This isn’t Jeep’s first diesel-powered pickup. In fact, it’s the brand’s third oil burner with a bed. The 2021 Jeep Gladiator EcoDiesel follows the 1986 to 1987 Comanche, which was available with Renault’s unloved turbocharged 2.1-liter four-cylinder diesel that produced only 82 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Before that, in 1964, Jeep also sold the United States Marines two Forward Control models equipped with a two-stroke diesel. Supplied by the Cerlist Diesel Company of North Carolina, that supercharged 2.8-liter inline-3 delivered double the fuel economy of Jeep’s flathead-six but just 85 horses and 170 pound-feet. Less than 500 were produced, and fewer than 50 are known to exist.
Jeep is expecting more success this time around. It anticipates 15 percent of Gladiator buyers will choose the new EcoDiesel V-6, which is the same percentage of Wrangler Unlimited customers that have paid handsomely for the turbocharged 3.0-liter engine in 2020. Just as it is on the Wrangler, the diesel costs an additional $4000 and requires the $2000 eight-speed automatic transmission option.
Built by Fiat Chrysler’s Italian engine subsidiary VM Motori and now in its third generation, the engine features a compacted-graphite-iron block, aluminum cylinder heads, and a variable-geometry turbocharger that produces up to 31.9 pounds of boost. Although it makes 480 pound-feet of torque in the Ram 1500, where it has a slightly higher compression ratio, it isn’t quite as strong in the Jeeps. In the Wrangler and Gladiator, it’s rated at 260 horsepower at 3600 rpm and 442 pound-feet at just 1400 rpm. That’s still the highest torque rating in the mid-size pickup segment, and it’s substantially more than the 260 pound-feet that the standard 3.6-liter gas V-6 provides.
Pick your hackneyed cliché to describe the EcoDiesel’s low-down grunt and ultra-flat power curve, which makes it great for off-roading. Our Rubicon test vehicle chugged up steep hills and over frame-twisting obstacles with the engine lumbering at 2000 rpm or less. Its responses are snappy both around town and at higher speeds, and the transmission does a good job of keeping the V-6 on top of its torque plateau. Along with the more robust 8HP75 eight-speed automatic, the diesel also necessitates the Rubicon’s tougher Dana 44 axles with 3.73:1 gears. While the transmission generally upshifts early when accelerating hard, flicking the shifter over into its M position moves the shift points up to the diesel’s 4500-rpm redline. Despite weighing about 400 pounds more than the gas model, the EcoDiesel Gladiator feels just as quick and should hit 60 mph in the seven-second range.
Fitting the necessary 5.1-gallon diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank for emissions compliance meant Jeep had to shrink the pickup’s 21.5-gallon fuel tank down to 18.3 gallons. But the EcoDiesel still manages to offer a considerable improvement in range versus the gas V-6, which may be its most compelling selling point. The diesel carries a 24-mpg EPA combined rating versus 19 mpg for the gas V-6, and its potential highway range is more than 500 miles.
The EcoDiesel’s additional mass also meant retuning the Gladiator’s suspension without altering its articulation or ground clearance. Spring rates are up about 10 percent, and its dampers are stiffer, but the pickup’s ride quality hasn’t suffered enough to matter. Its towing capacity has, however. As a result of cooling restrictions imposed by Jeep’s signature seven-slot grille, the EcoDiesel can only tug 6500 pounds to the standard model’s 7650. A four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Colorado with its optional 2.8-liter inline-4 turbodiesel is rated to pull 7700 pounds, despite having 73 fewer foot-pounds of torque. The Jeep’s payload capacity also changes slightly depending on the configuration. On the Rubicon, it actually increases slightly from 1075 pounds with the gas V-6 and automatic transmission combination to 1160 pounds.
To reduce noise, diesel Wranglers get additional sound-deadening material on the hot side of the firewall and foam on the backside of the infotainment screen. The Gladiator gets the same treatment. The engine is still considerably louder than the gas V-6, but it doesn’t disturb the peace with big-rig levels of diesel rattle. Compared to the optional Cummins turbodiesel six found in Ram’s heavy-duty pickups, it’s practically silent. But dip into the throttle and you can hear the clatter over the wind noise, and that’s saying something considering our test vehicle had a soft top. There’s also a bit of vibration in the throttle pedal, which you don’t get with the standard gas V-6.
We’ll go out on a limb and proclaim this to be Jeep’s best diesel pickup ever. It isn’t without its drawbacks. The turbocharged V-6 adds considerable weight, cost, and complexity, as well as noise and vibration, to a truck that made our 2020 10Best List. But the EcoDiesel’s big torque, greater fuel economy, and additional range are real advantages over the standard gas V-6, especially for Gladiator buyers planning to trek deep into the wilderness with a load of gear.
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