On the Road Review: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited EcoDiesel

There is a large segment of the American automotive market that is powered by a collection of iconic namebadges. Buyers pay rapt attention to everything associated with these models and long for, lust after and generally pursue these nameplates for decades — with some never attaining ownership. Names like Corvette, Mustang, Camaro, Raptor and Wrangler have a powerful hold over consumers who want to embrace the lifestyle and the image of these otherwise mechanical transportation machines. Automakers covet this type of loyalty.

FCA’s Jeep sold over 240,000 Wranglers in 2018, an astounding 50,000-unit gain as the latest model debuted to critical acclaim. Just a year later, after also debuting the first Jeep pickup truck in decades, the hot-selling Gladiator, Jeep is now giving Wrangler customers a third powertrain choice — the long promised 3.0-liter turbodiesel.

Essentially the same V-6 turbodiesel that Ram is using in the 1500 series pickups, the (made in Italy) VM Morini turbo-motor produces 260 hp with an impressive 442 pound/feet of peak torque. By comparison, the stock gasoline-fueled 3.6-liter V-6 makes 285 hp but only 260 pound/feet of peak torque running through a modified (tougher) version of the eight-speed automatic transmission. The optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine slides into the middle of this trio, with 270 hp and 295 pound/feet of torque.

There are several points to consider about the EcoDiesel V-6. Depending on trim level selected (Jeep now has nine Wrangler trims, ranging from Sport to Black and Tan, to Willys, to Sahara, to Rubicon), the diesel motor adds between $3,200 and $4,000 to the sticker price. Plus, it is only teamed with the eight-speed gearbox for now — no three-pedal setup is EPA-approved, yet — so this pads the sticker another $2,000.

From the outside, there is a modest hint that something unusual rests under the Wrangler’s hood. Inside, Jeep has added more sound insulation to the firewall and the rest of the cabin, so at road speeds, you never hear a hint of the diesel engine’s turbo-boosted explosions up front. The Wrangler EcoDiesel is very smooth, very quiet and very fast.

In fact, the EcoDiesel easily matches the acceleration of the standard V-6, while providing ample torque at any throttle setting. This is perfect on road — where a mile-long grade didn’t create a downshift or a drop in speed, plus off-road, where the bulk of Wrangler fans will embrace the massive torque advantage over the V-6 while negotiating nasty trails and outsized washouts.

EPA mileage estimates are the next big advantage. The base motor gets a respectable 18/22/20-mpg number. The EcoDiesel earns 22/29/25 mpg, a giant seven-mile-per-gallon jump over the regular V-6. Over 750 miles together, our Sunset Orange Rubicon returned exactly 25 mpg while the right pedal was regularly exercised to the amusement of very impressed passengers, plus, there was a 40-mile trip of a projected 29.3 mpg on the extensive information screen. Total range is over 500 miles per tank with the EcoDiesel as well, another check in the plus column for this powertrain.

Realistically, the initial cost vs. the fuel price of diesel over gasoline means that you will need to drive the Wrangler EcoDiesel for a really long time to recoup any financial advantage.

But that misses the point of adding this powertrain to the portfolio. More power, gobs of it, plus more range, with added efficiency and greater torque delivery, gives Jeep another potential audience to satisfy — both here and in other markets where diesel is widely embraced.

There is a five-gallon DEF tank next to the 18.3-gallon fuel tank, providing up to 10,000 miles of diesel emissions additive between fills of this fluid, so exhaust pipe effluent meets all current standards. The powerful urge in your back under throttle, plus the loafing tachometer needle at cruising speeds, barely 1,400 rpms at 55 mph, is much of the attraction here.

The rest of the Rubicon is now familiar since last year’s extensive interior upgrades. There is still the locking front and rear solid axles (no AWD setting in this 4X4 transfer case like some other Wranglers), the electronic disconnect front sway bar, and the beefy BF Goodrich all-terrain tires. Other Wrangler models, without the blocky-tread tires of the Rubicon, will obviously generate better fuel economy.

Wrangler pricing starts at $28,295 for two-door, $31,795 for Unlimited four-door models. Rubicon trim begins at $42,320 while our heavily optioned sample stickered for over $56,000 — yes, dear indeed.

Over 32 years ago, the former Chrysler Corp. purchased American Motors, acquiring the Jeep brand in the transaction. Since then, Jeep has been a central money-making component of Chrysler, Daimler-Chrysler and now FCA. As the Italian-American automaker moves to merge with Peugeot, Jeep will remain the cash-cow that will power the success of a very unique union.

This EcoDiesel Wrangler (with the EcoDiesel Gladiator coming in a few months) will increase the brands’ appeal quotient for more potential fans.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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