It’s, like, the new diesel engine in the 2020 Jeep Wrangler takes some of the fun out of off-roading. Hey, how can you impress the significant other with your boonie-bashing skills when your 12-year-old sister probably could do it?
With spotters, of course, especially if it’s in an area like Sand Hollow in southwest Utah, which attracts Jeepers from all over, along with other off-roadsters in all-terrain vehicles, side-by-sides and trucks — in fact, almost anything with four-wheel drive and the chops to take on prehistoric-looking country.
The spotters are the guys and gals working for Jeep to guide the off-roaders so they don’t crinkle the bodywork of the shiny new Wranglers as they hum their way around a trackless off-road course that you’d never find by yourself. Hum, that is, not chug. These diesels are muscular athletes with black tie and slinky gown manners.
Jeep aficionados, we are told at the national press introduction, have been agitating for years for two things: a pickup truck and a diesel engine for the Wrangler. Jeep slaked the first thirst with the 2020 Gladiator pickup and now satiates the appetite for diesel grunt — so far only in the four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.
Besides the off-road experience, not as dramatic as expected, the event also included sedate scenic motoring through Zion National Park, next door to Springdale, Utah, as well as a bite of freeway driving from there to Sand Hollow.
Jeep insists on calling its new model an EcoDiesel, no doubt to emphasize the inherent fuel economy of the 3.0-liter V-6 compression ignition engine, which runs on standard diesel fuel but likely would work as well with clean diesel made from algae or plants.
In addition to fuel economy, diesel engines are all about low-end torque, or twisting force. The Wrangler EcoDiesel makes 260 hp along with a whopping 442 lb-ft of torque that kicks in at about 1,400 rpm.
That’s barely above idle speed and is what gives this new Wrangler its spectacular off-road capability. In places, Sand Hollow is as challenging as the famed Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains between Sacramento, California and Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The Rubicon has many areas where spotters are always present to save drivers from trashing their vehicles — and blocking other off-roaders.
Contrary to the popular TV notion of Jeeps flying off sand dunes and cliffs at high speeds, true off-roading is a slow and sometimes grueling prospect. In some places in competitions around the world it entails requiring drivers and companions to dig out of bogs and make roadside repairs.
That was not the situation at Sand Hollow with the Wrangler EcoDiesel, whose drivers were guided throughout by experienced spotters. Speeds seldom exceeded a couple of miles an hour and, of course, the Jeeps were designed with state-of-the-art off-road equipment, including automatically disconnecting sway bars and locking front and rear differentials.
But the most important aspect — and the inherent quality — that made even novices look experienced was the diesel engine. With gasoline engines on the Sand Hollow course, there would have been fits of stops, starts, jerking and slipping as drivers alternately punched and feathered the throttle and stabbed the brakes.
With the Jeep’s diesel engine’s massive torque, it was simply a matter of maintaining a light foot on the accelerator pedal to climb up, over, through and around boulders, depressions and berms along the course. It’s safe to say almost every driver came away feeling like an expert.
The other part of the story, not to be ignored because any Jeep owner must take to the highways and byways to get to the off-road skill areas. That means the new Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel must perform as well as an everyday commuter vehicle.
It does that, and more, especially in the more family-oriented hard top station wagon configuration, which believe it or not is a comfortable cruiser on the highway to the beach or lake vacation. Cheap, too. Driving at more than 80 miles an hour (excuse, please, Utah highway patrol) the tested 4,737-lb Wrangler Sahara was clocking more than 30 mpg.
The only minor glitch was maintaining on-center steering and straight-line driving. There was some slop off-center, wiggling and frequent corrections required. Perfectly understandable, because the Wrangler has solid rear axles front and rear, which mandates traditional recirculating ball steering.
Got a problem with that? Not here.
- Model: 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel Sahara 4X4 four-door sport utility vehicle.
- Engine: 3.0-liter V6 diesel; turbocharged; 260 hp, 442 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with four-wheel drive, high and low ranges.
- Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
- Height: 6 feet 2 inches.
- Ground clearance: 10-11 inches.
- EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 104/32 cubic feet.
- Weight: 4,737 pounds.
- Estimated city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/33/28 mpg.
- Base price, including destination charge: $40,140.
- Price as tested: $55,125.
Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.
Photos (c) FCA North America