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2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel Test Drive

Diesel gets a chance to redeem itself

Aaron GoldWriter, Photographer

SHERMAN OAKS, California—We figured the whole diesel emissions scandal meant diesel SUVs were pretty much done for, so we were pleased to learn that the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 was returning to the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, and in greatly improved form (more improved, in fact, than the version used in the Ram 1500 pickup). Now that we've spent a few days with the compression-ignition Wrangler, we are more convinced than ever that Fiat-Chrysler has their thinking caps on—they've put this gem of an engine where it can do the most good.

As for the much-improved part, here's the Cliff Notes version: Fitting the 3.0 to an off-roader like the Wrangler meant moving the oil sump out of harm's way, and that led to a host of other changes, all outlined in geek-worthy detail in Todd Lassa's first drive of the diesel Wrangler. Highlights: 260 hp, 442 lb-ft of torque (highest ever for a Wrangler, if you care about that sort of thing), a beefed-up 8-speed automatic transmission, internals designed to deliver a quiet demeanor, and much better fuel economy than we expect from a Wrangler.

Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is the first big advantage of fitting the diesel to the Wrangler, although we ought to rank it second. Wranglers are heavy, they have massive tires, and they're as aerodynamic as your average bookshelf—all factors which are anathema to good gas mileage (er, sorry, diesel mileage). We expect mid-to-high teens at best with a gas-powered Wrangler Unlimited, but the diesel showed us 23 mpg, just 2 mpg shy of its EPA estimate. It's almost as if we were driving a Prius!

Smooth EcoDiesel Torque

What ought to be ranked as the first advantage is all that lovely low-end torque, packaged up and neatly delivered just off idle. That's a great thing to have when off-roading. If there's a weakness to the Wrangler's 3.6-liter gasoline engine, it's a lack of low-end pull, which is especially noticeable with the manual transmission (alas, not an option with the diesel).

Wrangler EcoDiesel Off-Roading

On the dirt, the diesel is just so, so, so perfect—feed in a little throttle and the Wrangler torques right up whatever obstacle you've put under its tires, seeming to tip-toe over it as gently as can be. We climbed a steep, rutted slope, and the Wrangler just walked up it. It picked its way back down just as easily, whether we used the hill descent control system (with which the driver sets the speed using the upshift/downshift function on the transmission shifter) or relied on engine braking (which, by the way, was better than we expected).

We've done a lot of off-roading in a lot of different Wrangler models, and while they've all been amazingly good, the diesel introduces a level of precision to power delivery that we haven't felt since Jeep ditched the late, great 4.0-liter straight-six, oh, about a million years ago. You could almost call the EcoDiesel the 4.0's spiritual successor, if only the engines weren't so completely different.

And let's not forget that higher fuel economy and longer range are always nice things to have if you're off-roading in the middle of nowhere.

Wrangler EcoDiesel Daily Driving

For the massive numbers of Wrangler owners who stay on-road, does the diesel make sense? Well, yeah. There are reasons, beside great fuel economy, that people like diesels—particularly that old cliché, "mid-range punch", which is the best description of the Wrangler EcoDiesel's throttle response when on the move. The noise of the engine is more than tolerable, a soothing gurgle that's pretty much gone by 45 mph, at which point the wind noise and the rumble of the Rubicon's outsized tires drown it out.]

Time for the caveat we feel compelled to put in all Wrangler reviews: These are perfect commuter cars for masochists. The ride is bouncy, the ergonomics are confounding, and the steering wheel seems to have only minimal influence over which direction the front wheels actually point. The Wrangler, particularly the Rubicon model, is designed as a no-compromises off-roader, which is exactly the what it ought to be, but that means there are compromises when driving on-road.

That said, there's a lot beyond the engine that we liked. The stereo does a nice job making itself heard over the Wrangler's din. The adaptive cruise works smoothly. And we loved the top: Our tester had the Sky One-Touch Power Top, basically a giant cloth sunroof that motors its way clear back to the rear edge of the roof. The rear and rear-side windows can also be removed, along with the doors if you are so inclined, so this is about as open as a Jeep can get. We think it's the best top option on offer, and for $3,995, it better be.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel: Worth It?

Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Wranglers are ridiculously expensive. A basic, stripped-down Wrangler starts at $29,790. The four-door body ads $3,500 on top of that. The Renegade model ads $10,645 on top of that. And the diesel adds $6,000 more (the window sticker says $4,000 for the engine and $2,000 for the automatic transmission; you can't get the diesel engine without the automatic transmission). The power roof and a few other odds and ends brought the total asking price of our tester to $62,420.

And now you know why God created the 84-month finance plan.

Setting aside the cost (to which we're a little sensitive; writing about cars does not exactly make you into Warren Buffett, though Jimmy Buffett is, perhaps, within the realm of possibility), we can't help but like the Wrangler Unlimited, and we're glad to see the return of the diesel. Jeep has wisely placed this engine where it can do the most good, improving the Wrangler's off-road abilities, on-road power, and all-around fuel economy. EcoDiesel, it's great to have you back.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel Quick Facts

  • Engine: 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6
  • Drive: 4x4
  • Power: 260 hp
  • Torque: 442 lb-ft
  • EPA rating: 22 mpg city, 29 mpg hwy
  • Observed mpg: 23 mpg combined
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4x4 EcoDiesel Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $43,620/$62,420 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6 diesel/260 hp @ 1,400 rpm, 442 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 25 mpg (combined)
L x W x H 188.4 x 73.8 x 73.6 in
WHEELBASE 118.4 in
WEIGHT 5,061 lb
0-60 MPH 7.5 sec
TOP SPEED N/A