CAR CHAT: A Jeep that burns oil?

The new Jeep EcoDiesel

OK. So now that I’ve got your attention, have no fear. There’s nothing wrong with the four-wheeled, all-American icon. It’s all according to plan.

You see, for 2020, Jeep decided to up its competitive ante with a diesel-engine option for its ever-capable classic. That being, the Wrangler. Making it even more versatile!

In case you didn’t know, a diesel engine relies on ignition by compression to get the engine going. Extremely high pressures within each cylinder’s combustion chamber (16:1) automatically ignite the fuel that is injected (at 29,000 psi) … by heat that is transferred through such compelling force. Thus, there are no spark plugs nor ignition system required.

Diesel fuel is easily refined from crude oil, and is essentially the same as home heating oil, which is additionally dyed red (to signify that there are no road taxes required for it). Gasoline, meanwhile, requires extensive distillation by breaking down the heavier hydrocarbons to produce lighter ends for improved volatility. The formulation is then supplemented with additive packages.

Compression-ignition engines that are powered by diesel fuel are known for good, low-speed economy and abundant torque, for superior pulling power. Which is why they’re the standard choice for the trucking industry. Jeep opted to offer the new engine option in the interest of enhanced trailing towing and to make further inroads in Europe, which favors the oil-burning alternative.

The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 is manufactured by VM Motori, an Italian engine company which FiatChrysler owns. It’s also used in the Dodge Ram pickup and most significantly, generates 442 pounds-foot torque with dual-overhead cams and four-valves per cylinder. Which is impressive. But, this new version, along with its gasoline predecessor, are both rated with a 3,500-pound towing capacity? No doubt, the diesel is more broad-based and tractable, though.

Around town, the Wrangler Diesel goes about its business with aplomb. It starts quickly (compression-ignition engines need a little pre-heat inside to kick off) and the commonly associated noise clatter from those high-pressure pulses within the cylinders are slightly evident, but not obtrusively so. Acceleration is brisk, due to the fact that the engine is also turbocharged. And of course, there’s all that unbridled torque!

Over the road, the Wrangler Diesel delivers 22 mpg City/29 mpg Hwy, compared to 17/23 for it 3.6-liter V6 gasoline counterpart. So while that certainly is an improvement (in regular use, 25 has been seen), no one would ever consider the almost-5,000 pound off-roader a fuel sipper. After all, driving one is the equivalent of pushing a boxy brick down the road. And don’t forget, Diesel fuel costs a little more than gasoline so you’ll have to weigh the advantages carefully.

It carries 5.1 gallons of Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) on board to help keep tailpipe emissions in check … which is more difficult with a diesel than a gasoline engine. DEF is a solution that gets injected into the exhaust system to help fully combust soot and minimize unburnt fuel.

Beyond that, the rest of this 2020 Wrangler is all Jeep. Full-framed, rugged and tough, it remains trail-rated. Simultaneously, the four-door hardtop I drove (the diesel isn’t available on the two-door) was simultaneously plush and sophisticated with everything from leather upholstery to satellite radio. While continuous improvement is part and parcel with the Wrangler, you’ll never lose sight that you’re driving a truck. And your ears will routinely remind you as well, because a bit of noise, vibration and harshness goes with the territory. Naturally.

On the flipside though, when you drive a Wrangler you join an exclusive club. Owners routinely wave at one another. And due to demand, Jeep resale values are unparalleled…so much so, that for six years running, Kelly Blue Book has recognized the Wrangler with its 5-Year Cost to Own Award.

Which is good, because Jeep ownership does come at a price. Four-door Wrangler suggested retail starts at $31,795 for an entry-level Sport. The mid-market Sahara I tested begins at $38,645. Include a body-color hardtop, and that adds $2,295. The diesel engine option is another $4,000 and further requires a $2,000 automatic transmission (8-speed) upgrade. After a few other niceties, you’ll soon find yourself with $50,000+ worth of USA grade-A image and attitude. Such is the cost of initiation…for not-for-the-faint-of-heart, members only.

The new Jeep EcoDiesel … FOUR-WHEELER magazine’s 2020 SUV of the Year…is the most fuel efficient and highest torque-rated Wrangler ever. It’s been called “the perfect vehicle for a select few …”

A resident of East Haddam, Steven Rossi is an automotive engineer turned marketing communicator. With some 25 years in the industry, including three tours of duty in Detroit, he serves as Senior Columnist for Antique Automobile magazine, and his work has also appeared in Collectible Automobile and The New York Times. He holds 21 International Speed and World Automotive Endurance Records.

Connecticut Media Group