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2020 Four Wheeler SUV of the Year: Master Post

We test the diesel-powered Rubicon Wrangler, eTorque Sahara Wrangler, and the mild-hybrid Range Rover Sport on- and off-road.

Four Wheeler's 2020 SUV of the Year is the hard-core, weeklong shootout where we determine the best SUV by significant driving in sand and snow, up hills and across dunes, over jagged rocks, through water, and more. To test the 2020 models, we drove each SUV roughly 1,000 miles, mixing highway and track data in with our off-road testing. By the end of one week, our handpicked panel of judges—a crop of seasoned experts in everything 4x4 and off-road, had selected a winner. Here's how it all went down.

Invitations were sent out to all brand-new or substantially revised four-wheel-drive SUVs with a two-speed transfer case (or equivalent) that produces low-range-type gearing. Vehicles were also required to have a production run of at least 1,500 vehicles in the United States and had to be available on dealer lots by March 15, 2020. Three SUVs accepted the invitation: the Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE MHEV 3.0L, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel, and the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara eTorque 3.6L. Among the three vehicles, two packed a mild-hybrid electric punch under the hood, and one ran on diesel. One had an adjustable air suspension, and all three were built to be extremely capable off-road.

For five full days, and often into the night, our panel of judges examined every intricacy of the SUVs and recorded their findings in official logbooks. We checked for skidplates, adjusted seats, shifted in and out of driving modes and four-wheel-drive systems, measured for driver and passenger headroom, counted cupholders, and much more. Judges rotated in and out of each vehicle at regular, frequent intervals, giving each person ample time to experience the SUVs in all scenarios. Our goal was to figure out what worked, what didn't, and relay the results to you. Whether you're looking for a new wheeling rig or keeping tabs on what's new in the SUV space, we've done the dirty work. Which SUV will win in this three-way ultimate testdrive? Read on to find out.

 

3rd Place

 

What's New
The Range Rover Sport HSE qualified for SUV of the Year with its all-new mild-hybrid inline six-cylinder 3.0L Ingenium gas-powered engine. The 48-volt setup is said to give the SUV smoother acceleration and enhanced performance over its V-6 relatives using an electric supercharger paired with a twin-scroll turbocharger. The Rover came in the P360 flavor, producing 355 hp (compared to the P400 with a 395-hp output). The Rover's fully independent suspension and the onboard air system were capable of raising and lowering the vehicle when Terrain Response off-road mode was selected, increasing ground clearance and maximizing approach and departure angles.

Ramp and Track
The Range Rover was the only SUV with independent front suspension in its off-road quiver, and it inched its way up to a score of 378 on the 22-degree ramp travel index (RTI) ramp. When we selected Terrain Response mode and raised the SUV to Off-Road Ride Height 2, the Rover's score decreased to 356. The judges felt like the Rover was "happily at home" on the track, putting up the best 0-60 time of the SUVs, 7.1 seconds, and the fastest quarter-mile at 15.5 seconds. The 4,870-pound SUV reined in its speed from 60 to a standstill in 121.8 feet, again, the best score of the SUVs.

Exterior/Interior
The judges noticed no earthshattering changes to the outside of the '20 Range Rover, but one tester's shorthand questioned its front end similarity to the '20 Kia Soul at a distance. Its exterior design was called "aerodynamic" and "regal," and more than one judge was "willing to score it higher if the wheel diameter would drop a few inches." The LED lamps in the front were said to "glare at you menacingly from across the lot" while being more than easy on the eyes during our long nighttime highway pushes. When inside the Rover, judges lauded the unending adjustability and the telephone directory of comfort features, but some described the experience as akin to "driving an iPad." Touchscreens certainly contributed to the luxuriousness but left some judges asking, "How's this gonna work if I'm wearing gloves?" The addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay gave judges a familiar avenue when searching for the in-laws' phone numbers, burrito shop addresses, and Michael Bolton ballads. One judge commented in large letters their approval of the chilled center console, and its ability to keep Dr. Pepper at an appropriate temperature over the long highway stints. Depending on the desired number of passengers, the cargo capacity of the Rover ranged from a couple of briefcases to a weekend's worth of gear, but taller judges were seen minding their noggins as they checked out the farthest row of seating. We also felt the need to profusely wipe our feet and hands before entering the Rover as not to dirty the exquisite combination of ebony and ivory tones in the floors and upholstery.

On-Road
Looking out through the windshield, the judges gave high marks to the visibility afforded by the Rover's A-pillars, some wishing other automakers would follow suit. Though the Rover scored highest in the track-based categories, we were not impressed with the throttle response, and a few judges found themselves wishing for a bit more of a connection between their feet and the go-pedal. Cameras made slow-speed maneuvers in parking lots a breeze, and more than a few judges used the word "heavy" in a positive manner when describing the steering feel. Seat comfort was hit-or-miss depending on whose opinion was requested, and the armrests might not have been placed perfectly for every shape of driver. Still, the comfort settings, navigation, and entertainment systems were on par with the nearly six-figure price tag "once you figure out how to use them all."

Off-Road
Confidence on snowy tracks and gravelly roads were "why you want this SUV," and the added couple inches of ride height when the Rover was placed in Terrain Response mode gave the judges reason to breathe easy over obstacles. Though we didn't test this number to the fullest of its potential, the Rover's wade sensing capabilities allow it to sense water depth and safely navigate puddles just shy of 3 feet deep, a figure that was useful during our water crossings. The judges agreed that the Rover's front recovery points were "unnecessarily difficult to access," and for an off-road vehicle, the amount of sidewall on the tires was uncomfortably low, leaving the judges fearing punctures and wishing for 20-inch wheels. When crawling underneath the Rover, the skidplates received glowing remarks and the lack of low-hanging parts kept us free of hang-ups on the trail. While the judges wished "they'd just put rocker guards on it already," the government surveillance satellite's worth of cameras "at least let you get a good look at the rock that was about to crunch the door panel." Sand was regarded as a strength by the judges, though a few made notes about the sound emitted from the struts when the suspension unexpectedly reached the ends of its travel. Traction control features worked as expected on loose dirt, gravel, and snow. However, in cases of a lifted tire, the Rover sometimes required a precise mix of momentum and line choice to continue forward, helped in no way by the speed-rated tires.

Bottom Line
Capability comes with a price tag in the case of the Range Rover. This SUV looks sharp, gets up and goes on the blacktop, boasts the newest tech, and still can get you out to that muddy fly-fishing spot or snowed-in mountain cabin.

What's Hot
Adjustable air suspension, zippy on-road performance.

What's Not
Hard-to-access recovery points, lack of sidewall.

Our Take
Pride on the highway, high-class interior, and enough confidence off-road to justify its cost.

Logbook Quotes
"Touchscreens this big look good in sales brochures, but in real life ugh. "
"I now see center console fridges as necessary. "
"Makes me want to hoon dirt roads in a tuxedo."

Specifications as Tested
Vehicle/model: '20 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE
Base price: $73,990
Price as tested: $90,155
Options as tested: Driver Assist Pack ($4,000), Climate Comfort Pack ($1,385), Vision Assist Pack ($1,635), Off Road Pack ($1,785), Tow Pack ($1,085), Meridian Surround System 825W ($1,120), Heated and Cooled Front and Heated Rear Seats ($815), Firenze Red ($710), Black Contrast Roof ($665), Soft Door Close ($610), Grand Black Veneer ($355), Ebony Morzine Headlining ($355), Wade Sensing ($350), Destination Charge ($1,295)

ENGINE
Type: 24-valve I-6 turbocharged, supercharged
Displacement (ci/liter): 183/3.0
Bore x stroke (in): 3.27x3.63
Compression ratio (:1): 10.5
Intake/FI: Direct-injection
Mfg. 's power rating @ rpm (hp): 355 @ 5,500
Mfg. 's torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 365 @ 6,500
Mfg. 's suggested fuel type: Premium unleaded

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: 8HP70 8-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First: 5.50
Second: 3.52
Third: 2.20
Fourth: 1.72
Fifth: 1.32
Sixth: 1.00
Seventh: 0.82
Eighth: 0.64
Reverse: 3.99
Axle ratio (:1): 3.55
Transfer case: Magna Steyr Dual-Clutch ITC 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.93
Crawl ratio (:1): 57.2

FRAME/BODY
Frame: Aluminum unibody
Body: Aluminum and steel

SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front: SLA double wishbone with virtual swivel axis, air springs/Dana AdvanTEK M200
Rear: Integral link, air springs/Dana AdvanTEK M220

STEERING
Type: Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock): 2.7
Ratio (:1): 17.7

BRAKES
Front: 14.3x1.30, vented disc, four-piston caliper
Rear: 13.8x1.00, vented disc, single-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in): 20x8.5 aluminum
Tires: 255/55R20 Goodyear Eagle F1

FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway: 21/19
Observed city/highway/trail: 18.0

DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lb): 4,870
Wheelbase (in): 115.1
Overall length (in): 192.1
Overall width (in): 87.4
Height (in): 71; off-road ride height 1: 72.4; off-road ride height 2, 73.6
Track f/r (in): 66.6/66.4
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.4
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 40.6
Approach/departure angles (deg): 29.1/28.5
Breakover angle (deg): 25.7
GVWR (lb): 6,720
Payload (lb): 1,653
Maximum towing capacity (lb): 7,716
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 27.6

PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph (sec): 7.1
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph):15.5 @ 92.6
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 121.8
Ramp travel index (22-deg, points):378

 

2nd Place

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara eTorque

What's New
Its 3.6L engine is not new; however, backed by the 850RE eight-speed automatic transmission and boosted with the 24-volt mild-hybrid eTorque technology, the '20 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara platform had plenty of "new" to offer. Our tester was also equipped with Selec-Trac full-time four-wheel drive, giving us an additional option to shift the transfer case lever one notch right of 4-Hi and let the Jeep decide, low-traction permitting, when to send power to the front axle. The Sahara package sits on a lower suspension than the Rubicon, sports a transfer case reduction ratio of 2.72:1, rides on 18-inch wheels, and trades steel rocker protection for plastic side steps, to name some key features.

Ramp and Track
Though it lacked the disconnecting sway bars of the Rubicon trim level, the Sahara pushed its way up the 22-degree RTI ramp to a score of 498, higher than any attempt made by the Land Rover. After blasting off the starting line, the Sahara put its 285 horses and 260 lb-ft of torque to use getting through the quarter-mile in 16.7 seconds, and reaching 60 mph in 8.6 seconds. The brakes brought the 4,406-pound SUV back down from 60 to a stop in 127.2 feet.

Exterior/Interior
Compared to its Rubicon-badged competitor, the judges said the Firecracker Red Sahara Wrangler looked more "street-worthy," noting items like the plastic side steps, larger 18-inch-diameter wheels, and silver accents in the grille and bumper. The 32-inch all-terrains also looked the part and kept the road noise to a minimum, but brought inherent shortcomings off the pavement. Once the judges remembered to stop looking toward the door panels when they wanted to lower the power windows, they were content with the Jeep's interior, Sahara logos and all, only finding issue with wind noise from the Sky One-Touch Power Top at highway speeds. The cargo space in the Sahara's rear came fitted with Jeep's Trail Rail system. The judges called a "solid try" at cargo management, but only if your cargo happened to fit between the rails.

On-Road
Jeep took its tried-and-true Pentastar 3.6L V-6 and gave it a boost in the fuel economy and power departments with the eTorque technology. Compared to the five-speed slushbox of the JK, we heard the judges commenting that the Sahara's eight-speed auto was far better suited for the 3.6L than its predecessor, especially with the added kick of the eTorque. As much as the judges desperately wanted to turn off the auto start-stop function, the decreases in fuel consumption were appreciated. Starting at the track, the judges enjoyed the bit of "toss-your-head-back-in-the-seat" power afforded by the eTorque off the line. Some judges noted that the Sahara's on-road steering was "typical for Jeeps," while others thought the SUV wandered a bit more than they expected for a $50,000-plus vehicle.

Off-Road
Objectively, the Sahara lacked the rocker protection, aggressive tires, and locking differentials of the other seven-slotted competitor; however, those features did not significantly hold it back when the pavement turned to dirt. When in the sand we heard whoops and hollers from drivers as they sliced through dunes with "power they didn't expect but were stoked to find." We truly appreciated the ease of the Selec-Trac four-wheel-drive system when our drives alternated between icy pavement and slick, packed snow. For our normal off-road tasks of rocky canyons, washboarded dirt, and gravel tracks, the Sahara was comfortable and competent. In tighter areas where obstacles threatened sheetmetal, the plastic side steps were naturally more of a hindrance. Also, as expected for a vehicle with milder tire tread and a rear limited-slip differential, the slippery and rutted hillclimb was a challenge and required more momentum than slow-speed precision.

Bottom Line
Matching the Pentastar 3.6L with the eight-speed automatic and eTorque tech might not have changed the looks of the Sahara package, but the combo gave the driving experience the life the engine deserved from the start.

What's Hot
Full-time 4WD for the snow, marriage of the eTorque 3.6L and the eight-speed trans.

What's Not
Needs a dead pedal and 17-inch wheels.

Our Take
Hits the intersection of Jeep comfort and Jeep capability.

Logbook Quotes
"I'm convinced I feel IFS under there!"
"Side step? You mean plastic rock slider!"
"eTorque and the eight-speed give the 3.6L V-6 that run-faster, jump-higher, new-sneakers feeling."

 

Specifications as Tested
Vehicle/model: '20 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara eTorque
Base price: $38,645
Price as tested: $56,585
Options as tested: Leather-Trimmed Seats w/ Sahara Logo ($1,495), Cold Weather Group ($995), LED Lighting Group ($995), 8.4-inch Radio and Premium Audio Group ($1,595), Safety Group ($895), Advanced Safety Group ($795), 8-Speed Automatic Transmission ($2,000), 2.72:1 Selec-Trac 4FWD System ($595), Antispin Rear Differential ($595), 3.6L V6 eTorque ($1,000), Remote Proximity Keyless Entry ($495), Sky One-Touch Power Top ($3,995), 18x7.5-inch Tech Gray Polished Face Wheels ($995), Destination Charge ($1,495)

ENGINE
Type: 24-valve DOHC V-6 w/ eTorque
Displacement (ci/liter): 220/3.6
Bore x stroke (in): 3.78x3.27
Compression ratio (:1): 11.3
Intake/FI: Sequential, multiport, electronic, returnless
Mfg. 's power rating @ rpm (hp): 285 @ 6,400
Mfg. 's torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 260 @ 4,800
Mfg. 's suggested fuel type: Regular unleaded

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: 850RE 8-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First: 4.71
Second: 3.13
Third: 2.10
Fourth: 1.67
Fifth: 1.26
Sixth: 1.00
Seventh: 0.84
Eighth: 0.67
Reverse: 3.30
Axle ratio (:1): 3.45
Transfer case: MP3022 Selec-Trac
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.72
Crawl ratio (:1): 44.2

FRAME/BODY
Frame: Steel, ladder-type
Body: Aluminum and steel

SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front: Solid axle, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, electronically controlled sway bar disconnect, high-pressure gas-charged monotube shocks with MTV technology/Third-generation Dana 44
Rear: Solid axle, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar, high-pressure gas-charged monotube shocks with MTV technology/Third-generation Dana 44, Anti-Spin differential

STEERING
Type: Electro-hydraulic power
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.2
Ratio (:1): 15.6

BRAKES
Front: 12.9x1.1 vented rotor, twin-piston floating caliper
Rear: 13.4x0.55, solid rotor, twin-piston floating caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in): 18x7.5 aluminum
Tires: Bridgestone Dueler 255/70R18

FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway: 19/22
Observed city/highway/trail: 18.0

DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lb): 4,406
Wheelbase (in): 118.4
Overall length (in): 188.4
Overall width (in): 73.8
Height (in): 73.6
Track f/r (in): 62.9/62.9
Minimum ground clearance (in): 10
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 39.4
Approach/departure angles (deg): 41.8/36.1
Breakover angle (deg): 21
GVWR (lb): 5,500
Payload (lb): 1,208
Maximum towing capacity (lb): 3,500
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 21.5

PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph (sec): 8.6
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph):16.7 @ 85.3
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 127.2
Ramp travel index (22-deg, points): 498

 

Winner!

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel

What's New
With a record-breaking torque output of 442 lb-ft and a green cap behind the fuel door, the '20 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon made history with its 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 engine. The VM Motori-built diesel puts out 260 hp and is similar to the EcoDiesel found in the '20 Ram Rebel, with the exception of the relocated injection pump and alternator to maintain the Wrangler's water-fording capabilities, and a few other details. The new powerplant adds roughly 400 pounds to the platform, and the Jeep now carries a 5.1-gallon diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank next to the redesigned muffler. Behind the oil-burning engine sits the TorqueFlite 8HP75 eight-speed automatic transmission ready with beefed-up internals and optimized shift points to manage the increased torque. Third-generation Dana 44 axles are found under the Rubicon, and the diffs come standard with 3.73:1 gearing instead of the 4:10s we're used to seeing.

Ramp and Track
With a simple button push, the Rubicon's front sway bar disengaged and helped the SUV nab the winning score of 688 on the 22-degree RTI ramp. We took another pass at the ramp with the sway bar engaged, limiting suspension flex and dropping the score to 557, which still bested the scores of the other challenging SUVs. The diesel-powered Wrangler was less than a second faster than its gas-burning counterpart, using its 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque, getting up to 60 mph in 8 seconds flat, and completing the quarter mile in 16.3 seconds. With the same brake dimensions as the eTorque-equipped Wrangler and the added weight of the diesel, the judges weren't surprised when they mashed the brake pedal and brought the Jeep to a halt in 148.5 feet, requiring just over 20 feet more than the gas-powered Jeep.

Exterior/Interior
From the outside, it's hard to tell you're squared up to the EcoDiesel-powered Rubicon. However, push the starter, and the rumble from under the hood was just enough to remind the judges about the Jeep's lack of spark plugs. Insulation was added on the driver side of the firewall to keep the majority of the noise out of the cabin. Taller judges grumbled about having to shoehorn themselves into the Jeep's doors, but the oversized grab handles (are these recovery points?) seemed to quell their complaints. The judges were at loggerheads about the Rubicon-specific, metallic-red dash. Some argued it clashed with the Hellayella paintjob, while others praised the contrast. The Rubicon was also one of the few vehicles in the test without electronically adjustable seats, another sticking point for some judges. We liked the general exterior ruggedness that came in the form of red recovery points, all-terrain tires, lifted suspension, and factory rock sliders, all functional while still looking sharp.

On-Road
To handle the increased weight of the diesel engine, Jeep stiffened the suspension with higher-rate coil springs and specially valved shocks. The judges noticed no shortcomings in the Jeep's on-road manners due to the weight gain, save for the "loose and sometimes darty" steering. We took note of wind noise from the Sky One-Touch Power Top and the Jeep's high windshield angle (still has the aerodynamics of a roadside billboard) and the aircraft-like whistle from the turbo blow-off valve when we eased off the throttle. Combining the diesel's torque with the eight-speed automatic transmission meant the Rubicon was never caught between gears on the highway and was always within a quick shift of its powerband. From our observed combined fuel economy (trail and highway) of 21.9 mpg, the judges smiled as they speculated how close to 500 miles of range they could squeeze from the Rubicon's 18.3-gallon diesel tank.

Off-Road
When the blacktop turned to dirt, the Rubicon asserted its dominance, starting with what a handful of judges called their "favorite tires from an OE," the three-peak mountain snowflake-emblazoned 285/70R17 BFGoodrich T/A KO2s. The judges agreed there was no replacement for the Rubicon's out-of-the-box capability with its sway bars disengaged and both differentials locked, allowing it to twist and flex over just about anything we put before it. The judges described the diesel's off-road performance with "I could crawl with this in 4-Hi," and "It sounds like a piece of construction equipment." We witnessed the judges squirming all around and underneath the Rubicon, counting the various skidplates, including the armor on the new DEF tank. The judges also noted that the 18.3-gallon fuel tank switched sides on the Jeep's undercarriage, now living under the driver side. When compared to the outgoing JK Wrangler, the judges felt the transfer case engagement was smoother in the EcoDiesel Rubicon, and they were collectively relieved to find it was still lever actuated. The judges agreed the Rubicon was made for slow-speed rocky trails, and others wondered if the heavier engine and upgraded suspension tuning increased the ride quality over washboarded roads and whoops. In the sand, the new engine brought with it a learning curve in maintaining momentum, and though it might not be our first choice for sand-slinging, it was still capable. During the hillclimb, the Rubicon had what appeared to be the easiest time ascending the series of snowed-over, muddy ruts.

Bottom Line
Pound for pound, the Wrangler Rubicon is simply the most off-road utility you can stuff into an SUV-shaped box. Though it comes with its quirks, the recipe of solid axles, on-demand traction-adding devices, and a lever-shifted transfer case was only garnished by the addition of the diesel powerplant.

What's Hot
Low-end torque, suspension articulation, out-of-the-box electronically disconnecting sway bars, and lockers.

What's Not
Where's the winch?
Cost of the EcoDiesel.

Our Take
SUV of the Year.

Logbook Quotes
"Feels and sounds like a piece of heavy machinery. "
"It's way too nice to have a removable top. "
"Aw shucks, now I have to buy DEF. "
"The off-road gold (Hellayella) standard!"

 

Specifications As Tested
Vehicle/model: '20 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel
Base price: $41,795
Price as tested: $62,090
Options as tested: Leather-Trimmed Bucket Seats ($1,495), Trailer-Tow and Heavy-Duty Electrical Group ($795), LED Lighting Group ($1,045), 8.4-inch Radio and Premium Audio Group ($1,695), Safety Group ($895), Advanced Safety Group ($795), Steel Bumper Group ($1,395), Cargo Group with Trail Rail System ($195), 8-Speed Automatic Transmission ($2,000), 3.0L EcoDiesel Turbodiesel w/ ESS G3 ($4,000), Remote Proximity Keyless Entry ($495), Sky One-Touch Power Top ($3,995), Destination Charge ($1,495)

ENGINE
Type: 24-valve DOHC common-rail V-6
Displacement (ci/liter): 182/3.0
Bore x stroke (in): 3.27x3.60
Compression ratio (:1): 16.0
Intake/FI: Common-rail solenoid injectors
Mfg. 's power rating @ rpm (hp): 260 @ 3,600
Mfg. 's torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 442 @ 1,400-2,800
Mfg. 's suggested fuel type: Ultra-low sulfur diesel

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: 8HP75 8-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First: 4.71
Second: 3.13
Third: 2.10
Fourth: 1.67
Fifth: 1.28
Sixth: 1.00
Seventh: 0.84
Eighth: 0.67
Reverse: 3.30
Axle ratio (:1): 3.73
Transfer case: NV241OR Rock-Trac
Low-range ratio (:1): 4.00
Crawl ratio (:1): 70.3

FRAME/BODY
Frame: Steel, ladder-type
Body: Aluminum and steel

SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front: Solid axle, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, electronically controlled sway bar disconnect, high-pressure gas-charged monotube shock absorbers with MTV technology and hydraulic rebound stop/Dana M210 wide axle, Tru-Lok electronic locking differential
Rear: Solid axle, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar, high-pressure gas-charged monotube shock absorbers with MTV technology and hydraulic rebound stop/Dana M220 wide axle, Tru-Lok electronic locking differential

STEERING
Type: Electro-hydraulic power
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.13
Ratio (:1): 14.3

BRAKES
Front: 12.9x1.1 vented rotor, twin-piston floating caliper
Rear: 13.4x0.55 solid rotor, single-piston floating caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in): 17x7.5 aluminum
Tires: LT285/70R17C BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2

FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway: 22/29
Observed city/highway/trail: 21.9

DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lb): 4,862
Wheelbase (in): 118.4
Overall length (in): 188.4
Overall width (in): 73.8
Height (in): 73.6
Track f/r (in): 62.9/62.9
Minimum ground clearance (in): 10.8
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 39.4
Approach/departure angles (deg): 43.9/37
Breakover angle (deg): 22.6
GVWR (lb): 6,100
Payload (lb): 1,233
Maximum towing capacity (lb): 3,500
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 18.3

PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph (sec): 8.0
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 16.3 @ 85.7
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 148.5
Ramp travel index (22-deg, points): 688

How We Test 'Em

We began our weeklong 2020 SUV of the Year test in Orange, California, by measuring each vehicle's ramp travel index (RTI) at T&J Offroad, to determine suspension articulation. We then traveled to Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, where we used a RaceLogic Performance Box to gather acceleration and braking data. From the track, we convoyed to higher elevations via paved roads, along the way gathering important data including each vehicle's ride, handling, and fuel efficiency, among other things. For the next three days we spent time in every type of driving situation you can imagine—from stop-and-go city driving to wide-open highway. Since our focus is on off-road performance, we spent the majority of time in the dirt, water, mud, sand, rocks, and snow. Each day of driving began shortly after sunup and ended after sundown. We traveled to both high and low altitudes, and we drove in the dark to test lighting. On the last day, we made the trek back to the Los Angeles area, which completed the test. In the end, we drove each SUV approximately 1,000 miles.

How We Score 'Em

Our scoring procedure utilizes five weighted categories. Here's the breakdown: 30 percent Trail Performance (how a vehicle performs in a variety of wheeling environments and off-road-centric features like 4WD system operation, tires, traction aids, and so on), 25 percent Empirical (RTI, acceleration, braking, price, and so on), 20 percent On-Road Performance (handling, ride quality, steering feel, and so on), 15 percent Interior (instrumentation, ingress and egress, seat comfort, storage, and so on), and 10 percent Exterior (appearance, cargo bed functionality, body protection, and so on).

 

Final Results
Category Wrangler Sahara Wrangler Rubicon Range Rover
Trail Performance 21.66 27.23 15.38
Empirical 21.79 23.57 22.50
On-Road Performance 12.90 13.78 14.45
Interior 10.11 9.72 9.95
Exterior 6.52 8.11 5.29
Total 72.98 82.41 67.57

 

Judges' Picks

With an unlimited budget and no knowledge of which scored the best, which SUV would each of the SUV of the Year judges pick to bring home? They filled us in, and here are their responses.

Stuart Bourdon, Jp Magazine Technical Editor

The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel was by far my favorite vehicle of the SUVs we tested. Its outstanding off-road performance, well-mannered highway behavior, and all-new 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 delivering 442 lb-ft of torque to an eight-speed automatic transmission made it the most dynamic overall performer of the SUVs tested and the one I would love to have in my garage.

Ken Brubaker, Four Wheeler Editor

There are some combinations that just work. Like pizza and beer. Or, the JL Wrangler and a diesel engine. The result is delicious, with lots of gooey torque and spicy performance. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel is a blast to drive, and the engine is perfectly matched to the platform, offering up a balance of day-to-day drivability and ample power for almost any off-road foray. And it's efficient. I'll take one in any color but Hellayella.

John Cappa, Four Wheeler Contributor

I really wanted to hate the expensive engine in the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel, but I can't. The optional diesel engine backed up with the eight-speed automatic transmission makes it the best Wrangler ever offered, so that's why I'd choose it over the other SUV of the Year competitors.

Jason Gonderman, Truck Trend Editor

I want the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel to occupy a space in my driveway. I absolutely loved the low-end torque, both on the street and the trail. In Rubicon trim, it went everywhere without complaint. I can overlook the price premium thanks to the almost 30 mpg that I observed on a long highway slog, and the 22-mpg average it produced during the test. The Range Rover was amazing, and the gasoline V-6 Wrangler did not disappoint, but overall, the EcoDiesel Wrangler is the complete package.

Christian Hazel, 4-Wheel & Off-Road Editor

This is such a no-brainer. I'll take the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel all week long and twice on Sunday. Take the JL Rubicon platform, which I already absolutely love, and improve it with massive torque, longer distance between fuel stops, and tractor-like crawling capability, and what's to think about? It's the do-everything Swiss Army knife of the SUV world.

Sean Holman, MotorTrend Group Content Director

In a "price is no object" world, I think my choice would be the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel. It has all of the goodness of the Rubicon, with incredible rockcrawling torque, none of the turbo lag that is apparent in other EcoDiesel-equipped vehicles, and impressive fuel economy. What's not to like? Well for one, the price is in luxurious 1/2-ton territory, and the reality is that people won't be able to make a business case for the checkmark next to the EcoDiesel. The reason you get the EcoDiesel is because you want a diesel Wrangler, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Jered Korfhage, Four Wheeler Feature Editor

Since dumping the clutch and fishtailing off the dealer lot in a diesel-powered Rubicon still remains a fantasy (c'mon, Jeep engineers!), I'm taking home the Range Rover Sport HSE P360. There's enough aftermarket support to make the Rover capable for the majority of my needs. Give me some mud-terrain tires, a rack for the gear I can't wedge in the trunk, and I'll gladly park it next to the Jeep I already own.

John Lehenbauer, Diesel Power Technical Editor

I wanna load down the diesel-powered Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel with greasy camp food, tents, and my family; road trip it to a trailhead and 'wheel for a long weekend. I like the power delivery, fuel range, and the plain old ability to handle rough trails out of the box. Heck, it doesn't even feel like there's a diesel in there!

Trent McGee, Four Wheeler Contributor

There's really no question which SUV I would park in my driveway: the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel. I'm really excited about all of the diesel options coming to market for midsize vehicles, and the 3.0L doesn't disappoint. For me, the real winner is the eight-speed transmission, which keeps the diesel right in its optimum powerband at all times and makes the Jeep drive more like a gas engine, with only a hint of turbo lag off the line. The only thing that would be better is more towing capacity to fully use the diesel torque on tap.

Rick P w , Jp Magazine Editor

I would choose the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel to bring home. It has the best ride, performance, reliability, range, fuel economy, style, comfort, capability, and price out of the three vehicles we tested. The lack of a seat heater is its only drawback, and I can fix that by moving to Arizona. The Range Rover was an uncomfortable technological nightmare that requires premium fuel and a clean pair of jeans to sit in it. Nothing is ergonomically correct, and it's plain old ugly in my eyes. The Sahara was a good second, but it lacks the off-road capability of the Rubicon and I wouldn't trade the eTorque engine for the lockers, 4:1 transfer case, and larger tires of the Rubicon.

Verne Simons, 4-Wheel & Off-Road Technical Editor

Dagnabbit, a decade ago I yelled from the rooftops that if Jeep built a Wrangler with a diesel engine I'd push to the front of the line to buy one. Now, if that doesn't tell you which SUV I'd take home at the end of SUV of the Year, I don't know what else does. The engine in this bright-yellow Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel is an awesome addition to what is already an incredible vehicle, and I would be happy to take it home with me. Having said that, the price of this particular SUV is way outside of the orbit I would feel comfortable paying for a vehicle (ours came optioned at $62,000, and that didn't even buy you heated seats). Since I'm such a cheap bastard, I'll now say that if Jeep makes a stripped-down, bare-bones Sport version with manual everything for way less, I might buy one. I'm also a little bit sad the diesel doesn't come with a manual transmission, and even more sad that the diesel is only an option in the four-door Wrangler (I'm one of few who see the value in a two-door JL). Either way, the EcoDiesel Wrangler Rubicon is a hands-down winner for me.

Brian Sumner, Four Wheeler Contributor

At any given moment, I want to be able to zip off the pavement and go exploring down an interesting-looking dirt road. To me, the competition really came down to the two Jeep Wranglers. I thought the diesel and eTorque engines were evenly matched in power and acceleration from the driver seat, so it really came down to the Sahara package versus the Rubicon. Two lockers, lower gearing, better tires, and steel armor wins me over every time, so I would choose the diesel-powered Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel to take home. Now, can we just do something about that red dash?

Harry Wagner, Four Wheeler Contributor

The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel is the easy choice for my favorite SUV this year. Locking differentials, 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrains, a disconnecting sway bar, what is not to love? The added torque of the diesel really makes the JL feel sporty, and the mileage and range are perfect for long trips. I would argue that this is the most well-rounded Wrangler ever made. It is easy to daily drive without giving up an ounce of capability.

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