We were about 90 minutes from home on Friday when my wife finally noticed.
“You never stopped for gas. At least I don’t remember you stopping for gas. Did you?” she asked, about 500 miles into a 618-mile round trip to Chicago last week for a family vacation.
I hadn’t, by the way. I had topped off the 24.6-gallon tank of the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel the night before we left. And on the return trip home four days later, I was watching the remaining range indicator like a hawk and doing math in my head to make sure I was going to get home while still on the original tank of diesel fuel.
It was going to be close, but it wasn’t the Jeep’s fault.
On the way to Chicago, there had been an overly lengthy delay at idle waiting for my wife to emerge from an errand -- I know; I should have shut down the engine and opened the windows, but it was sweltering, and the teenagers in the back seat were demanding air conditioning.
When we did get on the road toward the Windy City, our progress -- and greater fuel economy -- was again impeded by a series of massive traffic jams on the Indiana Toll Road east of South Bend.
Few things are more wasteful and infuriating than crawling for miles in bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic, and traveling anywhere around Chicago at almost any time of day means doing exactly that. That happened, too -- repeatedly, over the course of our visit, and again on the way home.
Thanks to some really reprehensible actions on the part of Volkswagen, diesel’s reputation has taken a direct hit to the kisser over the last year. It also hasn’t helped diesel’s case that fuel prices have remained low, extending the return on investment for the steep diesel engine upcharge from automakers that have such vehicles on offer.
Yet, despite these setbacks, modern diesel engines such as Fiat Chrysler’s 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 still deserve a seat at the main table of automakers’ fuel economy strategies. And the experience with the Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel last week proves that again.
Despite a robust and rugged full-time 4x4 system, a curb weight (almost 5,400 pounds) that makes me look svelte, a full load of cargo, four passengers and fuel and the aforementioned traffic snarls, the loaded EcoDiesel finished the trip above 25 mpg.
When I arrived home, I still had miles left on the remaining range -- albeit dwindled down to a number in the teens.
Of course, I realize that the fact that I didn’t have to fill up has much to do with the massive 24.6-gallon size of the Grand Cherokee’s fuel tank. It goes without saying that filling that bad boy up at $4 or $5 a gallon would be a lot less palatable than it was at $2.12 a gallon (thanks, Ohio gas prices).
Still, real-world diesel fuel economy reports from consumers generally tend to outperform their fuel economy ratings from the EPA. And the only range anxiety I experienced during that trip was self-inflicted. It was whether I was going to be stubborn enough to try and make it all the way home, or whether I’d defer to the better angels of not getting my wife and kids stuck on the side of the highway while I went walking to the nearest service station.
When this VW imbroglio passes into history, and it will, diesel will need some advocates to champion its effectiveness as a power choice.
And after last week, I think I’ll be one of them.