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Jeep’s Diesel Wrangler is a Surprisingly Stingy Road Tripper

Somewhat fitting, I suppose, that the first stop on my eastward jaunt in the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara EcoDiesel should be Primitive Designs in Port Hope. Fitting, in that the much-loved Wrangler is indeed a primitive design, not straying all that far from the original Willys “Jeep” of the 1940s. And could it be a coincidence that, as I pull into the parking lot of this phantasmagorical wonderland of sculpture, crafts, clothing, and some really bizarre stuff from far-away places, I end up right in front of a giant three-headed dragon sculpture?

You see, both the Jeep and the dragon are made entirely of car parts, and both are expensive. This loaded Wrangler tester with the EcoDiesel powerplant comes in at $70,490 before freight and taxes, and I’m guessing the dragon hovers around there too. Which begs the question, which is the better value?

Nonetheless, the green credentials go to the Jeep. Its turbocharged 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6, scrubbed clean with diesel exhaust fluid, showed an impressive 7.7 L/100 kilometres for this highway portion of the drive — not bad for a 2,206-kilogram truck with the aerodynamics of a tool shed.  The less fuel burned, the less CO2 emitted, and that’s inarguable logic. Conversely, fire-breathing dragons spew gawd-knows-what into the atmosphere once they get going. And as a bonus, the Jeep’s surprising fleetness, thanks to a tsunami-like 442 pound-feet of torque from 1,400 rpm, would have the dragon raising an eyebrow. Or three.

Primitive Designs is owned and run by Ron Dacey and his partner, Rhonda Cook. Ron is a youthful-looking 69 years old, sporting long blond surfer-dude hair and the vibe of someone who has indeed spent the past 50 years or so of his life scouring the far reaches of the globe, building up relationships with artists, communities, and suppliers.

You could spend hours in this place, exploring every nook and cranny of the labyrinthine main building and outlying tents. There’s something for all tastes and budgets; I loaded up on fun little stocking stuffers. Conversely, big corporations (Disney, for one) come to Primitive Designs for those amazing metallic sculptures. Ron comes up with the designs, then sends the blueprints to one of a select few artisans — the dragon was made in a village in Vietnam — where these renderings come to life via thousands of car parts, including body panels, pistons, gears, bolts, clutches, headlights you name it.

As much as I would like to have wiled away the whole day there, I fired up the Jeep again and headed east. Next stop was the famed Big Apple just off highway 401 near Coburg. Yes, it’s a corny old thing, but this roadside attraction has been luring weary travelers off the Trans Canada Highway since 1987, tempting them with home baked goods and a chance to get a closer look at the big apple-shaped structure — the “largest in the world,” apparently. Back on the 401, I head east and then take Highway 40 south to Sandbanks Provincial Park.

I’m loving this Jeep with the optional diesel engine, despite the eye-watering price. The Wrangler Unlimited Sahara starts at $48,095 for 2021, but checking the EcoDiesel option box adds $7,395 to the bottom line. Along with the torque monster of an engine, it also adds a Dana M210 front axle, a 3.73 rear axle ratio, a Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential, and a non-locking fuel cap — the latter must be some kind of off-roady thing I don’t know about. This EcoDiesel Jeep weighs 178 kilograms more than the gasoline V6 version and its suspension is firmed a bit to compensate, but the “let’s get down to business” gravely-ness of the turbodiesel and its accompanying grunt perfectly suit the Sahara’s personality. It feels even tougher, and if you think the regular Wrangler effectively flips the bird at the mainstream, this oil-burner does double duty. It’s gloriously subversive.

I never thought I’d say a Wrangler makes for a decent long distance cruiser, but as equipped with comfy heated and ventilated leather front seats, a heated steering wheel, and all the gee-whiz connectivity and safety tech you could hope for, it’s actually quite civilized. It tracks well and passing power is immediate and impressive. Granted, at speed the cabin is a riot of wind and road noise — it’s a Jeep thing — but the engine is remarkably subdued when you’re not on the throttle.

Hitting the winding roads that wend through Prince Edward County, I’m seeing many signs for local wineries, plus all kinds of interesting craft and antique joints. The winner of the best-name-for-an-antique-store contest goes to Dead People’s Stuff in Bloomfield but due to Ontario’s pandemic-related restrictions, I couldn’t explore their eclectic wares.

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