exit the Wrangler, the driver’s seat self-lowers. That’s because I inadvertently activate the manual lever used to raise and lower the seat. In turn, this means regular correction of the seating position is necessary.

Furthermore, if you own the 2-door Wrangler, rear seat space is cramped. That’s why, if you plan to carry people often, the 4-door Unlimited is your best bet.

Lastly, note that shorter people have a hard time climbing into and out of a Wrangler. Jeep provides grab handles on the roof pillars, but even so, after splashing through mud puddles, everyone but me got mud on their legs while exiting the SUV.

Climate Control System

Big knobs and buttons make it easy to use the Wrangler’s climate control system, and during a week of hot and muggy weather the air conditioning blew frosty cold air. However, with the eTorque engine, the automatic engine start/stop system operates more often and for longer periods of time in order to conserve fuel, and at long traffic lights the air conditioning’s performance went from strong to tepid.

Infotainment System

For the 2019 Wrangler, you can get an infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, connected services, and a premium 9-speaker sound system. It even includes technology called Off-Road Pages, which helps you to track vehicle data during serious excursions.

The Sport S test vehicle, however, did not have any of these features. Instead, it came with the basic set-up, which includes a 5-inch display, Bluetooth, and a USB data port through which we streamed music from an iPhone. While having the upgraded system would’ve been nice, we didn’t miss the extras during this particular evaluation period.

Storage and Space

Wrangler owners indicate relative dissatisfaction with this Jeep’s storage and space, and that’s easy to understand.

In 2-door models, cargo room is tight. Essentially, you must choose between carrying people and tumbling the rear seats forward to create room for cargo. Jeep does not provide official cargo volume measurements for the 2-door model.

In the 4-door Unlimited, this isn’t an issue. Space behind the rear seat measures 31.7 cu.-ft. and, with the rear seats folded, a Wrangler supplies 72.4 cu.-ft. of space. These figures are competitive with other compact SUVs, and the Jeep easily swallowed a week’s worth of luggage for a family of four.

With that said, accessing the Unlimited’s cargo area is a hassle. Since the spare tire hangs on the tailgate, and because the soft convertible top and the optional hardtop are designed for removal, accessing the trunk is hard. This is especially true if the Jeep is parked parallel at a curb, because the tailgate swings to the side from left to right.

Inside the cabin, storage space is acceptable, but no more. The center console bin is a decent size, but the glove box is small and Jeep puts netting on the lower door panels rather than pockets or bins. A traditional hand brake, a transfer case shifter, and a transmission gear selector take up plenty of space on the center console, too.

Visibility and Safety

After styling and design, Wrangler owners report the most satisfaction with visibility and safety.

No doubt, it is easy to see out of a Wrangler, especially now that this Jeep comes standard with a spare tire-mounted reversing camera. While the hood is visible through the windshield, you can easily tell where the front corners and wheels are, and when off-roading it’s easy to lean out of an open window to check the path forward.

Nevertheless, the side mirrors are tall and narrow, which means it is easy for other vehicles to hide in the Wrangler’s blind spots. An upgrade package installs a blind-spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert, and I highly recommend it.

Additional safety equipment options, added late in the 2019 model year, include forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control. And, with the top-shelf infotainment system, the connected services offering includes SOS emergency calling and programmable settings designed to alert the owner when the Wrangler is driven too fast, or too far, or for too long after a curfew.

Full crash-test results were unavailable for the Wrangler at the time this review was published. Only the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had published any, giving the Wrangler Unlimited a 4-star rating for frontal-impact protection and a 3-star rating for rollover resistance.

Engine/Transmission

Making 270 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque, the turbocharged, eTorqued 4-cylinder compares favorably to the standard 3.6-liter V6.

It’s down 15 horsepower, but up 35 lb.-ft. The extra torque is made lower in the rev range, and with off-the-line assistance from eTorque’s electric motor-generator this Wrangler leaps forward and suffers no hint of turbo lag. The 8-speed automatic transmission never gets a gear wrong, either.

During more than 500 miles of driving, the Wrangler eTorque accelerated with authority and provided plenty of passing power on two-lane roads. In the stifling heat, multiple cooling fans created quite a bit of racket, but otherwise, aside from the $1,000 asking price for the engine upgrade, there was no downside to the turbo-four. It even matches the V6 for towing capacity, which is 3,500 pounds.

Jeep offers several 4-wheel-drive systems for the 2019 Wrangler, and the Sport S is equipped with part-time 4WD with a manual transfer case. Driving down a rocky trail to a beach, shifting on the fly from rear-wheel drive into 4-Hi 4WD was easy. Based on previous experience getting into 4-Lo, that requires a little bit of muscle. Either way, the Jeep Wrangler is designed for maximum off-road capability and it can go places most other vehicles can’t.

Fuel Economy

Jeep’s new eTorque engine option is all about maximizing fuel economy. According to the EPA, and when compared to the Wrangler Unlimited’s standard V6, it improves city efficiency by 4 mpg (to 22 mpg), highway efficiency by 1 mpg (to 24 mpg), and combined-driving efficiency by 2 mpg (to 22 mpg).

During a week of driving, the Wrangler eTorque returned 22.7 mpg in spite of often mountainous terrain and constant use of the air conditioning system. This suggests that the money spent to obtain the eTorque powertrain is worth the cost.

Driving Dynamics

When you buy a Jeep Wrangler, you need to understand that it won’t drive like a car or a typical crossover SUV. This is a rugged truck designed for severe punishment, and the hardware necessary for off-road capability and durability doesn’t translate into traditional on-pavement ride and handling characteristics.

The steering is slow. The suspension is stiff. Bumps can make it feel like the Wrangler’s rear end is skittering a little bit sideways. Stiff crosswinds can make it hard to keep the Jeep on the straight and narrow. The tall center of gravity means you want to avoid sudden lane changes and high-speed cornering. On the freeway, noise from the wind, the road, and the powertrain is a constant companion.

If you’re unprepared for this driving experience, you’re likely to regret your purchase. So consider yourself warned.

And if you spend lots of time off-road, know that few vehicles can match a Wrangler’s capabilities in the dirt.

Final Impressions

The point of this review was to assess the 2019 Wrangler’s new eTorque powertrain.

Based on a weeklong test, it gives up nothing to the standard V6 engine in terms of power and capability while dramatically improving fuel economy. Yes, it will take a few years of ownership before the turbocharged 4-cylinder pays for itself through savings at the pump, but based on current fuel economy estimates for both engines, that will happen sooner than later.

Otherwise, the Wrangler remains the same as it’s ever been, with subtle refinements and improvement designed to make living with it easier but by no means easy.

If you need the Wrangler’s capabilities and understand what to expect in terms of its comfort levels, ease of use, and driving dynamics, you’ll be really happy with the latest version of this off-roader. If instead you’re infatuated with the idea of owning this Jeep and how it will reflect upon you, but you’re unprepared for certain compromises inherent with the Wrangler’s design, know that these vehicles don’t drive or coddle you like a Grand Cherokee.

In fact, you might want to rent one for a week just to make sure you still want one.

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