Jeep Wrangler: 'eTorque' mild hybrid motor reviewed

(Photo: Nicholas Yekikian)

(Photo: Nicholas Yekikian)

By Nicholas Yekikian

Neatly tucked away in the mountains above Zuma Beach, the grassy, open areas and clean, ocean air surrounding Calamigos Ranch has set the scene for big time weddings, charity events and smaller picnics since it was founded in 1937. It’s a beautiful, rustic scene with all the western American charm of Little House On The Prairie.

Today, however, Calamigos was playing host to a special chance to drive a bevy of Fiat Chrysler’s newest trucks and SUVs. The good people at FCA brought over the new RAM Power Wagon, the 2019 Jeep Renegade and the award-winning 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL.

For the first time in almost two weeks, Los Angeles was experiencing a sunny afternoon – something Angelenos aren’t often short on at the end of May. The new Wrangler glinted in the almost-summer sun, it’s “hellayella” (that’s just really yellow to you and me) paint sticking out from the verdant scene like an orange Giants cap in a sea of Dodger blue; it just didn’t fit in.

The way it looks is no matter though, it’s the engine we’re most interested in here. The Pentastar V6 is a fine powertrain, but it’s been upstaged by Jeep’s all-new, optional 2.0 liter turbo that features a 48 volt mild-hybrid system.

The new four-banger isn’t some down rated motor that was stuck in the JL for the sake of a cheaper time level. In fact Jeeps eTorque engine is a $1,000 optional extra over the standard Pentastar. It makes 270 horsepower and 290 lb-ft, just 15 horses fewer than the ol’ sixer, but 35 more pounds of twist – all while delivering better fuel-economy.

Both motors can be paired to either a six speed manual or an eight-speed automatic. If fuel economy is what you’re after, the auto is the way to go. The old V6 will return 18 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway while the little 2.0 liter with its electric augmentation will do 23 in the city and 25 on the highway. Now that is progress.

We only had the chance to drive the Wrangler with the 4-cylinder on the public road; offroading on the mostly dirt hill climb behind the ranch was reserved for the V6 equipped Gladiators on this particular occasion. Even so, the short wheel base, two door Rubicon model we tested felt a little jumpy on the long, twisted road that leads up from PCH towards Calamigos.

An on center dead spot made placing the car on the narrow mountain lanes difficult, and because the Jeep is both tall and narrow it’s almost as if you’re trying to steer a mining cart – blame the solid axels and short wheelbase.

The best thing about these 48 volt systems is the driver has no clue they’re there. They add the benefits of slightly better gas mileage and more immediate throttle response without taking anything away from the driving experience or the driver.

The two door Wrangler isn’t a light machine at just under two tons, but the turbo-four hustles the body-on-frame truck down the sunny SoCal lanes with ease. Ask for a little more grunt and the transmission executes a speedy downshift and happily gives more. The sound is gravely at low speeds and at high speeds it’s… well it doesn’t matter what it sounds like at high speeds. It’s a Jeep! You shouldn’t be able to hear anything but the wind rushing past your ears as you blast Fleetwood Mac and cruise along PCH with the optional fabric top down.

The new two liter brings vast improvements over the old Pentastar. It’s lighter, more efficient and quicker – especially in certain situations like city driving where low-end torque is a more usable commodity. If you don’t mind shelling out the extra cash, it is easily the powertrain of choice for the JL generation of Wrangler.

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