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2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel

Jeep fans who’ve been clamoring for a diesel option will likely focus on the Wrangler's beefy torque, diesel durability and all-day driving range provided by solid jumps in highway fuel economy despite a smaller 18.3-gallon fuel tank (versus 21.5 gallons in gasoline-powered four-door models).

EPA fuel economy numbers weren’t yet available (Jeep expects them any day now), but that 500 miles sounds more-than-doable. Once underway, the Wrangler shows 32 to 34 mpg, with as little effort as it takes to match the highway speed limits. That’s a commendable new high in mileage for any Wrangler, with its brick-like aerodynamics and off-road-spec tires. An educated guess suggests the Wrangler EcoDiesel will secure an official rating of 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, with the EPA underestimating its real-world mileage, as it does with many newer diesels. Applying that 29 mpg figure, consuming 17.5 gallons of the Wrangler’s available 18.3 would equate to 508 miles of range, which again computes with that potential EPA reading.

Still, even that conservative figure represents a considerable improvement versus the Wrangler Unlimited with the efficient optional 2.0-liter turbo-four, which earns an official EPA estimate of 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. The standard 3.6-liter gas V6 returns an official estimate of 19 mpg city and 22 highway with the optional eight-speed automatic. The standard six-speed manual is effectively 1 mpg worse. Note that the EcoDiesel is only available with the four-door Wrangler Unlimited.

Even if real-world fuel economy does, in fact, beat the eventual official specs, the performance does not: The on-paper promise of 260 horsepower and, especially, a robust 442 pound-feet of torque from the Italian-built 3.0-liter V6 is belied somewhat by leisurely acceleration and noticeable turbo lag when you squeeze the accelerator. Don’t forget that the EcoDiesel is also the heaviest Wrangler, with as much as 4,862 pounds punishing the scales in Rubicon trim. Depending on the trim level, that’s between 330 to 487 pounds more than comparable gasoline models. A pokey 0-60 mph run in the 9-second range seems likely, well off the sub-7-second pace of either the turbo-four or gas V6 versions.

There’s just-right passing power from both 30-50 mph and 50-70 mph, aided by a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission (no manual is available) that keeps the engine in its narrow sweet spot, between roughly 1,200 and 3,000 rpm. But at no point will you or your passengers be saying “Wow!” over the grunt on tap. OK, maybe when you’re storming over a sand dune in a higher gear than you’d ever manage in gasoline models, but that’s about it. Towing capacity is unchanged as well, matching the 3,500-pound trailer rating of four-door gasoline models.

Yet FCA’s Gen3 diesel does itself proud when it comes to smooth operation, including its barely detectable diesel click-clack at idle. The engine, which is already available in the Ram 1500 and will be added as an option to next year's Gladiator, is lavishly redesigned versus the Gen2 diesel that Jeep briefly offered on the Grand Cherokee. The graphite-iron, 60-degree engine block weighs 15 fewer pounds, and the head, intake ports, and lower-friction turbocharger are all new components. A low-pressure Exhaust Gas Recirculation system (or EGR) no longer steals energy from the turbocharger to do its thing, and there’s added vibration damping in the lower oil sump. A new automatic stop/start system reduces fuel consumption and emissions at idle, though its restarts are on the ragged side. Compared to the engine's use in the Ram, the Jeep version's alternator moves higher on the engine to allow deep-water fording.

Jeep has seemingly reasonable expectations for EcoDiesel sales, figuring that at least 10 percent of Wrangler buyers will opt for one. The engine is available on every Wrangler trim level — Sport, Sahara, and trail-busting Rubicon — but again, only in four-door Unlimited guise. No real loss there, since four-door Unlimiteds are now responsible for between 80% and 90% of Wrangler sales, according to Jeep brand chief Jim Morrison.

Our hunch is that the EcoDiesel’s biggest obstacle won’t be found off-road but on the sticker. This fourth-generation Wrangler JL has evolved into a relatively expensive SUV, especially in high-level trims, and the diesel option makes it more so. The Wrangler EcoDiesel starts from $39,290 in base Sport trim, including the $1,495 destination charge. That’s a $4,000 surcharge above a Sport trim with the 3.6-liter V6 and an automatic and $4,500 more than the same model with the 2.0-liter turbo-four. One leather-wrapped Sahara model I drove stickered for $56,750; a loaded EcoDiesel in Rubicon trim brushes $60,000.

Really, unless you're the buy-and-hold type — willing to see that diesel running strong after 200,000 miles or more — the fuel savings and driving range don’t quite justify the premium on a Wrangler that can already blow a budget if you’re not careful. (A long list of pricey options includes the Sky One-Touch Power Top at $3,995). Don’t forget that diesel fuel currently costs 15 percent more on average than gasoline, at $3 per gallon versus $2.60, blunting much of this Wrangler’s mileage advantage. Of course, prices can be about the same in some places, such as on the West Coast, but the fact remains the chances of saving money is slim given the hefty premium.

Diesel fanatics and overlanders may still crave this Jeep, of course, and the model’s resale value should be strong. But it still seems like a good idea to apply some strong-arming torque to Jeep salespeople to keep the monthly payment in check.
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