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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.

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Chevrolet completely redesigned the Suburban for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

At over 18-feet long, the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is massive in stature. The redesigned-for-2021 Suburban is also one of the most technologically advanced SUVs to roll off any General Motors assembly line. The question is, is it any good?

Yes. There is no point in burying the lede on this. The Suburban is the Chevrolet to have if you consistently need to carry six or more people and all of the gear associated with it. Need to take the kids to soccer practice? No problem. Need to bring grandma and grandpa on the family road trip? No problem. Need to carry an entire high school marching band and their instruments? Easy peasy. A colleague even suggested that the rear seats are in a different ZIP code than the front seats.

2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premier The Suburban has grown for the 2021 model year.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

But unlike Doctor Who's Tardis, the Suburban is just as big on the outside as it is on the inside. The Suburban's boxy shape highlights how functional the design is – maximizing interior space is key. A new front grille and headlight setup comes straight from the Chevy Silverado pickup truck. Massive wheels are needed just to fill out the wheel arches.

Around back, a power liftgate (standard as hands-free in LT and up trim levels) is flanked by new taillights and there's a real dual exhaust for the 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard on Suburban. A 6.2-liter V8 and a 3.0-liter Duramax diesel are also available. All the engine options are paired with GM's 10-speed automatic transmission.

While the Suburban never feels smaller than it is, it is nice to drive. The automatic's shifts are flawless in execution, and the 5.3-liter V8 sounds great on throttle. At nearly three tons, the Suburban isn't light, and the upgraded 6.2-liter V8 is worth the extra money if you're planning on towing or filling the Suburban with people consistently. There just doesn't feel like enough oomph with the lower-spec engine to really get the Suburban moving. The sweet spot might end up being the diesel, like it is with the Silverado, but that's not available for a few months.

2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premier The Suburban is appropriately appointed for its price point.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Magnetic Ride Control is standard on the Premier trim, and while it doesn't also include the air suspension of higher-spec models, it does a good job at smoothing out the bumps and imperfections of the road. Though the Suburban does feature a sport driving mode, at no point did I feel compelled to use it to get a leg up on the traffic around me during testing. Leave it to its natural devices the Suburban drives pretty well.

The Expedition drives a bit smaller than it actually is, and the available Pro Trailer Backup Assist is a godsend for someone inexperienced with towing. Depending on spec, you can tow up to 8,300 pounds with the Suburban. That's enough for a small boat or camper, making the SUV a solid rig for weekend getaways.

There's plenty of room in the second row for passengers or pups during a weekend getaway, or longer. The Suburban Premier test unit had captain's chairs in the middle row, so gaining access to the third row is easy. There is also a lever on the side of the second-row chairs that, if you press it down twice, fold ups the seats up and away. While most three-row SUVs skimp in the back, this thing is big enough to seat adults and still have room for lots of cargo (up 19 percent over the 2020 model). In the front, the tester had leather seats that were heated and ventilated that sufficiently performed their functions.

2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premier The Suburban Premier comes standard with a 10.2-inch infotainment touch screen.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

In front of the driver, an 8.0-inch digital instrument display is flanked by two analog gauges. A 15-inch wide head-up display (the largest in its class) has full-color, high-res graphics that are easy to read. General Motors makes their digital rearview mirror available on the Suburban, which makes it easy to see what's behind you because without it, you see just your passengers or the rows of empty seats directly behind you.

Chevrolet's latest infotainment system runs the Premier model's 10.2-inch touch screen and is updated to include wireless connectivity for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. That means you can just toss your phone on the wireless phone charger and you're off. A surround view camera does help in parking, though you're still going to want to avoid tight spots in city centers due to the overall size of the Suburban.

The test vehicle was black, making it look like a Secret Service transport for the President of the United States. And after a week in the new Suburban, it's easy to see why they prefer this SUV. The way that the Suburban uses its space is impressive. It maximizes interior cargo and passenger capacity. It's more practical in every row than a comparable Ford Expedition Max, and the V8 delivers better power than the Ford's twin-turbo V6.

2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premier The 2021 Suburban has 19 percent more cargo room than the previous edition.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

You know if you need a vehicle this size, and if you do, the Suburban is the way to go. Just opt for the larger V-8 engine and you'll have yourself a beast of a vehicle. The Premier trim is a nice sweet spot, too, with luxury features but without the opulence and price tag that comes with the High Country trim. The test model wasn't cheap at $74,080, but for big SUVs this is the one to get.

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The 2021 Ram TRX is the chief competitor to the Ford F-150 Raptor.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Ram Trucks calls the 2021 Ram TRX an "apex predator", serving it up as a direct rival to the 2020 Ford F-150 Raptor. The new TRX is a heck of a truck, and that's an impressive feat considering just how bloody good the Raptor is.

A quick recap of the TRX's impressive stats. Its 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque are generated by a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that sends power to all four wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. The sprint to 60 mph takes just 4.5 seconds off the line, and it'll hit an electronically-limited 118 mph.

2021 Ram TRX The Ram TRX has a beefy exterior with bits and bobs that give it a more aggressive appearance.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

It's a Hellcat in pickup truck form, so it drives a lot like you'd imagine. At least, on the street. The truck's full-time all-wheel drive system prevents you from doing burnouts, but it will bias power to the rear so you can get your slide on. Sport mode stiffens up the suspension a bit and tightens up the steering. It's by no means a sports car, but engineers have done everything they could to make the truck drive well on the street. You can quickly forget you're piloting a 3-ton brick; but fortunately the 15-inch front brakes save you from getting into real trouble.

Once you get off the tarmac, as expected, the TRX really shines. The truck has 13-inches of front suspension travel, and 14-inches of travel in the rear. The truck is designed to use every inch of travel, and handle it well, thanks to the 2.5-inch Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive performance shocks. These shocks are state-of-the-art, and the same quality you'd find in bespoke off-road racers. While the Fox LiveValve in the Raptor is a good setup, driving the TRX on any off-road surface quickly shows the weaknesses of the Ford's setup. Ram's suspension feels expensive.

The TRX sits on a frame that is lengthened and beefed-up compared the traditional 1500 setup, giving it much improved body rigidity. During the product development stage, Ram engineers took a few Raptors and drove them until they broke, then made sure that they beefed up those components on the TRX. That means the TRX can handle more ridiculous terrain at more ridiculous speed, and still drive you home at the end of the day.

2021 Ram TRX The TRX is capable of having a good time, whether it's on the trail or on the track.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

While driving on a high-speed, 3-mile off-road route, the investment in strength was noticeable. It's hard to make a ladder frame rigid, even a fully boxed one. While on the Raptor – even the new one – the bed will shake a bit off-road, the TRX's bed hardly moves in similar situations and speeds. It feels solid, and it feels controllable.

Ford calls the Raptor the "911 of off-roaders," and they're right, because it's one of the best handling trucks off road. But the TRX has more stability in the same driving situations and feels just as predictable and controllable. If the Raptor does have an advantage at off-road speed, it's that it's lighter. Especially in the front where a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 naturally weighs less than a 6.2-liter V8 with a supercharger attached. The TRX's nose just feels heavier.

A raptor is a bird of prey, and I've jumped my share of Raptors in my day. The TRX is just as capable at getting airborne. In fact, the extra horsepower makes it easier to leave Terra Firma. That Bilstein suspension, though, makes coming back down easier.

2021 Ram TRX The 2021 Ram TRX has a more robust frame than the traditional Ram 1500.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Even at high speeds, when the truck returns to the ground the body motion is controlled. There's no excessive bouncing while the suspension tries to sort things out. The suspension simply compresses, rebounds, and then you're on your way. The whole time the wheels are on the ground you have traction and are in control. This truck makes jumping easy.

The TRX comes in a few different trim levels, depending on how much luxury you want in your truck. You can spec the truck to almost $100,000 and have all the amenities in a Ram 1500 Limited but be able to pre-run the Baja 1000 in comfort and style.

Or, pick up a base truck at $71,690 with destination and get the least expensive FCA product with the Hellcat engine in it and with all-wheel drive, plus a comfortable daily driver with all of the trick off-road features.

2021 Ram TRX The 2021 Ram TRX is plenty capable on paved roads as well.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

It sounds better than the Raptor. It's faster than the Raptor. It flies better than the Raptor. For now, at least, the claim that the TRX is the Apex Predator of the truck world is accurate.

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