One-Day Drive

First Drive Review: 2020 Jeep Wrangler's new EcoDiesel powertrain is strong and smooth

Jeep has added an available diesel powertrain to its Wrangler lineup for the 2020 model year.

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

The Jeep Wrangler was all-new for the 2018 model year. It showed off a fresh look, updated interior, and improved capability and gave buyer's the choice of several gasoline engines. What it didn't offer was a diesel engine option. That changes for the 2020 model year.

The addition of a diesel engine is a big deal for those who do lots of towing and off-roading. While the Wrangler in its four-door guise can tow up to 3,500 pounds with any of its current engine options, there are several good reasons to go with a diesel if towing is a priority.

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel The new engine produces produces 260 horsepower.Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

It all comes down to torque. The turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel now offered in the Wrangler produces 260 horsepower with 442 pound-feet of torque at 1,400 rpm. That's significantly more torque than the 260 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm of the 3.6-liter V6 or 295 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm offered with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which are the two gas engines available for the Wrangler.

That extra low-end torque makes a big difference when there's 3,500 pounds of cargo trailing behind the Wrangler. It improves the Wrangler's ability to quickly accelerate up to highway speeds so merging into heavy traffic is less stressful. It also makes towing that load up a steep grade easier and helps the Wrangler maintain its speed.

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel Each Wrangler EcoDiesel model gets badging labeling it as such.Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Off-road, that same torque helps provide a smoother and more controlled driving experience. Instead of needing a heavy foot on the accelerator to edge the Wrangler across challenging terrain, the extra torque of the diesel engine does the job with minimal acceleration.

That extra torque required several modifications including a recalibrated 8-speed automatic transmission. There are also third-generation Dana 44 heavy-duty solid front and rear axles, which are only found on the Rubicon trim in models with gasoline engines.

Lastly, there are extra skid plates to protect the urea tank and fuel water separator. Aside from those changes, the Wrangler EcoDiesel is much the same as a Wrangler equipped with a gasoline engine.

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel The model retains its off road prowess.Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

This includes impressive capability. There's up to 30 inches of water fording and a minimum of 9.7 inches of ground clearance with fuel tank and transfer case skid plates to protect the Wrangler when traversing uneven terrain.

Inside there's room for five passengers with a durable and comfortable interior. While the Wrangler is a fun way to tackle the morning commute or cart the kids to school, Jeep knows weekends might not be so tame.

2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel The Wrangler is still as capable as ever, including being able to ford 30 inches of water.Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

After all, this is an SUV with removable doors, a removable roof, and even a windshield that drops down flat against the hood. There's a good chance the interior of a Wrangler will spend some time covered in mud and water. That's perfectly fine. Jeep designed it to handle all that muck.

The Jeep Wrangler with the EcoDiesel engine adds an extra element of off-road capability and makes towing easier than ever. It's available for a $4,000 premium across the 4-door Wrangler range and set to arrive in dealerships later this year.

Bikini, Hellayella, and Punk'n are all colors buyers can request on the exterior of their new Jeep Wrangler. The bursts of bright and daring paint job choices are different than any other vehicle in the Jeep lineup for good reason. It's because Wrangler owners aren't like any other vehicle owners according to Mark Allen, Head of Jeep Design.

To come up with the Wrangler's color palette, the exterior design team works hand in hand with other design studio personnel. It's an organic process that tries not to follow traditional corporate structure - something that works well for Allen and La Shirl Turner, Head of Advance Colors & Materials.

The process takes 12-18 months for the creation of a new paint color while the refresh of an old color shortens that timeline to three to six months.

2017 Jeep Wrangler Chief Edition

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

When developing a new color offering, the team looks at the balance of the paint job variety that Jeep offers after being sparked by inspiration. There are only so many blacks, whites, grays, and silvers - the "vinyl siding collection" Allen affectionately calls it - an automaker needs to have in their lineup.

They also check out what the current trends are, including the Pantone Color of the Year. For 2020, that shade is Classic Blue.

There are limits to what Jeep can do and most of it comes down to logistics. Plants only have the ability to execute so many colors at a time (about 10-12) and customers order colors in a variety of volumes (think less purple more gray). Jeep also likes to have the flexibility to rotate colors rapidly (every three to eight months), which keeps the offerings fresh for Wrangler customers and gives Jeep the ability to flex in and out special edition model colors, something they're keen on doing.

Jeep also takes into account the history of a color. In an interview, Allen said that Jeep receives "a lot of mail" about adding more greens to the Wrangler's color palette. The automaker has a long history with the color thanks to its origins as a military vehicle including Jungle, Forest, and Army Green variants, but traditionally, those colors do not sell well.

Turner says that Jeep also takes a look at colors that were popular in the past and tries to refresh them for modern buyers. Bikini was originally conceived in the 90s and is currently available on the 2020 Wrangler.

Do some of the colors look familiar? Jeep repurposes colors from other parts of the FCA lineup. However, the Jeep team renames the colors for no the reason than, "it's amusing to us" according to Allen. Simple enough.

The cost of the color development and deployment, which may have to be passed on to customers, is also part of the equation. Allen says that Jeep tries to offer, "Nieman Marcus colors at Costco prices." Currently, the pricing of most specialty Jeep paint jobs is under $200 per vehicle.

Other limitations lnclue the availability of the color choices for retractable roof materials (ordered well in advance from a third-party supplier) and whether or not the color works as a full body color.

These factors weren't always part of the equation. "There was a time in our not so distant past that Wrangler got the same colors as trucks," said Allen. New management came in and, with that, a new vision for Wrangler that allowed the design team to open up the color palette options.

Opening up color palette options is something Jeep Gladiator fans should get ready for. With initial Gladiator sales going well, Allen revealed that there are plans to expand the color palette offerings for the pickup truck, in the same vein as what is available on Wrangler.

Allen confirmed that there are currently no plans to offer the Wrangler or Gladiator with an unpainted steel exterior, something Tesla CEO Elon Musk is touting with the Cybertruck.

The Jeep Gladiator Mojave is the first model to wear the Desert Rated badge.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Jeeps often come Trail Rated. They wear a Jeep Brand Trail Rated badge that denotes a level of prowess and equipment to conquer terrain that the average SUV or truck does not have. Now, there's also Desert Rated, which debuted at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show on the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave. This new badging takes the mission of tried and tested off-roading even further.

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What is Trail Rated?

Only four-wheel drive (4x4) Jeep models can earn the Trail Rated badge. But, it's only the first step. Models that earn that designation have based tests of traction, water fording, maneuvering, articulations, and ground clearance.

Harsh and unpredictable driving conditions including deep mud, loose gravel, and snow are part of the traction testing.

To assist with the water fording capability of the vehicle, Jeep seals electrical connections and body openings, and rearranges the air intake to a higher position, to protect the vehicle in several feet of water. How much water depends on the model.

The best off-roading vehicles are also agile. Jeep tests each Trail Rated model for the ability to deftly dodge obstacles. The Jeeps' wheelbases and steering are optimized for handling off-road terrain like tight switchbacks and emergency driving situation.

Trail Rated vehicles are capable of impressive articulation thanks to suspension flexibility. Achieving good articulation meal that wheels remain stable and engaged when one or more tires are off the ground.

2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk All of Jeep's vehicles are available with a Trail Rated badge.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Having Trail Rated ground clearance means that a vehicle has a good amount of room between the bottom of the vehicle and the harsh terrain it will conquer. This means that the Jeep can traverse rocks, water, and logs without damaging the underside of the vehicle. The rating also means that the SUV or truck has high approach, breakover, and departure angles.

To test all of these models, Jeep takes to the Rubicon Trail. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, the trail is 22 miles of treacherous landscape that will put any vehicle to the ultimate test. The natural off-road adventure park where the trail is located features boulders, water, and well-worn landscape.

Jeep also develops and tests its vehicles at FCA US headquarters in Michigan and beyond, including the harsh winter conditions of Northern Michigan.

What is Desert Rated?

Like Trail Rated vehicles, Jeep's Desert Rated lineup has been developed and tested in harsh conditions. To earn the Desert Rated badge the 4x4s had to pass traction, desert prowess, ride control and stability, maneuverability, and ground clearance tests.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave The Jeep Gladiator Mojave is the automaker's first model to wear a Desert Rated badge.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Most of that testing is similar to Trail Rated testing, but takes place in a desert climate. Jeep's Desert Rated vehicles have been engineered to take on the intense heat, coarse sand, loose gravel, and pervasive dust that makes up desert landscape.

The first Desert Rated Jeep is the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave. More vehicles that sport the badging are planned.