THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Iconic design with incredible low-end torque availability.
- What’s Bad: The diesel engine comes at a hefty price especially considering that a manual gearbox won’t be made available in any trim level.
SPRINGDALE, Utah: According to Canadian born Jim Morrison, Head of Jeep Brand – North America, the most asked question from Jeep enthusiasts was “when is the Wrangler going to be offered with an optional diesel engine?”
Well the wait is over, for the first time ever the Wrangler will now be fitted with an optional third generation turbocharged 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V6, but only on the four-door models, that make up 90 per cent of sales in North America.
Although the new engine is based on the EcoDiesel that is available in the RAM 1500 and the Grand Cherokee, there were some significant changes made to adapt it to be able to handle the harsh off-road driving conditions that the Wrangler drivers are accustomed to.
A new-generation water-cooled turbocharger has been added with a variable geometry turbine (VGT) and low friction bearings that increases responsiveness and efficiency during surface and driving condition changes.
The cylinder heads have also been redesigned to accommodate larger intake ports to increase performance and fuel economy.
The EcoDiesel engine also benefits from dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) with four valves per cylinder. The block is cast with compacted graphite iron, which provides strength to dampen vibrations, but weighs less than regular cast iron.
The EcoDiesel will be matched to the already proven eight-speed automatic transmission that has been updated and tweaked to cope with the high torque output of the engine.
This combination makes the Wrangler EcoDiesel the most fuel efficient and highest torque-producing Wrangler ever.
The Wrangler EcoDiesel will be made available in Sport, Sahara and Rubicon models and will come with third generation Dana 44 heavy-duty axles at both ends.
There are two transfer cases offered. The Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case with the low-range gear ratio is found on the Rubicon model with the Sport and Sahara models are equipped with the Command-Trac part time two speed transfer case.
A 20-litre DEF tank has been added behind the fuel tank that will prolong driving distances between fill ups to approximately 10,000 miles that will bring it into line with oil changes.
Internally, the new Wrangler Ecodiesel still manages to maintain a high level of comfort and sophistication with technical enhancements not normally associated with a rugged off-roader.
The interior is just as refined as its gas driven brethren, the fit and finish is far removed from previous generations with the dash being uncluttered with dials easily read.
Seating is comfortable while allowing enough support to keep the driver in a commanding position especially when off roading.
Starting up the engine on the Sahara trim level I was driving for the on-road portion was surprising.
I had the power top fully open and was expecting to hear a rough coughing idle but I was pleasantly surprised at how civilised and unobtrusive the sound from engine actually was.
Putting my foot down on the accelerator didn’t increase the volume as much as normally expected from a diesel.
The power being passed down to the wheels was much more than I initially had anticipated with the full 442 lb/ft of torque being available at just 1,700 rpm the Jeep took off with vigour and was up to highway speeds much quicker than I had predicted.
The Ecodiesel engine remained unhindered especially as the drive through Zion National Park was taking me up over 6,000. ft in what was a relatively short distance.
The Ecodiesel had no problem pulling the Jeep along even as the incline of the road became greater. The engine purred along at just above idle speed with still no noticeable indication that it was in fact a diesel.
The low-end available power did bring peace of mind especially when having to pull around precariously parked vehicles at the side of the windy and steep road.
Putting my foot down instantaneously brought the full power of the engine to hand making passing obstacles easy and unhindered.
Even when going through a couple of long tunnels the throaty grown of a diesel engine was barely noticeable and even then, only when I deliberately spiked the accelerator did you get any inkling of what was under the hood.
The handling of the EcoDiesel on paved roads surprised me immensely; road noise on the highway with the roof open was much reduced from the older models. Steering is crisp with handling being more civilized, which makes for a more relaxed drive.
After lunch I got to put the Ecodiesel through its paces on an off-road track – Jeeps natural habitat. I swapped into a Rubicon for what was a very challenging and technical off-road course.
The tire pressure was reduced to 20 psi because of the sand and rocky terrain. This is where the EcoDiesel came into its own. Putting the Wrangler into four-wheel low added to the already impressive torque availability.
Some of the jagged rock hills I was attempting were daunting at first but with all the power available going down to all four wheels the Wrangler eased itself to the top without much fuss.
Although there was a lot of power available, I was surprised at how easily it was to control. The diesel engine managed to respond to the slightest touch of the accelerator making crossing some of the obstacles so much easier than having to continually modulate the accelerator pedal.
I was more than surprised with some of the near vertical hills and crossovers they took me on.
Of course, the EcoDiesel handled everything thrown at it with ease, the smoothness of the engine and transmission made the transition from one obstacle to another so easy it made me look like a seasoned desert driver.
I think Jeep have made the right choice in introducing the EcoDiesel to its line up.
The extra price may put some people off but for the seasoned Jeep enthusiast this engine choice is a no brainer. There is even a rumour that the Gladiator may be next for the transformation into diesel.
The Wrangler EcoDiesel is available in showrooms now.