2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel

ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah — Everyone knows that the Jeep brand is the crown jewel of the entire FCA palette of product offerings. Especially in the past few years, Jeep sales have been nothing short of spectacular, with year after year of record setting numbers. But ask Jim Morrison, head of Jeep North America, what are the questions he gets most frequently from friends, neighbors, Jeep owners, and just about anyone else, and he’ll say they are: “When is Jeep going bring back a Wrangler pickup?” and “When is Jeep going to put a diesel engine in the Wrangler?”

The first question was answered earlier this year when, after teasing a Wrangler-based pickup truck for years — Jeep launched the Gladiator. Supply is having difficulty keeping up with demand. 

The second question, regarding a diesel option, was answered last week in the striking red rock mesas of Utah’s Zion National Park, where members of the automotive media were invited to hear about and drive the new 2020 Jeep Wrangler 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel.

On sale now, the 260 horsepower, 442 lb-ft of torque EcoDiesel is only available with a new TorqueFlite 8HP75 eight-speed automatic transmission with engine stop-start technology in all trim levels – Sport, Sahara and Rubicon – four-door Wranglers. This is largely the same EcoDiesel engine that powers the new Ram 1500. Compared to the two gasoline-powered engines – the naturally aspirated Pentastar 285 horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 with 260 lb-ft torque; and the 2.0-liter turbocharged 270 horsepower, inline four with 295 lb-ft toque – it’s down slightly on horsepower but way up on torque. Towing capacity, at 3,500 lbs., remains the same.

The EcoDiesel is only available as a four-door model. As a recent owner of a late model two-door Wrangler Sahara who is not a fan of the four-door’s oddly stretched proportions (my jaded opinion), that’s a big disappointment, along with the fact that a manual transmission isn’t offered at all. Still, I’m admittedly in the minority, with 90 percent of Jeep sales being four-door models.

In terms of pricing, EcoDiesel Wranglers command a $6,000 premium over the base four-door manual shifter Sport; $4,500 over the automatic 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; and $3,350 over the automatic 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6.

All Wrangler EcoDiesel trim levels feature third-generation Dana 44 front and rear heavy-duty axles. Additionally, all Wrangler EcoDiesel models feature a 3.73 axle ratio. Two transfer cases are offered: the Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case with a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio on Rubicon models, and the Command-Trac part-time two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio on Sport and Sahara models.

A 5.1-gallon diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank is located immediately behind the fuel tank, with refill location next to the diesel fuel filler. DEF refills align with oil changes, lasting up to 10,000-mile intervals. Levels are monitored via a new DEF gauge in the front cluster with a message light that indicates when it’s time to refill.

The diesel adds between 400 and 425 lbs., yet delivers a better than 30 percent improvement in fuel economy, along with an estimated 500-mile driving range between fill-ups. EPA fuel economy numbers were not yet available at the time of this writing but Wrangler Chief Engineer Pete Milo indicated it would be the most fuel-efficient Wrangler Ever offered.

For our full-day of on- and off-road test driving, my drive partner and I grabbed a Firecracker Red Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, trimmed with black leather seating, pushed the start button, bringing the diesel power to life with nary a hint of traditional diesel engine “clacking.”

Our morning began in Springdale, Utah, and was spent driving through the twisty, steeply inclined, narrow slot canyons and gloriously impressive and massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soared into a brilliant crystal clear blue sky.

The Sahara handled not unlike other Wranglers I have driven, with ample body lean and roll on curves, and a generous amount of steering play associated with Jeep. If there was any diesel engine noise at all, it was drowned out by the traditional wind noise courtesy of the tall, upright windshield and removable top.

Low-end acceleration was noticeably improved over gas-powered Wranglers, thanks to the 442 lb-ft of low-end torque. It was especially noticeable when negotiating steep mountain grades where the full torque featured at just 1,400 rpm. That’s more than impressive; it’s downright spectacular. Still, there is noticeable turbo lag that’s more pronounced than in the 2.0-liter gas engine.

We switched drivers at Mount Carmel Junction just outside the park and drove back through the park to just south of Hurricane, Utah, to Sand Hollow State Park where we switched vehicles, surrendering our Firecracker Red Sahara for a Hellayella Rubicon and an afternoon of serious off-road driving adventures.

With thick knobby LT285/70R17C BSW off-road tires deflated from the recommended 37 psi to 20 psi, we shifted our Rubicon from 4 High to 4 Low, engaged the lockers, and set out on a four vehicle lead-and-follow expedition through deep, salmon-colored sand and rock, testing the Jeep’s noted “most capable SUV ever” capabilities.

Jeep Jamboree spotters guided us over extreme rock formations and articulations that frequently had us driving with nothing but a view of the Rubicon’s hood and the blue sky above, while the steel underbody skid plates scraped, clunked and otherwise did their intended job. Here, the EcoDiesel proved its value; the slightest amount of pedal pressure smoothly powered the Rubicon with ample assurance up and over the steep grades. This thing is a beast and left us feeling it could easily make molehills out of mountains.

There’s no way around it— you’ll pay big bucks to equip your Wrangler with an EcoDiesel engine. But, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. To be sure, Jeep will sell a ton of them and even more when the Jeep Gladiator debuts an EcoDiesel model next year. 

Vital Stats
Base Price: $38,645
Price as Tested: $53,425
Powertrain: 3.0L 260 horsepower Turbo EcoDiesel V-6 paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: Not yet rated
Seating: 5

Crash Test Safety Ratings: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration frontal crash: 4 out of a possible 5 stars, rollover 3 out of a possible 5 stars, overall: not rated. Not yet rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Where Built: Toledo, Ohio

Competes With:
Because it’s primary design function is for off-roading Wrangler doesn’t easily compare with other vehicles. Therefore it’s best to compare it with other Jeep product offerings. 

Fab Features
World-class off-road capability
Impressive new EcoDiesel engine
Excellent choice of trim levels and exterior colors

— Jim Prueter