The Jeep Wrangler is already one of the most capable vehicles you can buy today. From rocky cliffs to desert wastelands and everywhere in between, there aren’t many places this 4×4 can’t take you.
- Go-anywhere off-road capability
- Impressive refinement
- Rugged good looks
- Solid structure
- Fuel efficiency could be better
- The diesel upcharge
- Interior comfort
Building on this legendary capability, Jeep is at long last offering a diesel engine in the a 3.0-liter V6 that, not surprisingly, provides a seemingly endless tsunami of torque, which further enhances this machine’s mountain goat-like climbing talents.
That oil-burner joins a pair of respectable gasoline powerplants available in the Unlimited Rubicon model, including a 3.6-liter V6 with 285 horsepower and a 2.0-liter turbo-four cranking out 270 hp. Wrangler Sahara models can be fitted with versions of those gasoline engines augmented by FCA’s eTorque mild-hybrid system, which slightly boosts efficiency and performance.
The third generation of FCA’s EcoDiesel engine is both smooth and responsive, delivering excellent performance with little of the clattering compression-ignition powerplants are traditionally known for. This engine works phenomenally well in the company’spickup truck and the same is true in this application.
Reworked for Wrangler duty, engineers made a few changes to this EcoDiesel engine, including moving the alternator to a higher position so this Jeep can drive through as much as 30 inches of water. As for output, the EcoDiesel V6 is rated at 260 horsepower and, more importantly, 442 pound-feet of torque — though that’s a good bit less than the 480 lb-ft you get in the Ram 1500.
This engine is matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which changes gears quickly and intelligently, exhibiting no bad habits on pavement or off road. That gearbox sends torque to the ground through a Roc-Trac four-wheel-drive system, which is standard equipment on the Wrangler Rubicon. This setup includes a two-speed transfer case with 4:1 low-range gearing for serious off-road capability. BF Goodrich all-terrain tires mounted to 17-inch wheels ensure there’s no shortage of traction, even in sloppy conditions.
Rubicon models also feature heavy-duty Dana live axles. They’re fitted at the front and rear with electrically locking differentials for enhanced grip. These Wranglers also gain a disconnecting front sway bar for extra suspension articulation, a boon on particularly gnarly trails.
Another godsend is the Rubicon’s phalanx of underbody skid plates and standard rock rails. The former protects delicate mechanical components, the latter shields the body from impacts and scrapes. I’m thankful my tester, a four-door Unlimited model, is fitted with these items as well as steel bumpers, which are a $1,395 option. On a couple occasions while adventuring at a local off-road park, those skid plates definitely come in handy, defending the Wrangler’s delicate belly from jagged terrain.
My day in the dirt proves there’s little this vehicle can’t clamber over. It has nearly 11 inches of ground clearance and generous approach, breakover and departure angles. On Unlimited models they measure 43.9, 22.6 and 37 degrees, respectively. That’s some serious capability.
When you’re off-roading, you might be surprised just how far the Wrangler can take you in two-wheel drive. Thanks to that elevated body and knobby tires, it can get into plenty of places. Still, if the going gets a little too tough, four-wheel-drive is just a pull of a lever away. Four-high should be more than enough for all but the most severe off-roading, but if you need everything this Jeep can muster, there’s always four-low. Just yank that transfer-case lever back another notch to engage it. With reduced gearing there’s even more torque flowing to the wheels, further enhancing the EcoDiesel engine’s low-rpm performance. This combination makes it almost effortless to climb over rocks or other harsh terrain. Of course, if that’s still not enough, simply lock the axles and disconnect that front stabilizer bar for even greater capability.
The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is an absolute beast of an off-roader, but this makes it a less-than-ideal everyday commuter. On-road, don’t expect this Jeep to drive like a Toyota Corolla. It has a jiggly ride, rubbery steering, cumbersome handling and loads of wind noise. None of this is surprising if you’ve ever been in a Wrangler before — in fact, it’s probably part of its charm. Still, none of these issues are all that egregious when you consider just how capable this vehicle is, plus the current-generation Wrangler is light-years ahead of its predecessor in terms of driving refinement. Yes, light-years.
Used like a normal vehicle, the EPA says this Jeep should return 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway. Combined, it’s rated at 25 mpg. A speedy and smooth stop-start system undoubtedly helps bolster that around-town figure.
I’m disappointed to see sub-par fuel economy after an 800-mile road trip. According to the onboard readout, the Wrangler gets a mere 22 mpg and change. This is scarcely better than the city rating, and that’s after driving it almost exclusively on the interstate. Perhaps Michigan’s relatively new 75-mph speed limit plays a role in this performance, but still, I expected a bit more (or, should I say, a bit less) from something burning a fuel that’s more energy dense — and pricier — than gasoline.
That EcoDiesel engine is mostly quiet and smooth. Initial starts in cold weather do result in a bit of rattling, but much of this racket is attenuated before reaching the interior, plus it quiets down as it warms up. This oil-burner makes the Wrangler feel plenty quick. It really starts pulling at about 3,000 revs, absolutely storming ahead from there to about 4,000 before the transmission grabs the next gear and starts the process all over again.
The Wrangler’s chassis may have more in common with a covered wagon than more “modern” vehicles, but it’s still got loads of fresh features. My tester is fitted with LED exterior lighting which is nice and bright. It also has forward-collision warning for added safety and parking sensors, which make docking it significantly easier. There’s also blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control, which is both smooth and attentive.
TAs for multimedia tech, FCA’s superb4C Nav infotainment system is fitted to my Unlimited Rubicon. With an 8.4-inch touchscreen, it’s got embedded navigation, satellite radio, an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot and more. This system is also super easy to use, and its responsiveness is enviable. Naturally, and are supported, plus it has enough Alexa skills to pay the proverbial bills. You can use Amazon’s digital assistant to start your Jeep, lock or unlock the doors and even send directions to the navigation system.
The JL-generation Jeep Wrangler has a nice interior. This is not news. My tester has plenty of soft plastics, contrast stitching and attractive leather. As for comfort, it’s only OK. Both front and rear, the seats’ lower cushions are a bit too short to be truly accommodating for taller people, plus it’s difficult to get into the rear because those back-door openings are quite narrow.
Letting a little sunshine in, this Wrangler is fitted with an optional body-color, three-piece removable top, a $2,195 extra. After undoing a few latches, the panels pop right off, giving you a convertible-esque driving experience. Of course, this Jeep can be had with a variety of other roofs including a Sunrider soft top as well as a Sky one-touch power lid.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also tip the Wrangler’s windshield forward and even remove the doors. Jeep gives you a little tool kit to do this and a place in the cargo hold to store all the fasteners so you don’t lose them.
But for all it can do, perhaps the craziest thing about the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is its price. My tester checks out for a whopping $60,815. That includes $1,495 in destination fees and loads of options. The single biggest upcharge is for that lovely diesel engine, which adds $4,000 to the price tag, plus Jeep tacks on an additional $2,000 for that mandatory eight-speed automatic transmission.
Certainly, a diesel-powered Wrangler is an epic piece of machinery, but the price premium is tough to swallow. The available gasoline engines are praiseworthy and more than capable out on the trail, even if they’re endowed with significantly less torque.