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Diesel Power - 4Word

The Pros And Cons of Off-Road Diesel Vehicles

Phil HowellPhotographer, Writer

As you've already heard, Jeep issued a stay of execution for the current Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited. The straight axle Jeep will live until 2018 with some refreshing, including a diesel option.

Diesel. Many American Jeep owners have drooled over having the torque and fuel economy of a diesel mill in their Jeep utility vehicle. The aftermarket has stepped up and companies such as Diesel Bruiser Conversions offer quality diesel swaps into Wranglers. The Grand Cherokee diesel has the performance and economy owners crave, admittedly, though, at a premium price that's out of range of most buyers. If Jeep keeps the diesel Wrangler's price of admission at a reasonable level, it will sell well.

One of the diesel-powered 4x4s in my life was a WK Grand Cherokee test-mule loaner equipped with the excellent 3.0L Mercedes diesel. The engine was powerful, responsive, and made the Grand Cherokee a pleasure to drive. It had close to a 400-mile range, so day trip exploring was accomplished easily. Nevertheless, it had an Achilles heel…

AM General used to let us drive H1 Hummers. They'd loan the magazine one vehicle a year, which we were allowed to drive until the next model appeared. The H1s provided many adventures but showed they had the same Achilles heel as the Grand Cherokee…

One H1 trip was an exploring adventure in Southeastern Utah. Early one morning, we fueled up and headed out of Moab in the dark. Our destination was Canyonlands National Park and the surrounding area. The big H1 growled into the dawning light of what promised to be an exciting trip. We stopped at Needles Outpost to let the gasoline-powered vehicles top off their tanks. Needles doesn't offer diesel, but the H1 had two diesel tanks, so I wasn't worried.

We drove over Elephant Hill, through the squeeze, and down into Bobby's Hole, continuing out of the park. We discovered a fascinating round stone tower, as well as a city of Anasazi ruins. It was a great trip and everyone was having fun. Someone suggested going over the Abajo (or Blue) Mountains to head back. It was longer going that way, but the trail would take us into pine forests, a welcome change to the red rock desert we had been exploring. Off we went.

I had been keeping an eye on the H1's fuel gauge. The first tank was empty by lunchtime and the second was about two-thirds full. No problem. We were having a great time up in the mountains, taking wrong turns and backtracking, playing in the mud and snow. The H1 was no economy car. The gauge showed two-thirds, then half, and was resting on one-third when I started getting concerned. We still had miles to go to the blacktop and a considerable distance on pavement to a diesel station. Would the H1 make it back?

We came out of the mountains and hit the tarmac at one of the area ranches. No lights glowed from windows and it was obvious no one was home. Could we make it back to Moab on what was left in the H1's second tank? No one knew, but I was going to try by applying all of my economical driving knowledge (lots of knowledge, little practical application) to get back. Two hours later, we drove into Moab and pumped more fuel into the H1 tanks than AM General said they held.

That's the Achilles heel of diesel-powered vehicles in the west. The small-town gas station you find after a long exploring trip may only offer unleaded gasoline. A friendly ranch may not be an available source for emergency diesel. Yes, it's possible to carry extra fuel, and that will be a necessity for diesel owners. Remember, those of you already planning to take your new diesel Wrangler to explore the Third World, ultra-low-sulfur diesel may be difficult to find.

The unavailability of fuel in remote areas is the one negative to diesel ownership. We'll see how it impacts new diesel Wrangler owners who use their Jeeps for long-distance exploring. In the meantime, we'll applaud Jeep for keeping the JK around for a few more years and offering it with a diesel option.