[REVIEW] 2020 Jeep Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel

Recognized around the world even in remote places, the latest generation Jeep Wrangler (named the JL) retains the storied model’s rustic charm and distinct proportion. Built on nearly 80 years of heritage, Jeep is the “O.G.” as they would say; the original SUV with capability and versatility.

Decades after its launch, Jeep continues to refine its iconic and successful Wrangler. This vehicle, born out of necessity during war time, has stood the test of time.

Whether you’re just an urban adventurer or a hardcore off-roader, the Jeep brand and the Wrangler’s basic shape is seemingly timeless.

Like many other SUVs and pickup trucks on the market, whether or not the vehicles are actually taken off-road is debatable. However, what many people are buying into is the sense of possibility and the limitless confidence that the Wrangler offers.

Now available with the much anticipated EcoDiesel powertrain, the Wrangler has more open-air options and is loaded with more advanced technology and safety features than before.

Let’s take a closer look.

A Retro-Modern Design with an advanced new diesel powertrain

After years of anticipation, Jeep has finally added their EcoDiesel engine for the 2020 model year onwards. Available on only four door Wrangler models paired with the eight-speed automatic transmission, this Italian-made 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V6 engine can also be found in the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel which I reviewed earlier this year.

Making a healthy 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque in the Wrangler, this third generation EcoDiesel engine absolutely trounces the Wrangler’s gas engine options.

In comparison, the Wrangler’s 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The larger 3.6-litre V6 makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

Jeepheads can rejoice because, in addition to the EcoDiesel being the torquiest Wrangler to date, at least until the bonkers 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 arrives with it’s monster 6.4-litre 470 horsepower V8, it is also currently the most fuel efficient.

With 0-100 km/hr runs completed in a brisk 6.8 seconds, the Wrangler is surprisingly quick, matching the time of the gas V6. From behind the wheel though, the EcoDiesel feels quicker thanks to the prodigious amount of torque peaking from a low 1,600 rpms.

Equipped in Sahara trim, my test truck’s more street-focused Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires are sure to eek out the best fuel economy numbers when compared to the Rubicon trim’s knobby BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires and the higher rolling resistance associated with them.

Over the week that I had the Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel, I averaged an astonishing 8.9 litres/100 kms in mixed city and highway driving. Folks, that’s subcompact car territory.

Given the large 69.3 litre fuel capacity, the fuel economy savings from the diesel translates into well over 140 kilometres of extra range in the real world. More range also suits the choose-your-own-adventure Jeep owners who will be able to get lost deeper into the wilderness.

To clean up the diesel emissions, a new 19.3 litre Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tank is located immediately behind the Wrangler’s fuel tank. The refill location is located next to the normal fuel filler cap and aligns its refills roughly with the standard oil changed intervals.

What about the rest of the Wrangler?

All new for the 2018 model year, the Wrangler was developed and engineered with more safety features and advanced technology than before. No doubt as consumers’ tastes become more sophisticated, Jeep’s engineers have had to keep up as well with unique and innovative vehicle connectivity.

There is no hardware revolution here as far as the basic tried-and-true design though. The Wrangler retains its solid axles and body-on-frame construction. Though many owners will never venture off-road, this is one rig that will actually climb mountains, cross rivers, and bash boulders.

As part of its appeal, the Wrangler keeps its removable doors, fold-down windshield, exposed roll bars, rear mounted spare tire with swing gate and hatch, as well as a removable roof. These all come with compromises such as somewhat awkward access and excessive wind noise, but that’s part of the storied model’s rustic charm.

My particular Wrangler EcoDiesel was fitted with Jeep’s new Sky One-Touch Retractable Roof. This feature is designed to give you the best of both worlds between the standard Sunrider soft top or the three-piece Freedom hard top with removable panels.

It’s a pricey option, but you get the added security, quieter cabin, and body-colour look of the Freedom hardtop with the opportunity for both the first and second rows to enjoy the sunshine overhead on-demand.

The roof’s functionality is in its name, “One Touch”, and it’s as simple as pressing a button on the windshield header to roll back the accordion-like fabric roof panel all the way to the cargo area. Compared to the Sky One-Touch option, the standard Sunrider soft top needs you to get out, unzip things, store panels in place.

Aside from the cost, the only downside of the One-Touch roof is that it’s not going to be as silent as the Freedom hardtop’s panels. Because of the Wrangler’s body shape and lack of a headliner, wind noise permeates substantially at highway speeds and you’ll hear every one of those rain drops falling over your head. But that’s like being connected with nature, isn’t it?

If you’re already going balls out on your Wrangler’s spec, this roof may not be a bad option to consider.

Aside from the powertrain, how does it drive?

As you might expect, the Wrangler’s on-road behaviour is old school compared to modern day crossover SUVs. While it is secure, it’s clearly not designed for grip and precision on the track.

Kudos where it’s due as the handling is vastly improved versus Wranglers prior to this JL model, with quicker steering, less body roll, and much improved ride.

Though not fitted to my test vehicle, selectable full-time four-wheel-drive on the Sahara can now remain engaged indefinitely, adding some added confidence to the driving experience. The well-tuned stability control will quickly throw out its safety net if things go awry.

Ride-wise, broken pavement, bumps, and ruts transmit through the occupants. For the most part it is quite acceptable considering the heavy-duty suspension and solid axles, but don’t expect it to ride like a typical car or crossover SUV.

Interior and Technology

Drivers get a high, commanding seating position thanks to the wide windshield, thin A-pillars, and the flat hood. Awkwardly, the Wrangler doesn’t offer a driver’s side dead pedal footrest. While there are several aftermarket solutions, it is a notable omission as it is a valuable way to keep the driver securely planted both on-road and off.

One tech highlight is the addition of much improved LED headlamps and foglamps which do a tremendously better job of highlighting the road ahead despite having the styling reminiscent of the old-school round sealed beam lamps.

The new Wrangler has made a huge leap forward in interior materials and quality, My tested Sahara model even featured contrast stitching on the armrest, soft-touch panels on the doors, and stitching on the dashboard. While there is still a lot of hard plastic throughout, the texture is pleasant versus cheap.

I liked the small Easter eggs of various Jeep logos around the cabin, which adds to the charm. Even the cover for the RainSense wipers (for when the windshield is folded down) can be used as a sand scoop. The owner’s manual comes in a camo print bag.

The burly gearshift knob has a red trigger release and a classic Jeep image on top, as does the corner of the windshield.  Most controls have grippy rubber knobs and large buttons, and I particularly liked the chrome-rimmed dash vents.

Retro styling cues aside, the JL Wrangler has modern-looking controls and gauges including the optional UConnect 8.4 inch touchscreen infotainment system in my test vehicle. Reskinned for Jeep-duty, this easy-to-use system is the benchmark in the industry.

Not only are there app icons around the screen for commonly used features for navigation, media, radio, and phone, but there are also plenty of off-road screens and customizable virtual gauges sure to please any off-road enthusiast. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work are integrated into the system, and there is even a UConnect Smartwatch app that allows owners to remotely start their vehicles, lock and unlock doors, sound the horn and flash lights directly from their smart watches.

From new teen drivers to an aging parent, a Family Alerts feature provides peace of mind when they are out on the road. Vehicle owners can set boundary limits, monitor driving speed and pinpoint vehicle location at any time via the Uconnect Smartphone app.

In addition to the infotainment touchscreen, there is also a highly customizable full colour 7 inch information display between the instrument cluster gauges.

For 2020, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision and automatic emergency braking are finally available on the Wrangler. My tester was also fitted with the optional blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert system as part of an optional package. Both are must-haves in my book, given the blindspots that this vehicle has.

Final Thoughts

Simple and straightforward, flashy or fancy? There are so many choices available to consumers these days.

While owning and operating a Jeep Wrangler may present some compromises, the availability of the EcoDiesel powertrain reduces a couple of these downsides so long as you can swallow the $7,000+ price premium for this engine option.

Given its much improved mileage, power delivery, and smoothness, it is the Wrangler to have for me, at least until the new plug-in hybrid 4xe version arrives next year.

Ultimately, this unique vehicle offers what car crossover SUVs cannot. Unparalleled 4×4 capability, a presence like no other, plus the ability to take the doors and roof off yourself with the provided tool kit. How cool is that?


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