2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel First Drive - Smoothing the Rough Edges

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

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.

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.

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).

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]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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4 of 32 comments
  • Tstag Tstag on Nov 14, 2019

    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

    • See 1 previous
    • Cobrajet25 Cobrajet25 on Nov 20, 2019

      Um....because it's a Jeep Wrangler and not a Jeep Grand Cherokee?

  • Cobrajet25 Cobrajet25 on Nov 20, 2019

    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.