Jeep's EcoDiesel Wrangler is the One to Pick
Jeep thoroughly updated the Wrangler a couple of years ago, ushering in the "JL" generation, which brought a friendlier, more usable vehicle to buyers wanting something to use every day. Now three years into the new generation, the company has given the Wrangler another update, this time in the form of a new optional 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine.
There was never anything inherently wrong with the gas-powered four-cylinder or the Pentastar V-6, but neither is the low-down torque monster that the Ecodiesel powerplant is. The addition of a diesel powertrain to the Wrangler lineup gives buyers a legitimately capable engine to match the vehicle’s already unmatched off-road prowess, and the old school diesel sound certainly doesn’t hurt.
I spent a week in the EcoDiesel-powered 2020 Wrangler Sahara Unlimited and came away impressed with the Jeep’s level of refinement and how dramatically the new engine changes the driving experience for the better. It's a $4,000 option, but if you're in the market for a Wrangler, there should be no other engine on your order sheet.
It doesn’t take long to notice big differences in the way the diesel Wrangler behaves. Cold starts bring a clattering roar that isn’t frequently heard outside of truck stop parking lots, and the diesel vibe is much more “big truck” than "quirky Euro econobox”. Once underway, the 3.0-liter Ecodiesel pushes the Wrangler forward effortlessly, thanks to its 442 pound-feet of torque. Jeep reprogrammed the Wrangler’s eight-speed automatic transmission to work with all of the torque, but buyers hoping for a manual transmission option are out of luck.
The Wrangler shines when the pavement ends, and is a breeze to drive in almost any situation. It's so easy that it inspires confidence for even the most inexperienced drivers. In a muddy off-road park in central Maine, the Wrangler made easy work of chewing through the icy post-winter terrain, and only required low-range 4WD to claw out of the deepest ruts. It would be a stretch to say that I’m anything more than a novice off-road driver, but I never felt out of control or scared we’d be calling for a tow.
As with almost everything else in life, something has to give, and in the case of the Wrangler it’s on-road comfort. That unmatched off-road ability required some sacrifice, but the JL Wrangler (model year 2018 and newer) does a better job of staying calm at highway speeds than any other version before it. There’s quite a bit of road noise, thanks to the thin removable top and the large tires. The vehicle also requires a near constant level of micro adjustments and steering input to stay straight at highway speeds.
The Wrangler comes standard with a five-inch touchscreen, but my Sahara Unlimited tester came with an upgraded 8.4-inch touchscreen. FCA’s Uconnect 4C infotainment software system remains one of the best in the business, with easy to understand menus and a bright, colorful user interface. It’s responsive, quick, and requires almost no learning curve to dive right in. Though the larger screen comes with navigation, most people will be happy with the included Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capability, which can operate with Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, and more.
On the safety side, Jeep holds the advanced tech back in added-cost options packages. The Active Safety Group includes rear part assist and blind-spot monitors, while the Advanced Safety Group comes with adaptive cruise control and forward collision warnings. The systems play well with each other and the alerts are accurate, but Jeep would win big points with many buyers by making a few features standard.
Jeep has come around to the fact that many of its buyers use their Wrangler as an only vehicle, which means it has to perform just as well hauling the kids to school as it does rock hopping in the woods. The four-door Wrangler Unlimited is now more comfortable than it has ever been, and can feel almost luxurious in higher trims like the Sahara I tested.
The front seats are wide, well-padded, and offer great lumbar support, but the manual adjustments fall a bit short on seat height movements. People who love low driving positions will be disappointed, but the front seats are generally a very pleasant place to be otherwise. Shorter drivers will be pleased to find that the Wrangler’s square, upright shape makes for great forward visibility and the higher seating position puts the armrests on both sides well within reach.
The Wrangler’s back seat offers a decent amount of legroom and great headroom, but the bench is under-padded and too flat to be supportive. Longer journeys may start to wear on adults in the back, but kids in booster seats will be none the wiser. Loading and unloading car seats is made much easier by the square shape of the rear door opening, but the Wrangler’s height will make it hard for some people to lift children in and out.
There’s no doubt that the Wrangler is more civilized and easier to live with than it ever has been before, and the diesel engine makes it a true force off-road. Though you’ll pay dearly for the experience – my Sahara Unlimited test vehicle came in around $50,000 after options – there’s really nothing else like the Wrangler on the road or anywhere else. If you’re planning on scheduling a test drive, make sure the trip includes a healthy amount of highway driving to get a feel for how the Wrangler performs at speed.
I cover autos and technology for several outlets online and in print. My goal is to bring the complex and sometimes confusing automotive world into focus for everyone. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.