2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel Test Drive

Ron Sessions | Jan 08, 2020

Introduction

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel offroad

Photo: Ron Sessions

All new just two years ago, the Jeep Wrangler remains the brand’s most universally recognizable product. Since the current-generation Wrangler JL’s introduction in 2018, Jeep has been introducing more powertrain options, with eTorque mild-hybrid versions of the base 3.6-liter V6 and optional 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder joining the engine lineup last year.

For 2020, Jeep adds to the roster of available Wrangler powerplants with a 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel option. The new EcoDiesel V6 is a response to a longstanding request from Wrangler owners and enthusiasts for a diesel in the U.S. The last one was a naturally aspirated Perkins diesel a half century ago in the 1961-68 CJ-5, a predecessor to the Wrangler. This one is the same 3rd generation VM Motori turbodiesel shared with the 2020 Ram 1500 pickup with a beefy 442 lb-ft of torque on tap from 1400 to 2800 rpm. For the Wrangler, the EcoDiesel is optional exclusively in 4-door trims and not available in the 2-door model. With an EPA estimate of 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined, the EcoDiesel can deliver the best fuel economy and range ever offered in a Wrangler, 4-5 mpg more thrifty than the current 3.6-liter gas V6 in combined driving and 5-7 mpg less thirsty than that gas engine on the highway. Previously, VM Motori also supplied diesels for the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty.

With the diesel, engineers had to shrink the 4-door Wrangler’s 21.5-gallon fuel tank to 18.3 gallons to make room for a large, 5.1-gallon urea tank that gives the EcoDiesel Wrangler 10,000 miles of cruising range between refills of the exhaust scrubbing DEF fluid. Even with the 3.2-gal smaller fuel tank, the EcoDiesel’s 530-mile estimated cruising range tops the 3.6-liter gas V6’s by more than 50 miles.  

Including the $1,495 destination charge, the 2020 Jeep Wrangler 4-door lineup includes the $33,290 Sport, $36,490 Sport S, $40,140 Sahara and $43,835 Rubicon. The EcoDiesel V6 is available with all Wrangler 4-door trim levels, including the range-topping Rubicon, and is a $4,000 upcharge.

Styling and Design

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel design

Photo: Ron Sessions

Nearly eight decades after the World War II-vintage Willys Jeep MB broke cover as the U.S. Cavalry’s replacement for the horse, the new-generation Wrangler JL is all-new but thematically holds true to the original formula. Its seven-bar grille returns to a keystone shape, closer to that of the earlier Jeeps. The new Wrangler’s fender tops are now flatter and the hood more level, inspired by the CJ-5 and CJ-7 models of a few decades ago. The windshield still folds down flat. The rear side windows can be removed.

At the same time, incremental refinements improve the breed. The new Wrangler’s windshield is faster than on the previous iteration, angled back 6.5 degrees for improved aerodynamics. All glass is larger for improved visibility. The windshield is 1.5 inches taller, the beltline is dropped and the spare tire is positioned lower on the rear door, improving sightlines to the front, side and rear. Hood vents on the body sides just behind the front fenders relieve underhood air pressure and minimize hood flutter. Lightweight aluminum bodywork lowers mass.

The 4-door model’s standard soft top remains removable. But there are no more zippers, much of the top assembled with a tongue-in-groove technique. The soft top on previous-generation models required removing 28 bolts and 1-1/2 hours of labor to take off. The new Wrangler’s top is held on with just four bolts and takes less than 4 minutes to fold. The 4-door model’s new optional power soft top can be operated at up to 60 mph. A three-piece hardtop available in black or body color is optional on the Sahara and Rubicon.

Inside, the new Wrangler continues its tribute to the early Jeep MB flat-panel dashboard with horizontally aligned gauges and climate-control vents. The doors can still be lifted off their hinges and removed as with original 4-wheel-drive sport-utility, but they are self-closing now and have detents to keep them open to a set position when desired. Also still removable is the Wrangler’s carpeting, all the better to access the standard drain plugs in the floors to hose out mud or eliminate water after a stream crossing.

Comfort and Cargo

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel dashboard front seats

Photo: Ron Sessions

If you are looking for an SUV with lots of comfort features and generous cargo space, there are better choices than the Wrangler. That said, the 4-door Wrangler with a wheelbase longer than that of a Chevrolet Tahoe has a surprisingly roomy rear seat and a seatback that’s more reclined than in past models for greater passenger comfort. Back seaters also get their own heater/air conditioning vents and USB outlets.

Jeep doesn’t even list the cargo space for its Wrangler 2-door which makes owners choose between carrying two passengers back there or folding or removing the rear seat to tote some cargo. Measuring almost 2 feet longer bumper to bumper than the Wrangler 2-door, the 4-door Wrangler offers a usable 31.7 cubic feet of space behind the 60/40 split folding rear seat. It’s accessed by a lower tailgate that swings out to the passenger side and a liftgate-style swing-up rear window.

Inside, there’s more storage space in the doors. A center console bin with 2-tier storage can accommodate an iPad. Both the glovebox and console bin are lockable and there’s more hidden storage under the cargo floor.

Air conditioning is standard on all 4-door models with dual-zone automatic climate control standard in Sahara and Rubicon trims. Cruise control, a tilt and telescope steering column and pushbutton start are also standard. Inside, durable hard plastic and vinyl capable of dealing with dirt and moisture are the rule with cloth covered seats standard in all trims. However, the Sahara and Rubicon are available with optional leather seat coverings, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake handle and shifter, as well as French-stitched leather coverings for the dash panel, console lid and door armrests. A heated steering wheel and front seats are optional in the Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon as well.

Safety and Technology

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel infotainment

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 2020 Jeep Wrangler may come with a removable roof and doors as well as a fold-down windshield to enhance the enjoyment of the outdoors, but it is unique among SUVs with a standard high-strength steel roll cage surrounding the passenger compartment.

While the Wrangler’s main focus is its go-anywhere, all-weather and off-road capability, it does come with standard dual front airbags and front seat side airbags as well as a backup camera plus electronic stability control with roll mitigation. Optional in all but the base Sport model are blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, rear park assist, adaptive cruise control and auto emergency braking.

In safety testing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the 2020 Jeep Wrangler 4-door four out of five stars for frontal impacts and a 3-star rating for rollover resistance. It did not rate the Wrangler for side-impact performance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet rated the crashworthiness of the 2020 Wrangler.

On the infotainment front, Sport and Sport S trims feature a pretty basic 8-speaker AM/FM stereo with Bluetooth for phone connectivity and audio streaming and a smallish 5-inch display. Sahara and Rubicon models upgrade to a standard Uconnect 7-inch high-resolution touchscreen with voice command, tap, pinch, and swipe functions, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cellphone connectivity and a free year of SiriusXM satellite radio.

Optional with Sahara and Rubicon trims is a Premium Audio Group that adds imbedded navigation with an 8.4-inch screen, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, five years of SiriusXM traffic and travel link services, a 9-speaker Alpine premium audio system with HD Radio and a waterproof subwoofer. The top system adds an Off-Road pages feature that enables the driver to track the Wrangler’s side tilt and grade angle status when tackling challenging terrain.

Driving Impressions

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel pumps 442 lb-ft of torque beginning at 1400 rpm and 260 horsepower at 3600. It’s mated to an 8-speed automatic that’s a beefier version of the ZF unit in other Wranglers but with the same ratio spread that gives shorter steps between the gears to help keep the engine in the sweet part of the power curve for improved part-throttle response and liquidity. The EcoDiesel gets a faster 3.73:1 final-drive ratio, however, compared to the 3.45:1 gearset in the gas-powered versions of the Wrangler Sport and Sahara. That’s key because the big cast-iron-block diesel and related plumbing add nearly 500 pounds of curb weight.

No manual-transmission option is available for the Wrangler EcoDiesel. There are two transfer cases, however, the standard unit with a 2.72:1 low-range and the one exclusive to the Rubicon model with super-low 4:1 reduction.

For the Wrangler, engineers moved the alternator higher on the engine to allow higher water fording capability. The Gen 3 EcoDiesel has a redesigned turbocharger, pistons and combustion chambers to enhance torque output. Lower friction piston rings and pins help fuel efficiency as does a new stop/start system that automatically shuts off the engine at stoplights, then restarts with the transmission already in gear when the driver lifts a foot off the accelerator. I saw an indicated 27.1 mpg average fuel economy readout in the Wrangler’s trip computer over 85 miles of mostly rural 2-lane highways in Utah’s high country near Zion National Park which included an hour-long off-road circuit and plenty of engine idling time while taking photos for this report.

The EcoDiesel’s tow ratings are the same 3,500 lbs as for the gas-powered 3.6-liter gas V6 and 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder. What is really surprising, however, is how smooth and quiet the turbodiesel V6 is. Outside the Wrangler, you’ll hear the same fuel-injection clatter as in any modern gas engine with direct injection. But in the cabin with the windows up, there’s no telltale diesel sound whether idling at a traffic light or accelerating onto the interstate. Especially with the optional hardtop, road and wind noise don’t make a nuisance of themselves in the cabin. Even at highway speeds, conversation with passengers at normal volumes is possible. How quiet is it? This VM Motori 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel was at one time being developed for use in the European-market Cadillac CTS luxury sedan before the General Motors bankruptcy in 2009 brought that program to a screeching halt.

This is the engine a vocal contingent of Wrangler fans has always wanted. Its ample low-end torque is exactly what you want for creeping over steep terrain. Yet there’s plenty of power left for merging onto interstates and overcoming slower vehicles on rural two-lane roads. And due to its turbocharged design, the EcoDiesel’s performance is little affected on high-altitude highways.

The Wrangler’s body feels tight and stiff, with virtually none of the creaks, rattles and highway sizzle of previous-generation models. Yet for a vehicle with such enhanced off-highway capabilities, the Wrangler’s on-highway ride exhibits much less of the busy and jouncy qualities from past versions. In the Sahara and Rubicon versions I drove with standard monotube gas shocks, harsh impacts are well damped and composure is maintained over big rises and dips. EcoBoost models get a faster 14.3:1 steering gear, improving turn-in response without making the 4-door SUV twitchy.

Conclusion

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

With the new EcoDiesel, Jeep fans now have a compression-ignition option with a reduced carbon footprint that can go toe-to-toe with the Land Rover Discovery and its 254-hp, 443 lb-ft 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel, but at a much lower cost. The $4,000 tariff for the Wrangler EcoDiesel and $2,000 for the required 8-speed automatic means that payback for the diesel’s additional 25% fuel economy in a strict dollars and cents sense will take years, especially when you consider that diesel often costs more per gallon than regular unleaded gasoline.

But what the Wrangler EcoDiesel brings is extended range, important when fuel sources are few and far between in the outback, and the confidence of substantial low- and midrange torque for getting out in front of traffic or slow-going through difficult off-road terrain.

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