2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel: 'Earth-chewing torque' = most capable Wrangler [First Look]

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel 15 offroad.JPG
2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

In the wake of VW's diesel scandal, a lot of automakers are shying away from introducing diesel engines in new vehicles.

So, one might ask why Jeep would break with the norm and add an EcoDiesel engine to the Wrangler lineup. I sure did.

For Jeep, however, the answer is simple: The owners wanted it.

“If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times,” said Jim Morrison, head of the Jeep Brand in North America. “And not just from my dad!”

In fact, Morrison said the desire for a diesel Wrangler was one of the most common requests from consumers over the past few years.

And when you look at the two primary benefits a diesel brings, you can see why they’d want it.

First and foremost, a diesel – especially one with low-end torque like this one – increases the vehicle's ability to crawl even more slowly over and up obstacles.

Second, in terms of efficiency, though official miles-per-gallon numbers haven’t been released, Morrison said you should be able to go about 500 miles on a single tank of fuel.

During the day-long test when we climbed up and down mountains and hit highway speeds of 80 mph, my drive partner and I averaged between 28 and 34 mpg.

In a recent test I did in the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline model, I averaged less than 14 mpg in combined driving.

Think about that for a minute.

Real-world fuel economy has the potential to double with the diesel.

The EcoDiesel in the Wrangler is a third generation 3.0-liter V-6 that delivers 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque.

That 442 number is what Pete Milosavlevski, chief engineer for the Wrangler, calls “earth-chewing torque.”

With a crawl ratio of 70:1, this diesel Wrangler has the ability to go up and over obstacles at a slow, smooth, steady pace.

Plus, the beauty of how this engine is tuned is that the torque kicks in at 1,400 rpm.

“Our customers want that torque and capability as they’re off road or hauling something up a grade,” Milosavlevski said. “It just flows and goes.”

So how did Jeep make this magic happen?

Among other things, they added a new combustion chamber. This included new intake ports with higher-flow capability, a new piston bowl and a new injector nozzle. The turbocharger is also new with low-friction bearing and new higher-efficiency wheels.

The end result, as Morrison put it, is the most capable Wrangler ever.

“And I’ve got to say, that’s pretty hard to do,” he added.

In addition to the new engine, the Rubicon trim of the Wrangler EcoDiesel maintains all the same off-road clearances as its gasoline brother with a 44-degree approach angle, 37-degree departure angle, 10.8-inch ground clearance and the ability to ford up to 30 inches of water.

For the off-road portion of our test, we spent the afternoon at Sand Hallow State Park in Utah and chewed a fair amount of earth, crawling up and down steep grades and through some serious sand.

In fact, there were a few times when all I could see over the hood of my test vehicle was a pair of hands beckoning me forward or telling me to turn my wheels.

The slow crawl rate combined with the excellent turning radius of the EcoDiesel Wrangler helped us sail through obstacles in a single motion that other vehicles would need two- or three-point turns to complete.

It was impressive and fun, and I’m likely ruined for other off-road vehicles in the future.

I can’t imagine I’ll ever drive anything else that will dance through a ninja warrior course with such confidence.

The EcoDiesel will be only be available on 4-door models with an automatic transmission, and it will be found in Sport, Rubicon and Sahara trims. Pricing will be as follows:

  • Sport: $39,290
  • Sport S: $42,490
  • Rubicon: $46,140
  • Sahara: $49,290

One additional note with regard to the diesel: It will have a 5.1-gallon urea tank, and the diesel exhaust fluid should only need to be replaced once every 10,000 miles.

The 2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel will go on sale in December.

The bottom line:

I’ve always understood why someone would want a Jeep Wrangler if the owner was going to do some serious off roading. It doesn’t have a “Rubicon” model for nothing.

Where this vehicle has always fallen short for me is in the fuel economy arena. However, if our test mileage numbers hold true during more real-world testing, this now becomes a viable urban vehicle as well as an off-road one.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Jeep covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.