Mountain Wheels: New diesel option expands range of improved Jeep Wrangler
I had wondered if the somewhat noisy arrival of the 2020 Eco-Diesel Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon in my Front Range driveway might pique the interest of the neighbors, a couple whose entire weekends revolve around washing and waxing their his-and-hers pair of lifted and ultra-modded four-door Wranglers.
Nope. Couldn’t be less interested. But as you know, in Lakewood, you don’t even talk to the people next door if their house is on fire, so there you go.
So I took maybe a little too much joy as I sat and luxuriously warmed up the not-quiet 3.0-liter turbodiesel out front on each of a week’s worth of drives, wondering which consumers will be drawn to this third engine option: On top of a 2.0-liter turbo and the newest version of the 3.6-liter V6, each of those is available with the eTorque electrified boost system.
Each of those engines produces fairly similar horsepower — 260 from the diesel versus 270 from the smaller turbo and 285 from the V-6 — but the diesel wins the battle with an impressive 442 foot-pounds of torque. It also got me an absolutely reliable 25-plus mpg on all of my outings, occasionally getting closer to 29 on gentle cruises.
The spoiler alert here is that my very well-optioned-out diesel Rubicon was also a rather alarming $64,380, all in. Though, that admittedly included big-ticket items such as a cool electric full-cabin sunroof on the fixed hard top ($3,995), steel bumpers, full-chassis rock rails, upgraded navigation and stereo, and the diesel itself, which adds $4,000 to the price tag.
It was my first real time in the fourth-generation JL edition of the Wrangler, Rubicon being the factory-spec, off-road-monster version of the family, and my overall experience (besides the neighbors) was pretty positive, diesel included. The whole vehicle was recently named Four Wheeler magazine’s 2020 SUV of the year.
What the diesel puts out in cranky, yanky noise on start-up and in early acceleration — or the fabulous clatter as you use it to literally crawl over rocks and up stupidly steep inclines (as I did on the eerily snowless Boulder-area Switzerland Trail last Sunday) — becomes a more entrenched part of the iconic vehicle’s character. You might even feel like you’re driving an old Land Cruiser or Range Rover, though it’s smokeless and clean in emissions.
Off-road, of course, it’s an absolute champ. The shift gear and 4×4 knobs are now gigantic, 4-high range available and easily shifted at cruising speed, and a new center stack layout makes quick work of electronically disconnecting the sway bars for more articulated off-road cruising. The multiple locking differentials are also easily accessed by buttons, providing more solid power when doing Jeep stuff in the backcountry.
In warmer months, the doors and now the rear quarter glass can all be removed for al fresco driving, and the front windshield can also be tilted onto the hood, World War II Willys Jeep-style. Soft-top variants are also available, plus the aforementioned absolutely endless array of factory and aftermarket customized bins, boxes, cargo rails, lights and more.
New high-resolution displays in the instrument panel and the nav also allow you to geek out on all the details of your angles and lean, unless you’d rather look out the front window and drive.
Ride characteristics have indeed improved from the previous generation Wrangler, and even with oversized rock-crawling tires and the combat-ready suspension, you get a more pleasant and responsive feel on pavement.
I’d still avoid driving more than 65 mph as the shake, rattle and roll of those bigger tires and the Wrangler’s general dynamics make speeds higher than that unpleasant; I also found that to be the absolute maximum speed one could travel with the fully-opened Sky One-Touch Top, without wind noise driving you crazy.
Overall, 2020 brings a much-improved drive, but Jeeping ain’t for everyone, so keep that in mind. Getting into the cab with the Rubicon’s bigger tires and suspension setup can be an ungainly stretch, though sliding seats and minor up-down steering wheel articulation makes it a little more pleasant.
Rear seating in the four-door is relatively spacious, and flip-forward headrests improve rear visibility when traveling without passengers. The 60/40 fold-flat seats also turn it into a considerable cargo hauler.
The rear windshield wiper motor has been moved to the bottom, providing much better visibility from the limited glass space, and an under-deck cargo spot is good for hiding valuables.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Spoiler alert: There was almost no drama whatsoever during my recent test of the accomplished, practical and even vaguely sexy-looking Hyundai Sonata hybrid.