There’s really no way around it, when you climb into a Jeep Rubicon, you feel like you’re ready for the Earth to rip asunder, roads to vanish, streams to need fording and canyons to need crossing. It exudes a rugged sensibility and it’s very clear why the company continues to enjoy good sales as the Jeep faithful keep buying these sort of toughe 4×4 vehicles. I know, I just finished up a week driving the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon with just about everything you could add to the vehicle. Let’s just start out with a photo of it in the snow:
Big knobby tires (that cost a cool $250 each to replace!), tons of ground clearance, tow hooks, a tow package on the rear, doors that pop off and a massive Sky One-Touch Power Top that acts like a convertible without any of the safety issues of losing your overall structural integrity. It really is great fun to drive, though this particular model featured the brand new EcoDiesel, which was another experience entirely.
In fact, I have very little experience with diesel cars (about 3% of cars sold in the USA are powered by diesel engines at this point) so was most interested in trying out the new for 2020 turbocharged EcoDiesel. It’s actually a solid drive and offers up a decent amount of power after an initial delay for the fuel to push into the engine. Biggest downside? It’s noisy. In fact, when it was cold (sub-freezing) the Jeep was rather startlingly, people-turning-their-head-to-see-what’s-going-on noisy as it pings along. This is a signature diesel sound and while Jeep has added some sound insulation to address the issue, the car itself is quite noisy due to the removable doors and Power Top, so you definitely hear it.
Is it worth the extra money? The 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel engine with ESS G3 adds $4,000 to the price tag. And it’s hard to assess that. Certainly it’s difficult to understand why someone would opt for diesel when fuel prices are no longer cheaper than gasoline. They sport about the same fuel efficiency too, around 20-21mpg (EPA ratings are not yet released, but are expected to be in the mid-20’s up to 30 for highway. I saw much lower fuel efficiency in practice: 21.4mpg). Horsepower and torque? Here’s how they compare: EcoDiesel has 260hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. Same vehicle with the 2.0L gasoline engine is 270hp and 295 lb-ft of torque and if you opt for the 3.6L V6 it’s 285hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Tow rating is the same with both the 3.0L diesel and 3.6L gasoline engine: 3,500 pounds.
But just like folk who buy a Hummer (yes, they’re still on the market) no-one buys a Jeep because they want to maximize the distance per gallon of fuel. Get behind the wheel of the Rubicon 4×4 and you’ll immediately understand that there are other criteria that might just be more important anyway. Here’s how that driver’s cockpit area looks:
As you can see, the splash of red makes for a very handsome dashboard design and the rugged, outdoor personality of the Jeep doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice entertainment system, courtesy of FCA. Look more closely and you’ll see some of the design oddities, however. Let’s start with the buttons on the steering wheel:
Confusingly, there are two completely different cruise control systems in this 2020 Jeep. The old school set-speed-and-go cruise control is engaged by the button in the middle of the “+” of CANC, RES, SET+ and SET-. But the vehicle has a forward-facing lidar system so it also has an adaptive cruise control, which you enable with the button to the LEFT of the CANC (cancel) button. Then you can use the two buttons above and below to adjust your preferred follow distance. Why not just have the smart cruise control replace the old school one?
Note: the Adaptive Cruise Control is a $795 add-on package.
The wiper controls are confusing too, all jammed onto a single stem control just behind the right bar of the steering wheel. Took me a while to figure out how to have the rear wiper move at all, actually. 🙂
Then let’s move down behind the gear shift to all the 4×4 and offroad controls:
The shifter on the left is known as the Four Position Four-Wheel Drive Gear Selector and has 2H, 4H, N and 4L for two-wheel drive (yes, it’s a 4×4 but you can go to two-wheel drive), 4 wheel drive high range, automatically engaged if the vehicle detects a loss of traction, neutral which disengages all driveshafts for towing, and 4L, which maximizes torque to the front driveshaft. Got that?
Behind it, the red toggle switch is the Axle Lock Switch, a supplement for 4L and it only works for speeds under 30mph. Finally, the SWAY BAR button is interesting too: it’s an electronic disconnecting stabilizer/sway bar and offers greater front suspension travel in rugged off-road conditions. In other words, if you do face a destroyed road, a dirt trail or the side of a mountain you want to traverse, this Jeep Rubicon has a lot of different ways you can flip switches and move gears to get optimal traction, power and control. I was not allowed to take it off road for any testing at all, alas.
If you are heading off road, or even to the Army surplus store, there’s a reasonable amount of rear storage space:
Note the interior roll bars and frame visible on each side too. It’s somewhat like having a smaller roll-bar-only Jeep with a hard exterior added as a facia, though you can’t actually pull it completely off. Owners will have to be satisfied with door removal!
If you have passengers, the good news is that there’s a surprising amount of legroom for them in this four-door configuration:
And, finally, one more view of the Jeep in the snow:
All in all, I really enjoyed driving the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4 EcoDiesel for a week in a variety of different weather. I did have to climb up and into the vehicle, a nice break from the sliding down into sedans of late, but if you’re not tall and don’t like climbing, the vehicle height might prove a bit tricky. Since I didn’t see any meaningful improvement with the EcoDiesel fuel efficiency over a gasoline engine, I suspect it’d be a better move to spend $4000 on fun exterior options and add-ons and stick with the 2.0L engine. Need more power? Jump to the 3.6L and you’ll be fine. Otherwise, a really fun car to drive, and I never once worried about bad driving conditions. In fact, I was hoping for apocalyptic driving so I could really put the Jeep through its paces, which is a nice feeling when it’s winter in Colorado.
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4, sting-grey exterior, black interior. 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine. Base price: $41,795. Additional equipment as driven: Leather-trimmed bucket seats, cold weather group, trailer tow group, LED lighting group, 8.4-inch radio group, safety group, advanced safety group, steel bumper group, 8-speed automatic, 3.0L V6 EcoDiesel, remote keyless entry, body color fender flares, Sky one-touch power top and 17-inch wheels. Price as driven: $64.380. Yes, that’s over $22,500 worth of optional equipment.
Disclosure: Jeep loaned me the 2020 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4 for a week in return for this review. Thanks Jeep!