Although competitors to the Jeep Wrangler have come and gone, the Wrangler is currently in a class of its own. We’re eagerly anticipating the Ford Bronco’s official release, but until then, if you want a convertible off-roader, the 2020 Jeep Wrangler is the only new vehicle on sale that will meet your needs. Jeep sent me a 2020 Wrangler with the newly-added EcoDiesel drivetrain for what was supposed to be a week of roof-off fun.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 “Coronavirus” pandemic swept the United States between the time I booked my press loan and the time it was delivered. The term “social distancing” is now in everyone’s vocabulary, and everyone who can work from home is doing just that. So, while I wasn’t driving every day, I found three opportunities to get the Jeep out and about for a mix of city, highway, and light off-road miles.
Before we go further, a huge thank-you to everyone considered “essential” during this time. Medical staff, grocery and pharmacy staff, truck drivers, and everyone in between. Please stay safe.
What Is It?
The 2020 Jeep Wrangler is a continuation of the “JL” generation Wrangler that was first introduced for the 2018 model year. Continuing the prior-generation “JK” tradition, the JL Wrangler is available in two- and four-door form with a variety of soft and hard roof options.
New for 2020 is the EcoDiesel engine. This 3.0 liter V6 turbodiesel was first introduced in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee and is produced by VM Motori, an Italian diesel engine manufacturer that is now fully owned by FCA. The EcoDiesel V6 produces 260 horsepower and 442 ft-lb of torque, routed through the standard ZF/Mopar 8-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive with low range gearing.
My Wrangler EcoDiesel came in Sahara trim, which is positioned as the more “luxurious” trim (luxury is relative) of Wrangler. More serious off-roaders will want to start with a Rubicon, which has items like a locking differential, electronically-disconnecting sway bars, and off-road-optimized gearing for easier low-speed maneuvers.
The EcoDiesel adds $4,000 to whichever Wrangler trim you choose and is available right down to the four-door Sport (base) model, which means the cheapest no-options Sport Unlimited EcoDiesel comes in around $36,000 MSRP. My Sahara Unlimited had a few packages added alongside the diesel engine and carried an MSRP of $55,125.
Driving the Wrangler EcoDiesel
I’ve driven quite a few Wranglers, old and new. I’m no stranger to the older “TJ” Wrangler produced in the late-1990s, which generally came with a 4.0 liter inline-six that was pretty torquey. Wrangler drivetrains since the TJ have seen mixed reviews. While the 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 is excellent, I’ve found both it and the smaller 2.0 liter turbo-four to be a bit busy to drive. Both engines have the 8-speed automatic working quite a bit to stay in the powerband.
By comparison, the EcoDiesel will let the transmission pick whichever gear and happily move along around 2,000 rpm. It feels closest in driving character to the old TJ Wrangler, but offers more power and (far more) torque to make highway driving a breeze.
Speaking of highway driving, the Wrangler is still not the most refined vehicle on the road. The steering is a bit loose on center, it’s noisy inside, and the seats are okay but nothing too special. However, the EcoDiesel managed a computer-reported 30.6 miles per gallon after I took a full 64-mile loop of the Washington, DC Beltway. That’s very impressive.
My Wrangler came with adaptive cruise control, which worked very well on that Beltway loop. The Alpine sound system was fantastic, loud and clear at highway speed with the front roof panels removed.
I only removed the front roof panels of my Wrangler’s hard top, as they come off in seconds and store easily in the back of the Jeep. Though Jeep provides tools to remove the rest of the roof (and all four doors), I didn’t have anywhere to store the roof for the day, and the weather didn’t quite support the idea. Plus, removing the whole roof requires two or three people to safely carry it to its storage location.
Off-Roading in the Wrangler EcoDiesel
I wanted to get a bigger group of friends together for a day of off-roading, but given health and safety concerns, we postponed the trip. So, one friend and I met at Taskers Gap in Virginia for a quick trail run in the Wrangler and his Toyota Tacoma.
Taskers Gap is not the most difficult trail – far from it. But, I was able to get the Wrangler a little muddy as we went down the dirt trail. Care was required with some small rock shelves, and the EcoDiesel’s torque and well-calibrated throttle made it easy to move with control. Traction was good with the standard Bridgestone all-terrain tires.
The Jeep Wave
As an extrovert, the most difficult part of this “social distancing” effort has been avoiding large gatherings. I love getting together with friends for dinners, nights out, weekend drives, and so on. The Wrangler is one of few vehicles that has a huge sense of community among most owners, and that was shown on every drive I took in the form of the “Jeep wave.”
It’s a silly little gesture, but seeing other Wrangler drivers acknowledge my diesel-powered Hellayella four-door was a small reminder that community can (and does) exist even when we’re temporarily staying apart.
It’s tough to look at the Jeep Wrangler – in most trims – from a pure dollars-and-sense perspective. There are plenty of vehicles that are quieter, more refined, better to drive on-road, faster, with more technology when you consider my Sahara’s $55,000 MSRP. It’s hard to make the case for a $4,000 diesel engine when diesel costs more than gasoline and I don’t drive enough to make up the difference.
But the whole time I was driving the Wrangler EcoDiesel, I didn’t care about the financials. The EcoDiesel is the drivetrain this chassis has been waiting for, and the personality of the Wrangler is something that very few others can or will match.
I’ll take mine in Bikini Blue.