Is the long-awaited diesel Wrangler the one to buy?
It’s difficult to compare a Jeep Wrangler to a competitor because so few vehicles even attempt to do what a Wrangler can. In a league of its own (at least until the Ford Bronco finally gets here), we figured the best way to evaluate the new 2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel was to bring out our long-term 2019 Jeep Wrangler, MotorTrend’s 2019 SUV of the Year.
Thanks to your social media votes, our long-term Wrangler is a Rubicon Unlimited with the standard 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. For the uninitiated, Rubicon is the Wrangler’s off-roadiest model, and Unlimited is Jeep’s way of saying it has four doors. This lines up neatly against the Wrangler EcoDiesel. It’s only offered on four-door models with the automatic transmission but is available on all trim levels, including Rubicon. (Jeep says it’s technically possible to match the diesel with the two-door body or the optional six-speed manual transmission, but with each of those options making up just 10 percent of all Wrangler sales with overlap between them, the business case doesn’t work.)
With the two Wranglers all but identical save for their engines, we can answer the question on every Jeeper’s mind: Is the diesel worth the money? To get there, we have to answer a few other questions first.
Power and Performance
The third-generation 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 under a Wrangler’s strapped-down hood makes 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. That’s slightly less torque than other versions of this engine offered in Ram and Jeep products, and that’s mostly the result of modifications needed to make the engine fit and able to withstand Wrangler-specific requirements like 30 inches of water fording. Never mind that, though, because it’s only got slightly less power and way more torque than the 2.0T (270 hp and 295 lb-ft) or optional 3.6-liter V-6 (285 hp and 260 lb-ft).
The diesel gets a hardened version of Jeep’s eight-speed automatic, but the gear ratios are the same, as is the rear axle ratio on Rubicon models. That means we can directly compare our long-term Rubicon Unlimited 2.0T against the Rubicon Unlimited EcoDiesel in straight-line acceleration, and as you’d expect if you know diesels, it’s a little slower. We clocked our long-term Wrangler at 7.6 seconds to 60 mph with fancy test equipment; a stopwatch test of the EcoDiesel puts it between 8.0 and 8.5 seconds. The diesel will probably be the slowest Wrangler among the three engine options so far, but its immediate torque makes it feel just as quick as the 2.0T.
Read about our long-term Wrangler 2.0T here.
In fact, this is our favorite version of the third-generation EcoDiesel yet—even if it isn’t quick. A 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel we recently tested felt lazy at low rpm and had to be kicked to get moving. The Wrangler EcoDiesel drives just like the excellent 2.0T, but it does way better burnouts.
The diesel’s tow rating is the same as the gasoline engine’s at 3,500 pounds (1,587 kg). That’s because towing is a function of cooling, braking, and other factors in addition to power and torque.
Fuel Economy and Range
The EPA rates a 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with 4WD and the 2.0T engine at 21/22 mpg (11.2/10.7 L/100 km) city/highway. In normal driving, however, the long-term Wrangler’s wrangler, Christian Seabaugh, has seen self-reported fuel economy from the onboard computer range from an average of 14 mpg to 23 mpg (16.8 to 10.2 L/100 km) on the highway depending on conditions. The EPA estimates the SUV will cost you $1,850 USD per year in gas and take you 452 miles (727 km) on a full tank.
Unfortunately, the EPA has not yet released its fuel economy ratings for the diesel Wrangler. Jeep says the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel should give us an idea how the Wrangler EcoDiesel ought to do, from which we gather it’ll probably do about 22/30 mpg (10.7/7.8 L/100 km). This is backed up by the onboard computer, which reported an average of 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) over a few hours of mostly highway driving. After a full afternoon of serious wheeling and rock crawling in four low, the computer reported an average of 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km). Jeep says the diesel Wrangler will go more than 500 miles (805 km) on a tank.
The gas V-6 Wrangler Unlimited 4WD, for comparison, is also EPA-rated at 18/22 mpg (13.1/10.7 L/100 km) with the eight-speed auto. The EPA estimates that’ll cost you $1,950 USD per year and get you 430 miles (692 km) on a full tank, $100 USD more and 22 miles (35 km) less than its estimate for the 2.0 turbo model.
To get those numbers, the EPA assumes you drive 15,000 miles (24,140 km) per year and spend 55 percent of them on the highway. The estimated annual fuel cost is calculated using a $2.60 USD per gallon national average for regular unleaded and $3.06 USD per gallon for diesel (but the values change based on market prices). The 2.0T engine runs on 87 octane, but Jeep recommends 91 for optimal performance and efficiency.
Doing the Math
Jeep says the EcoDiesel engine will cost $3,250 USD more than the optional gasoline V-6 and $4,500 USD more than the 2.0T, with a starting price of $39,290 USD for a base Sport model. Between that and the cost of diesel, it’s a big premium up front. The Wrangler EcoDiesel also has a 5.1-gallon DEF tank that will need to be filled roughly every 10,000 miles (16,093 km). A pair of 2.5-gallon bottles of DEF goes for around $20 USD.
Let’s talk about these cars in terms of running costs per mile on the highway. If the diesel gets 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) and a gallon of diesel fuel costs $3.06 USD per gallon on average, fuel costs come to $0.102 USD per mile. Add to that the $20 USD cost of DEF every 10,000 miles (16,093 km), running costs for the diesel are $0.104 USD per mile. Based on the 22-mpg (10.7-L/100 km) highway rating of the 2.0T and V-6 Wranglers and an average regular fuel cost of $2.64 USD per gallon, the highway running costs of those cars come to $0.120 USD per mile.
The diesel, then, costs $0.016 USD less per mile to run on the highway than either gas-powered Wrangler. To recuperate the cost delta over a V-6 Wrangler, you’d need to cover 203,125 highway miles—over a 2.0T Wrangler, you’re driving at least 281,250 miles (452,628 km).
Of course, calculations based on a national averages don’t paint a personal picture. Your mileage may vary, but regardless, that diesel engine isn’t likely to pay for itself while the original owner is driving it.
Is It Worth It?
If you’re planning to keep your diesel Wrangler deep into triple-digit mileage, you’ll eventually break even on fuel over the gas engines. If you don’t normally keep vehicles that long, then the diesel Wrangler won’t save you money even with its impressive fuel economy (though if you plan to do a lot of towing, the difference will come down as diesels tow more efficiently).
Here’s the thing, though: You weren’t buying a 4WD Wrangler Unlimited to save money. You’re buying it to do Jeep stuff. You’re buying it for 10.9 inches of ground clearance, a 44-degree approach angle, 27.8-degree breakover angle, and 37-degree departure angle. You’re buying it for all the rocks and mud and sand those stats will let you drive over. You’re buying it for the way it makes you feel when you drive it over those things, plus the way it makes you feel on the way to work, the store, and everywhere else.
Accepting that a Wrangler is a fundamentally irrational and emotional purchase, this thing knocks it out of the park. It doesn’t feel any slower than other Wrangler Unlimiteds, and the extra 450 pounds (204 kg) of diesel engine on the nose makes no difference in how it steers or handles. It sounds and smells like a diesel on the outside, but you don’t notice either from the inside. And when you do get it out on a proper Jeep trail, all that low-end torque makes it easier than ever to climb over or around anything in your way.
Our long-term Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited 2.0T cost $57,110 USD as tested. If you’re spending more than 1.5 times the average cost of a new car on an off-road-focused Wrangler anyway, the extra $4,500 USD is absolutely worth it to know you got the best one, no matter how long it takes for the diesel’s added efficiency to pay off its initial price premium.