Long Range & Lots of Torque: Will Gladiator EcoDiesel Be the Ultimate Overlander?

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Even before it was revealed, overlanding enthusiasts have been salivating at the idea of a diesel-powered Jeep Gladiator. After all, it combines virtually all the must-haves in a modern overlanding rig: off-road ruggedness and capability, an impressive aftermarket support system, long range per fuel tank, and enough torque to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Although the Gladiator has been on sale for around a year, Jeep finally revealed the 2021 Jeep Gladiator EcoDiesel available in Sport, Overland, and Rubicon trims, making so many overlanding dreams come true.

If you’re a diesel or Jeep fan, I suggest you get your bib out. You’re about to start drooling.

Let’s start with the power figures.

Under the hood of the Gladiator, the EcoDiesel produces a paltry 260 horsepower and a whopping 442 foot-pounds of torque. This massive lump of torque is routed to all four wheels through a new TorqueFlite 8HP75 8-speed automatic transmission.

Heavy-duty Dana 44 axles are at the front and rear. All Gladiator EcoDiesel models feature a 3.73 axle ratio. The Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case with a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio is standard on Rubicon models and the Command-Trac part-time two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio on Sport and Overland models. 


Image credit: Jeep

Image credit: Jeep

The engine has been tweaked a bit since we first met it in 2014. Improvements have been made to its noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH). These come from minute changes in the engine composition and layout. For example, engineers reworked the cylinder head, increased the compression ration (from 16.0:1 to 16.5:1), and the fuel-injection system has been improved to match.

Deeper down in the engine, the pistons have been remade with lightweight aluminum alloy and fitted with thinner rings finished with “diamond-like” coating. At the bottom of the pistons themselves, the placement of the connecting pin has been offset by 0.3mm, further improving NVH.

The emissions-compliant diesel engine’s exhaust system is fed by a 5.1-gallon diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank. Jeep says customers will only need to refill it around every 10,000 miles.

As for fuel economy and range, Jeep doesn’t have any official EPA ratings to share. But it did say the Gladiator EcoDiesel “will deliver the highest driving range on one tank of fuel ever for Gladiator.”

I point these things out — NVH and DEF — because, for me, they are the biggest complaints with modern diesel engines.

You pay a premium at the dealer for a diesel engine. Then, in some areas, diesel is more expensive than gas, so you pay more throughout the life of the rig. Fuel economy isn’t that much higher with these engines than new, direct-injected gasoline engines. Then, when it comes to daily usage, a diesel is less pleasant than a comparable gas engine because of the natural uncouthness of diesel power plants.

Finally, you have to put up with more frequent — and more expensive — maintenance. Let’s not forget the annoyance of filling up the DEF tank and the virtual impossibility of finding low-sulfur diesel outside the U.S.

Those gripes aside, this should be a really cool rig for the right individual — so long as they go into diesel ownership eyes wide open. Despite all its drawbacks, you can’t be mad at 442 foot-pounds of torque.


Header image credit: Jeep

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Photo by Brett Willhelm

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