After many years, Jeep has finally completely realized that the Wrangler should really become everything for everyone and is now exploring every possible niche. After adding a 4-door variant during the previous JK-series era and finding huge success with that version accounting for some 75% of the sales mix, with the new JL-series they kept the 2-door and 4-door, but also introduced the Gladiator pickup variant on a separate assembly line as well as expanding the engine selections from just the Pentastar 3.6liter V6 in the outgoing series to offering an optional 2.0liter turbo four-cylinder and now finally the TurboDiesel 3.0 V6 built by VM Motori. Due to scheduling issues, I had a somewhat shorter than normal timeframe to familiarize myself with this interesting variant of the Wrangler, but made the most of it and was able to check out some of the other newer features as well and can still effectively report on my major findings.
The loyal reader will know that we ourselves own a 2015 2-door JK Sport S version with which I became quite smitten but have since handed down to my daughter. I’ve had brief time in all of the new JL versions with both gasoline engines and all the body configurations but this was the first time I had driven the Diesel as well as having any amount of time of any significance with this generation.
First impressions of the basic vehicle didn’t fail to impress (neither did further impressions for that matter). Obviously the look is evolutionary and clearly linked all the way back to the original WWII versions, there are many detail differences between the 2007-2018 JK versions and this one, with the most significant overall improvements being in the cabin.
While the old one is generally described as “plasticky” and it’s debatable as to whether or not that’s actually a negative for a vehicle such as this, the current one, especially in the more loaded trims, really does border on luxurious, especially for a Jeep, to wit there is virtually no hard plastic anywhere, everything seems to have some amount of give, textures are attractive, and the fit and finish is excellent.
The colored dash panel is very nice to look at (in this case a metallic scarlet hue), and the buttons, dials, and switches are satisfying to use and give off a quality feel. There are a lot of them too, so the cockpit can take some familiarization.
Visibility is, as expected in such a tall and square vehicle, excellent. Along with high-mounted gauges and a comfortable steering wheel angle, moving around in traffic is a non-issue and figuring out where the ends of the vehicle are is a cinch. Note that the above perspective is lower than normal for me, this might be an accurate view if one were a ten-year-old. For most people large swathes of the hood will be visible at all times.
The center of the instrument cluster is a large color display that can be configured to show about ten different screens each containing vast amounts of information, and when switching between screens, some of the information is duplicated in a different format so it’s easy to select and stay on a given screen and still not give up on some other pertinent information.
While many Jeep owners take their vehicles off-road, just as many (if not more) leave them dedicated to on-road pursuits. I don’t think it’s a stretch that someone could actually now reasonably choose between this and something like a Land Rover (any Land Rover), as the Jeep has become highly fashionable, is very useful, not at all bad around town, filled with creature comforts, and, if resale value is any consideration whatsoever, then it stands mighty tall against that competitor which frankly it has not had the chops in refinement as opposed to capability to do so until now.
That isn’t to mean that all of a sudden I am going to fall into the ways of the typical reviewer that at first glance of the new product falls all over themselves to suddenly explain how terrible the old one was after years of lavishing praise upon it (see many reviews of any new Jeep Wrangler generation as well as Corvette reviews – both seemingly are always deemed great until the new one comes out, then magically the old one is deemed a creaky tub of unworthy junk). However there are genuine advancements made here while still retaining everything that made the old one great.
Of course the biggest change now is the addition of a new 3.0 V6 turbodiesel “Eco-Diesel” engine to the engine options. While not a cheap option at $4,000 (gulp!), it does provide multiple benefits. First amongst them is massive power. Rated at 260hp but more importantly 442lb-ft of torque, this engine improves on the other ones in several ways. The biggest advantage is that while the 3.6 and 2.0T gassers pull well, especially the PentaStar starts to get a bit overmatched at higher highway speeds.
I was able to drive this Jeep for about 200 miles, about half of my usual average mileage, of which about 75 were on the freeway and another 75 on normal highways with the balance around town. My biggest takeaway was that at 75mph, if you floor it, it just gets up and goes (the gas V6 will go faster as well but lets you know it’s not loving it). The pulling power in the midrange is simply phenomenal for something so brick shaped that when you let off the gas it slows down extremely fast just due to wind resistance. But once that turbo spools, it’s party time.
Gas mileage is another age-old Wrangler bugaboo that has been addressed by this option. While my overall average was just under 24mpg (indicated), with our own Jeep (smaller, lighter, PentaStar powered) we struggle to break 17mpg in any mix of driving. I was able to do some experimenting with this one though – my first day with it was just around town and it showed 23mpg which is impressive (comparatively; come on, it’s not a Prius).
On the second day on the freeway at 75-80mph it was showing 25mpg, however if I slowed down to 65-70 it would go up to about 30mpg and a further reduction in speed to 55-60 got it up another 5mpg to 35mpg and higher at steady throttle. Some of the credit obviously goes to the 8speed transmission as opposed to the sturdy old 5speed but any way you slice it, it’s a huge improvement.
Alas, there are downsides too, while the gas mileage is increased, range is affected by a reduction in the fuel tank size by about 3 gallons to 18.5 to make room for the urea tank. Still, range should be in the 500 mile range which is excellent for those who hate going to gas stations. Noise to some may be another negative but perhaps not, nobody is really buying a Wrangler for isolation chamber purposes.
I was actually a little surprised at how much diesel noise it made at idle and part throttle, quite a bit louder than the VW Touareg TDI (also a 3.0l V6) I used to own. I reached out to our other contributor MagnumSRT8Brian and by comparing notes it appears that the Jeep is louder than his RAM 1500 Diesel with basically the same engine was but quieter than the larger diesels used in both Fords as well as older and larger RAMs equipped with the legendary Cummins units. It is louder than the current range of RAM Heavy Duty Diesels in my estimation which are phenomenally quiet in most situations, both inside and outside the cabin
After some thought though, the Jeep’s engine noise may all well be by design, I believe someone has to want the Diesel specifically to purchase it, and the demographic for the Jeep may well be people that would like to enjoy the noise and/or would like others to be somewhat aware they have the Diesel, for better or worse. Nothing wrong with that, and at speed there is enough other noise to eliminate it as an irritation if it is that for anyone. Besides the audible cues, the only other denotation regarding the Diesel on the Wrangler is a small sticker affixed to the rear corner.
The UConnect 8.4 audio system had plenty of power to override the engine as well as wind noise at freeway speeds, while never as quiet as a “normal” vehicle, that’s simply part of the package, in any case it’s all significantly better than way older Jeeps and about the same with a soft roof on this one versus the hardtop on our own older JK version, so a net improvement there as well. That same UConnect system also displays the backup camera in a remarkably clear and sharp display, the Wrangler really benefits from this technology as the tailgate-mounted spare tire gets in the way of seeing what’s behind it. As with virtually all variants of UConnect, it’s simple and intuitive to use, pairing my phone was easy and the BlueTooth phone audio was quick, clear, and crisp even at highway speeds (with the top closed).
When the “Unlimited” version was first introduced, it opened the Wrangler up to a whole new demographic, i.e. families. Finally, a usable backseat with acceptable space, and easy ingress/egress via actual doors.
This new version only improves on that, with a more comfortable seat and plenty of legroom for a perhaps slightly larger than average adult (me). The knees are not touching the seatback and there is plenty of headroom even with the top up with the front seat adjusted for myself (6′ 1″, 32″ inseam for reference). With the top down/open, well, headroom becomes Unlimited as well…USB ports and other power ports are also included for back seat passengers.
Cargo space is ample, with such a square shape, even with rollbars intruding a bit, almost anything can fit.
Should more room be desired, the seats easily flop forward with the headrests moving out of the way automatically as well. And voila! Oodles of space transform into something even more oodlicious.
Besides that new engine, the other big party piece this particular Jeep featured is the available “Sky One-Touch Power Top”. Priced at just a fiver under another $4,000 at first I was a bit skeptical of the value here. While nominally the Jeep comes with a soft top, a hard top is already an option, a body-colored painted hard top costs even more, so by the time you’re up to that perhaps the power top looks more reasonable.
One button allows the entire top panel to accordion fold towards the back and another quick press closes it again. The rear-most side windows are actually removable (and can be stowed in an included padded bag), do so and remove the doors and it’s as al fresco as you’d likely want to be with an easy option to stay dry from at least overhead if it turns nasty out.
I didn’t think I’d like it that much but found myself using it much more than I usually use a sunroof or the removable “Freedom Top” roof panels on our own Wrangler, it’s just so easy to use and wind buffeting is not significant, at least not around town.
For longer distances, no Wrangler is ever really at home on the freeway – the large tires, fairly loose steering requiring attention and course corrections, and the poor aerodynamics ensure that, but to complain about those things is to lose sight of the Jeep’s whole reason for being, that being to go off-road where most of that is a positive.
Basically unmatched offroad, especially in higher trims such as this Rubicon model, features include locking differentials, electrically decouple-able swaybars via a dash mounted button for greater wheel articulation, low range 4WD, and standard LT285/70-17 BF Goodrich KO2 tires assure that for most people this package is far more vehicle than they are capable of taking full advantage of in such situations.
For most people the most basic Wrangler likely is already more than they can make full use of for that matter until they acquire enough skill and experience in the wild to truly get away from it all. No matter, Jeep is happy to sell vehicles that are over-equipped to those willing and able to shell out the money, in more recent years they’ve been capacity constrained more than anything. If nothing else, generally the resale value is stellar on any Wrangler so whether used on the road or the trail, if taken care of, much of its value can be recouped down the road at trade-in time.
Since we are talking about money let’s break that down a bit more. A 4-door (Unlimited in Jeep parlance) Rubicon level Wrangler starts at $41,795. That gets you most of the essential goodies but you know there’s lots of option boxes to check for the willing. Let’s follow along with the Monroney sticker for this test car to see what a Jeep equipped with a plethora of popular options might cost, of course not all of these are necessary or will appeal to everyone.
Leather all over the place along with upgraded door panels runs $1,495, Heated seats and steering wheel are $995, Trailering package with HD electricals is $795, LED lighting in every location is $1,045, the 8.4inch infotainment with Nav and WiFi HotSpot is $1,695, BlindSpot and parking sensors are $895, Adaptive Cruise Control with BrakeAssist and Full Speed Forward Collision Warning is $795.
The (to my eyes) gorgeous Steel Bumpers with removable end sections as opposed to plastic items are $1,395, the 8-speed automatic is a further forced $2,000 on top of the $4,000 diesel engine option that also includes switching the standard 4.10 rear end to a 3.73 ratio, Remote keyless entry (i.e. just touch the door handle to open and lock along with a starter button) is $495, body color fender flares are another $495, and the aforementioned power top is $3,995. Oh, the black and machined lip 17″ wheels are $995 as opposed to the standard wheels in the same size and then the destination charge is $1,495 for a grand total of this particular one of $64,380.
Yes, I know some will be choking on that and thinking I am mistakenly looking at a Canadian sticker, but not so, this is the US one, however they usually load these things up for us so we can check out the various options although no doubt some will be equipped like this one on the dealer’s floor. If you can handle a stick shift gas V6 with a soft top your Rubicon will be virtually as capable either on the Rubicon Trail or the Trail To The Mall for the aforementioned $41,795 starting price. Or be selective and make some hard choices. (The absolute least expensive Wrangler lists for $28,295 for reference, being a 2-door Sport, V6, manual, soft top, no AC, manual locks and windows but still 4WD)
Note what wasn’t part of the options but rather standard – With the base Rubicon you still get the same Dana axles, offroad goodies, 4WD system, flippable windshield, removable doors, a removable soft roof and your choice of about ten colors, of which about half are actual colors. Or move down a notch to one of various non-Rubicon trims, save a bunch of money and you still get much of the offroad capability and the majority of the “look” if that’s what’s important, and let’s be real, it IS important to many people, that’s what manufacturers are selling and new car buyers are buying.
Only four of the colors cost a paltry $245 extra, this one is painted “Sting-Gray” at no extra charge. I’m of the firm belief that no Jeep Wrangler should be boring black, white, or silver, the whole point is to have fun but to each their own, this particular shade is actually pretty good and the minor red accents do a lot to liven it up without being obnoxious in any way. But if you happen to own one in black, white, or silver, that’s okay, it was your money and we can still be friends, I’ll still wave at you and you’d better at least look like you’re trying to wave back. However, if it were mine it’d be Yellow (or “HellaYella” actually), which is finally back on the list.
One of the best parts of the Jeep Wrangler experience is simply the almost endless factory options, there are about ten different top options alone. Three engines, several transmissions, lots of colors, a zillion other options and accessories and that’s before we even talk aftermarket where there are no limits.
Many Jeeps are custom ordered, dealers are usually more than happy to accommodate them (and discount on custom orders as I found) and they are all still built in Toledo, Ohio. This particular one’s sticker showed that 58% of the content is US/Canadian with the engine from Italy (VM Motori) and the 8-speed from Germany (ZF).
Elephants in the room? Well, let’s be honest, Diesel has gotten a bit of a bad rap over the last few years, certainly in the smaller formats, but there seem to still be plenty of folks willing to give them a shot in recently introduced lighter pickups and now Wranglers, presumably the Gladiator will soon offer it as well.
Jeep has had the VM Motori option before (in the Liberty and Grand Cherokee over here) and while some including one of our own have documented a poor experience with a VM Motori 3.0 V6 Diesel in a recent RAM 1500 it seems to have been an ancillary component that was the main issue in our contributor’s case and FCA did seem to make it right for him.
The other and more recent issue is a well publicized crash test by IIHS that showed the Wrangler actually flipping over onto its side in the small overlap crash test, a first. The prior version merely glanced off the barrier with relatively minor damage. Clearly this current result was wholly unexpected and has sent engineers back to the drawing board to make changes.
I have no idea if a very tiny difference in the actual amount of overlap of this test is what was the determining factor resulting in the rollover and if it was an inch different either way would have made a difference but the result stands for now and is a possible consideration if that exact accident scenario was recreated in real life.
I enjoyed my time with this Diesel Wrangler and believe it’s likely a very good move to offer it. It adds yet another option to the already huge palette on offer and more choice is always a good thing, the increased gas mileage likely is a positive for the marque and probably one of the main reasons why there has not yet been a factory Hemi V8 option, that probably being the other single most requested future option that I see when I investigate the Wrangler-specific forums.
In the review of my own Jeep that was linked near the top I had indicated that they’ve come a long way in the last two decades as regards drivability and everyday usability and this newest generation only builds on that even more. They have huge personalities, are simply fun, and there’s one for almost everyone.
Full Disclosure: Thanks to Jeep and FCA for giving us the opportunity to check out this Jeep along with a full tank of fuel.