By on November 13, 2019

There’s not a lot of major change that would be acceptable to Jeep Wrangler buyers. They have a set image of what the vehicle should look like and what it should be. Deviate too far from that formula, either in terms of style or mission, and there will be trouble.

According to Jeep brand bosses, there was one thing that buyers were “clamoring” for — an item that would change the model’s character without affecting styling or negatively affecting capability, on- or off-road.

That thing? A diesel engine.

(Full disclosure: Jeep shuttled me from Las Vegas to Utah, fed me, housed me, and flew me home, all so that I could drive this version of the Wrangler. They offered a hat that I did not take.)

This diesel is a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 that makes 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. It’s available on four-door Sport/Sport S, Sahara, and Rubicon trims, and it mates solely with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the max towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. Jeep folks did hint that they’d make a manual available if there was enough consumer demand.

General changes for 2020 are minimal, and diesel Wranglers are equipped and styled more or less like the gas-engine models. So opting for the diesel changes little outside of powertrain performance and the related on-road dynamics.

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel

The appeal of an oil-burner in a Wrangler is twofold. More torque leads to better acceleration, and a diesel should be more fuel-efficient. Jeep doesn’t have EPA-certified fuel economy numbers yet, but I saw around 30 mpg at highway cruise speeds.

Acceleration is smoother and more stout, although the Wrangler still isn’t fast. The available torque peak lasts from 1,400 rpm to 2,800 rpm. With the peak being so close to idle, it’s almost instantly available at throttle tip-in. Passing and merging predictably become easier than in the Pentastar-powered Wrangler. Conversely, one must be careful with all that torque when off-roading, especially when traversing low-traction surfaces.

Speaking of off-road, as per usual with a Jeep junket, we were turned loose to crawl rocks and slide across sand. The Wrangler is just as capable in this guise as it is with a gas engine, and aside from the torque on tap and the diesel clatter, there seemed no noticeable difference between a diesel Rubicon and a gas-powered model.

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel

This is the story with ride and handling, too. It still has the wandering steering of a Wrangler, as well as the the choppy ride and the tire/road/wind noise that comes along with a blocky shape and removable roofs. It’s still a Wrangler – just with a diesel soundtrack and smoother, quicker acceleration.

What price do you pay for the diesel? Doing some quick math, and not including the $1,495 destination fee, the spread is $6,000 over the base V6 with a stick, $4,500 over the 2.0-liter gas turbo four, $4,000 over the mild hybrid turbo four (Sahara trim), $3,250 over the V6 with an automatic, and $2,750 over the mild hybrid V6 (Sahara).

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel

You get a livelier Wrangler with a classic diesel soundtrack, the same available features and off-road capability, and likely improved mpg.

Jeep claims customers were clamoring for this engine. If so, those Wrangler buyers and intenders got what they asked for. It comes at a price, but I suspect those who wanted an available diesel in this rig will find it worth it.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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32 Comments on “2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel First Drive – Smoothing the Rough Edges...”

  • avatar

    Can’t understand the lack of 2 door and/or manual transmission availability.

    I would think the type of person willing to spend $6000 on a performance engine would tend more to the enthusiast end of the spectrum. If you’re just buying for mall crawling, why bother with the expense and hassle of diesel?

  • avatar

    No other vehicle has ever screamed so loudly for needing a V8, and instead they spend boatloads of money for an option that may get 10% sales rate at a horrible reliability cost.

  • avatar

    “one must be careful with all that torque when off-roading, especially when traversing low-traction surfaces”

    Low traction surfaces only cause the wheels to spin. No damage done. Just lost momentum.

    Its actually the high-traction surfaces + torque that break things (driveshafts, axleshafts, u-joints, etc.).

  • avatar

    Question: If demand were high enough, what light duty manual transmission is capable of handling 440lbft or torque? I am unaware of any.
    With a redline of 5000 RPM, just put a 3:2 up-gearing between the engine and transmission. Now the transmission sees 293 lbft of torque and maximum engine speed of 7500 RPM. That should be pretty easy for whatever transmission goes into a Ford Mustang (i4 turbo or V8). It's also right in line with a Porsche b6 (f6?), although the Porsche setup wouldn't really work with the Wrangler layout.

    • 0 avatar

      “put a 3:2 up-gearing between the engine and transmission”.
      Why would Fiaster (or anyone) develop a super torquey engine just to negate its best feature (on and/or off-road)?

      “That should be pretty easy for whatever transmission goes into a Ford Mustang (i4 turbo or V8)”.
      The gear spread in those transmissions (and all sports car manuals) is waaaaayyyy too small to go into a “dedicated” off-road vehicle. Furthermore the ratios for these transmissions are not deep (low) enough for the wrangler application. It is also not as simple as putting different gears in them to change the ratios. Different gear sets and ratios have different wear, noise, vibration, etc. characteristics. A gear set and ratios have to be developed and fitted for the application.

      The closest (sort-of) option that i know of is the Aisin AY6/MV1 (torque rating of 345lbft). The Aisin D478 may also be an option but accurate online torque ratings are difficult to find. Maybe it would benefit several manufacturers if a 6/7 speed manual was co-developed with torque ratings in the upper 400’s. The trans could be considered a performance option for light trucks with V8’s.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree about needing more ratio spread, but I’m guessing a different gear set could be developed for less effort than creating a whole new transmission from scratch. In fact, I’ll wager that that transmission already has a few different gear set options that the manufacturer can choose from (probably none of them with enough spread). As for not being low enough, that’s trivial to fix: different ratio in the differential(s) and/or lower gearing in whatever it is you call the transmission thingy that lets you select between 2WD and 4WD and 4WD low.

        For fun, check out this website:
        Is an overall ratio of 1 : 4.7 enough spread for you? The transmission is supposedly good for 700 ft-lb. The Aisin you reference appears to have a ratio spread of 1 : 4.96

        • 0 avatar

          Maybe i should have been more specific.

          While spread is a problem in putting a sports car trans in a wrangler, a larger issue is the absence of a low first gear and by extension, a low final drive when in first gear (not for crawling, for normal driving launch). Yes, this can be fixed by significantly lower axle ratios, but it also creates lower MPG’s by reducing the final drive in the cruising gears. This is the fundamental problem in developing manual transmissions for “4×4” use. One must choose between performance (low first and high OD), vehicle efficiency and number of gears (weight).

          Is a spread of 5(ish) good enough? Probably not… With the torque of the diesel, I would like largest spread possible to really take advantage of the torque. I don’t think 5 is enough. The D478 has a spread of 7.125 as well as a low first and kinda high second OD. The 3-4 ratios are not really optimal for towing but i guess i cant have my cake and eat it too.

          I suppose it doesn’t matter since none of the transmissions i suggested are near the required torque rating. So now I’m back to co-developing a 6/7 speed and sharing the platform amongst manufacturers as a performance option.

      • 0 avatar

        What about the G56 from the last gen Ram 2500 Cummins? Perhaps too big?

  • avatar

    Does this engine make it into the Gladiator pickup?

  • avatar

    I don’t get it.

    Loser for FCA. Sold the buyer a $4,000 option but had to spend most of that on emissions nonsense instead of pocketing it.

    Loser for the customer who’s now stuck with that emissions nonsense.

    Why not the Hemi?

    • 0 avatar

      Because the reviewer won’t see 30 mpg highway in a hemi. FCA has a huge fuel economy issue. Lots of trucks and SUVs, very little hybrid technology.

      • 0 avatar

        While I’m sure the reviewer will ding it because it can’t get the same MPG as a 4 cyl front drive compact crossover, because, well – Journalism!

        I’m sure customers would be very happy to line up and buy the Hemi at a premium, MPG be damned. FCA doesn’t have a fuel economy issue, they have a government issue.

      • 0 avatar

        Of course the EPA is on their neck. Selling rounds to zero of these won’t help.

        $4,000 in pure profit putting in the plain old 5.7 would pay the increased CAFE fine over the V6 something like thirty times over.

    • 0 avatar

      The hemi will fit but it won’t pass crash testing is the explanation I heard somewhere.

      • 0 avatar

        Considering when Ford brought out the current gen F150 they had the extended cab safety debacle that showed how a $4 piece of stamped steel (or Aluminum?) could take the side impact rating from 2 stars to I think 5 stars – consider me leary that the recently redesigned Wrangler couldn’t be made safe with an appropriately sized engine.

  • avatar

    Do peeps do serious off-roading with new 50,000 USD Jeeps?
    I mean it might be a lot of fun in a 4 grand Cherokee or CJ beater, but is this a real thing?

  • avatar

    Additional takeaways from an article on another site: the diesel adds 400 pounds of weight, and the springs were adjusted with a 10 percent stiffer suspension spring rate. All trims get the elevated Rubicon suspension height, about an inch. Larger Rubicon ring gears in the diffs for all trims too, and a few extra steel skid plates.

  • avatar

    Did FCA fix the frame weld issues these were having? I remember they were weak links in the structure which isn’t ideal for a $40000 off roader…

  • avatar

    Why does the wrangler have such a massive bumper, a speaker in the boot floor, why can’t I open the glove box because there’s no leg room and why do I bang my head on the roof every time I get in the back? Also why is the ride lousy and the engine so weedy in the Euro spec model?

    Don’t worry though the baby Defender is in development

  • avatar

    The diesel is cool, but it is a bummer that it can’t be had with the 2-door. I am actually in the market for a Jeep, but to me a 4-door Wrangler is like a 4-door Corvette…it just looks silly. I am probably going to go 2-door, V6, 6-speed.

    The Unlimited is a rig that a 41-year-old divorced dad drives to pick up chicks…knowing that he also needs to pick up the kids every other Saturday.

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