CHATHAM, Mass. – One way to be inconspicuous on Cape Cod in July is to drive a four-door Jeep Wrangler. It seems every fourth vehicle on the road has the same seven-slot grill and round headlights of the iconic vehicle.
But drive a Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited with a new-for-2020 EcoDiesel ESS (engine stop start technology) engine and heads turn, “Jeepers” look and ask:
“What’s it like to drive?”
“What kind of mileage do you get?”
The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited with EcoDiesel engine drives just like any other four-door Wrangler: a bit stiff and bouncy on a suspension designed to conquer the most arduous off-road challenges first, on-road maneuvering second, and steering with a bit of play around center.
You sit high in typical Jeep-throne bucket seats and the commanding view is helped by large 255/70R18 all-terrain tires mounted on 18-inch alloy wheels holding up a chassis with 9.7-inches of ground clearance.
The front and rear suspensions consist of a solid axle, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs and stabilizer bar. At both ends are high-pressure gas-charged monotube shock absorbers with MTV technology. Again, the design is to maximize off-road capability with an understanding the Wrangler will spend most of its time on-road.
Within those wheels are 12.9×1.1-inch vented rotors and twin-piston floating calipers up front, while stopping power at the rear comes from 13.4x.55-inch solid rotors and single-piston floating calipers. Of course, anti-lock braking (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC), electronic roll-mitigation and trailer-sway control are also part of the braking package.
EcoDiesel: power and economy
The new 3.0-liter double-overhead-camshaft turbocharged V6 EcoDiesel engine comes out of a Fiat Chrysler Automobile Italian factory for the Wrangler (and is also available in the Jeep Gladiator and Ram 1500 pickup trucks). It produces 260 horsepower and a robust 442 pounds-feet of torque. (Giving it a 3,500-pound tow rating.)
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All this power is sent through a two-speed Command Trac part-time four-wheel-drive transfer case by an eight-speed automatic transmission with hill-descent control.
The most impressive aspect of the EcoDiesel is its outstanding fuel economy. The federal Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 22 miles per gallon in city driving, 29 mpg on the highway and 25 combined. We blew those numbers away – in a week of hard driving, mixing in July Cape Cod traffic and letting the engine run with the air conditioner on while we run a few errands (hot and humid weather persisted all week) we averaged 28+mpg! Considering the 21.5-gallon fuel tank, this Wrangler could go 600+ miles between fill ups, so finding a diesel station should not be a challenge before the low-fuel light comes on.
The Jeep Wrangler with EcoDiesel engine challenges subcompact economy cars in terms of mileage, far more efficient than its gasoline-powered siblings.
Safety and advanced driver assist systems (ADAS)
The Wrangler’s genesis reaches back to the military Jeeps of World War II – small, four-wheel-drive vehicles designed to be simple to operate and maintain while tough enough to sustain a variety of terrain and environmental conditions.
As the vehicle matured through the decades it gained amenities, creature comforts and safety features demanded by today’s driver.
Advanced multi-stage airbags with supplemental side airbags are standard as is a rear-view camera.
Our comprehensively equipped Firecracker Red (we used to call it “arrest me red”) Wrangler had both the Safety Group, with ParkSense® rear park-assist system and blind-spot and cross-traffic monitor, and the Advanced Safety Group consisting of a new adaptive-cruise control, advanced brake assist and full-speed forward collision warning plus.
The Sahara might be the most luxurious Wrangler trim, but this is no luxury vehicle. The dash and button layout is simple and straightforward. Neat, tidy, efficient. The seats are firm and supportive. The four-wheel-drive and transmission selectors are large and convenient.
A new 8.4-inch color touch screen in the center of the dash acts as the command center for the fourth generation of UConnect, FCA’s outstanding infotainment system. AM/FM/SiriusXM satellite/HD radio/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/streaming audio can be played through the Alpine Premium Sound System which includes a large subwoofer. The sound is strong enough to overcome the noise levels within the cabin – sound deadening is not a strong suit of any Wrangler and driving with the roof panels removed provides a further challenge (which is met) for the sound system.
In addition to the above, the UConnect system includes navigation, a 4G WiFi hot spot and Sirius Guardian Connected Services. Jeep includes a five-year subscription to SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link Services (which has weather, point-of-interest and other useful information) as part of the package.
The touch screen can control the infotainment, climate control and various vehicle systems (including many of the ADAS settings), but critical ones also have simple buttons and dials easily found while driving. And supplementing both means of control is voice activation.
A note about FCA’s steering-wheel audio controls – rocker switches with buttons on the rear of the steering wheel are the best in the industry. They are intuitive, functional, and always at hand.
Second-row passengers have a lot of room, especially headroom. In addition, they have four USB (two type A and two type C complementing the four up front) ports and A/C vents as well as ample cupholders.
This is not your grandfather’s army Jeep!
For the 2020 model year Wrangler comes in both two and four-door (Unlimited) versions from the Sport ($28,295) to Sport S ($31,740) to Sahara ($38,645, four-door only) to the ultimate off-roader Rubicon ($38,695)..
The 2020 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara we sampled had a base price of $38,645. With its comprehensive array of options (like the EcoDiesel engine, Safety and Advanced Safety Groups, automatic transmission, etc.) and the $1,495 destination charge, the total came to $54.800.
Not inexpensive, but as the figures and model line above show (which can be configured with the available four different engines, two transfer cases and two transmissions), you should be able to “build” the Wrangler of your dreams.
Truth be told, a two-door 2013 Wrangler Sahara was the car of my dreams and my daily driver during my first three years on Cape Cod. And I loved it. It was not perfect, but this 2020 Wrangler, a newer generation, solved many of my Jeep’s ills – without sacrificing any of the fun, go-anywhere, sense-of-freedom characteristics. This is a better driving, safer, more enjoyable package. It was great spending a week back in the Wrangler community.