Diesel Explorer: Choosing a chassis

July 23, 2013 | 4 Minute Read

Having settled in on the Cummins B3.3 for an engine, the next step was to choose a vehicle to put it in. I had some rough requirements in mind:

  • Seating capacity: At least 4 people
  • Air conditioning and decent acoustics/sound system
  • 4-wheel drive

Since the original inspiration for the project was a Cummins B3.3 in a Jeep Wrangler (YJ), that was an obvious candidate, but I also had an affinity for and experience with Ford body styles and interiors. The decision came down to two potential chassis: Wrangler vs. Explorer. Both satisfied the basic requirement above, but there were some more criteria to consider—fitment, noise and comfort, emissions, initial cost, and fuel economy.


An obvious requirement was that the engine fit inside the vehicle’s engine bay. This contest goes to the Wrangler. The engine bay is huge, and the hood opens very wide. With the Explorer, a body lift would most likely be necessary.

Winner: Wrangler

Noise/acoustics and overall comfort

The fun and excitement of the Jeep’s removable top comes along with a noisy ride, and poor acoustics. For me, the Explorer’s acoustics and comfort were worth the somewhat less hip styling. Electric windows and locks were icing on the cake.

Winner: Explorer

Initial cost

On the used market, Wranglers fetch about 2–3 times the amount Explorers do. Spending less on a chassis would save more for the engine, giving the Explorer the edge.

Winner: Explorer


Since this vehicle would likely throw many error codes with an OBD-II computer, it was important to find a vehicle that was OBD-I. The TJ body style is not available in the OBD-I years, while the 2nd generation Explorer body style was just introduced in 1995, barely making the cutoff. The Explorer body style and interior both beat the YJ, as discussed above, so the Explorer gets the nod here.

Winner: Explorer

Fuel economy

The most important metric—and the main goal of the project—was to achieve high fuel efficiency. Thus, this metric would likely decide the contest. Properties for the two vehicles are tabulated below. On one hand, the Wrangler is lighter than the Explorer, requiring less energy to get up to speed. However, the Wrangler is also less aerodynamic, consuming more energy while cruising. To compare the two, a typical driving scheme was devised, for which rough estimates for fuel consumption were calculated. This driving scheme included

  1. Accelerating 0–40 mph in 10 seconds
  2. Cruising at 40 mph for 5 miles
  Explorer Wrangler
Mass (kg) 1806 [1] 1331 [2]
Drag coefficient 0.43 [3] 0.55 [3]
Frontal area ($\text{m}^2 $) 2.3 2.3

Calculating fuel consumption during cruising

This was the easy part. Neglecting friction in the tires and drivetrain—which would be more or less equivalent between both vehicles—energy consumption during cruising can be estimated by integrating the drag force over the distance traveled.

Drag force is estimated using the formula

where $ \rho $ is the density of air, $ A_f $ is the vehicle’s frontal area (approximately equal for both Explorer and Wrangler), $ C_D $ is the vehicle’s drag coefficient, and $ V $ is the cruising speed. Since speed is constant, the integration simplifies to multiplication, giving (in Nm)

Calculating fuel consumption during acceleration

Calculating the energy required during acceleration included consideration of both drag and inertial forces. Since drag is not constant during acceleration, we will use a more general method and integrate the varying power over the acceleration time, which is simply the force multiplied by velocity, or

Integrating the constant acceleration gives the vehicle speed as a function of time, i.e.,

Boiling this all down and substituting all but the variables that differ between the vehicles, we obtain

The table below summarizes the results for both vehicles. As you can see, these estimates show the Explorer consuming 16% less energy than the Wrangler, making it a better choice with regards to fuel economy.

  Explorer Wrangler
Energy consumed during cruising (Nm) $ 1.53 \times 10^6 $ $ 1.95 \times 10^6 $
Energy consumed during acceleration (Nm) $ 2.98 \times 10^5 $ $ 2.24 \times 10^5 $
Total energy consumed (Nm) $ 1.83 \times 10^6 $ $ 2.17 \times 10^6 $

Winner: Explorer


Obviously, since this post is in a series about a diesel Explorer, you can guess which chassis won out in the end. The Wrangler is a cool design for sure, but the Explorer’s acoustics, comfort, and most importantly aerodynamics made it my choice.