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Daily Diesel: 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel Review

It feels like an eternity between FCA first announcing its EcoDiesel drivetrain and its eventual appearance in the Jeep Wrangler, but really it's only been a bit more than six years. After pulling duty in both the Ram 1500 pickup and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 is finally here for fans of Jeep's most popular off-roader, giving the Wrangler the most fuel-efficient engine in its class to go with gobs of low-end torque.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited on Nittos

It's those two factors in combination that serve as the main reason for excitement among would-be Wrangler owners. Although the 4x4's available 2.0L turbo four is fairly frugal, the 29-mpg highway offered by the EcoDiesel model finally makes it relatively painless — at the pump — as a daily commuter. This is especially true compared to the gas options offered by the heavier four-door Unlimited model that families prefer. At the same time, the turbodiesel's massive torque upgrade gives it leg-up when it comes to mud holes and steep grades, providing the precision and power that experienced trail fans crave.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited on Nittos rock-crawling

What's it like to drive the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel as an every day SUV? Does the new engine give the traditional truck an extra step when it comes to competing with more modern rides? And just how well does the diesel hold up during the colder winter months? A week behind the wheel held the answers to each and every one of these questions.

Gutsy, But Noisy

There's no doubt that 462 lb-ft of torque coming on at a bottom shelf of 1,400 rpm is a game-changer for any truck, and the Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel is no different. When floored the 260hp, four-door edition of the SUV doesn't leap off the line, but rather relies on a steady surge of acceleration that builds to a manageable crescendo. Truth be told, the extra stump-pulling power is much more noticeable at highway speeds, affording the Wrangler with more authoritative passing power similar to that delivered by its turbo four.

Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel engine

What's particularly apparent with the EcoDiesel is how smooth it feels in almost every situation. There's a distinct pack of twitch associated with any right foot demands when piloting this version of the Wrangler, and its standard eight-speed automatic gearbox does a fine job of parsing the V6's prodigious torque. That's a real bonus when driving off-road, even if it does require a little more planning when pulling away from a stop around town. The window sticker doesn’t lie, either, when it comes to just how modest the diesel motor's fuel demands are: the Jeep delivered 24-mpg over the course of the week, which is fantastic considering the climate and the heavy stop-and-go element of that driving mix, not to mention its hefty curb weight of over 4,800 lbs.

Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel in snow from behind

It would be a mistake to call the Wrangler EcoDiesel a calm ride, however. More so than in any other past implementation of the turbodiesel V6, the Jeep is loud and clattery, particularly from start-up. Our tester's optional Sky One-Touch retractable soft top certainly didn't help keep the noise out, either, whether from the engine's machinations or the bitter winter wind whipping over its roof when driven at more than city speeds. Together, the top and the diesel make for a noisy cabin where you'll have to crank up the stereo and occasionally raise your voice to get your point across to your passengers.

Bring A Sweater

The cold tendrils of winter were noticeable in another important way when driving the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel at sub-freezing temperatures. As with most diesel motors the Wrangler's power plant had a tough time keeping the cabin warm, especially when the vehicle's climate control was set to 'auto' mode.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel in snow

It's not a problem unique to Jeep — you'll find a similar issue in any number of diesel pickups at any price point — but combined with the lack of insulation from the Sky One-Touch roof it meant for the occasional uncomfortable trek.

Jeep Wrangler Uconnect Off Road Pages

Fortunately, the Sahara trim level on the Wrangler Unlimited offered not just heated seats but a heated steering wheel too, and both were appreciated in fighting off the chill. The Sahara's other niceties, which include access to the larger 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen, a number of advanced safety features (including adaptive cruise control), and the cold weather package that gives you the gear mentioned above (plus a remote starter) make it a reasonable upgrade over the base Sport (you can get the diesel engine any version of the Unlimited).

 

Premium Price For Diehard Jeep Fans

If you're ok with the occasional clatter (made more bearable by ditching the $4,000 power top), and don't mind bundling up a little warmer in the winter, then perhaps the biggest argument against the Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel is its cost.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel in snow from rear

You'll fork over an additional $6,000 if you choose to go diesel, as the eight-speed automatic option comes bundled with it. In fact, our Sahara tester checked in at nearly $60,000 after all of its equipment was added up, which is a big step up over its sub-$40k starting price.

Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel in snow front

It's possible you'll make up the extra cost of diesel power with a lower fuel bill if you happen to do a lot of highway miles in your Wrangler, but even the well-appointed Sahara isn't the most comfortable road trip option give its prone-to-wander solid front axle and stiffer suspension tune (to handle the EcoDiesel's extra weight). This version of the Unlimited may indeed be easy to live with on a daily basis if you're already pre-disposed to overlook the more rugged aspects of Wrangler ownership, but it's still a niche model that requires you enjoy the go-anywhere aspect of the Jeep on a regular basis in order to tolerate what it asks from you on the asphalt. The EcoDiesel is still an emotion-led purchase for off-road fans, albeit one made a little more logical by its fuel-sipping, torque-happy character.

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