A clear indication that things in the automotive industry have taken a serious path to electrification is when Jeep brings us a plug-in-hybrid version of their Wrangler, the 4xe, which I had a chance to check out this week.
The new Jeep Wrangler 4xe is an interesting vehicle, the very first plug-in hybrid that is among the most capable off-roading vehicles around. Having an innovative off-roading vehicle in the new Jeep Wrangler makes for an interesting formula, one that proves that part of the forthcoming electrification of vehicles will be welcomed in the arms of those who take the beaten path and go where only a few vehicles dare.
Taking the formula of the current Jeep Wrangler and somewhat modifying its drivetrain but retaining all its off-road-conquering bits makes for a welcomed combination. What powers the new Wrangler 4xe is the collective of a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, and an electric motor with 134 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. Together, before sending the power through an 8-speed automatic transmission out to the rear wheels or all four, the system outputs a combined 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque making it the second most powerful Wrangler you can buy. That power gets the Wrangler up to 60 mph in about 6.7 seconds.
There’s something to be said about the amble torque of the Wrangler Unlimited 4xe as it scoots the Jeep along well despite its hefty weight that tips the scale at 5,322. The weight factor is most of the Wrangler Unlimited 4xe’s downfall even though it still retains all the rugged off-roading equipment that you want in the Rubicon trim. If you take note, the Wrangler Unlimited 4xe’s weight is about 1,100 pounds more than a base model Unlimited Sport and 200 pounds more than the V8-powered Unlimited Rubicon 392. However, the 4xe is the most technologically advanced Jeep Wrangler ever, and if you play your cards right and plug it in to charge its 17.3-kWh battery pack that’s nestled under the rear seats, you can get up to 21 miles of electric range or take full advantage of its nearly seamless hybrid system.
There’s a lot to digest with the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe plug-in hybrid Jeep. It functions as you would expect any other new plug-in hybrid but does it with off-roading prowess that no other plug-in hybrid has. That off-roading ability is fundamentally shared in the V6-powered Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon as is in the 392 V8. They can all go where only a handful of vehicles would dare thanks to the highlights of a front anti-roll bar disconnect, differential locks galore, and the welcomed 2-high, 4-high auto, 4-high part-time, and 4-low modes. The interesting part of the transfer case modes is that they all appear to utilize the hybrid drive mode instead of full-electric or the clever E-SAVE mode that either retains the current battery charge state or attempts to charge it up as you drive from its regenerative braking and keeping the engine running at all times. You must select the full-electric mode when you choose to crawl around off-road terrain using just the electric motor, where you will hear a faint “electrified” humming sound purposely emitted from the Jeep to warn pedestrians of your approach when you’re cruising at low speeds.
The hybrid system is smooth and when left in the default hybrid mode, one of three defined drive modes for the plug-in hybrid system, the computer sorts out a balance in using the remaining charge of the battery and engine power. While the system will deplete the battery first in hybrid mode, you can opt to save the charge in E-SAVE or exclusively remain in full electric mode while still having enough power to get up to interstate speeds and retain such a speed. Though, don’t expect to get the full 21 miles of EV range when traveling highway speeds as the 5,300 pounds of curb weight and poor aerodynamics will help run that battery charge down quickly leaving you with about 14 miles of range as I experienced on the highway. However, you can get up to 370 miles of range with a full tank of gas and a fully charged battery. Charging up the battery will take just over 12 hours on a standard 110V/120V wall outlet and just over 2 hours using a 220V or Level 2 charger.
You can expect to get about 20 MPG, its EPA-estimate, when using the hybrid system without a charged battery and 49 MPGe using a fully charged battery and the hybrid drive mode. The hybrid system retains a separate charge for its hybrid duties generated from the engine and regenerative braking, which has somewhat of a stiff brake pedal at times but mostly feels natural for a transition from the regenerative braking to the friction brakes. There’s also a clever feature to enable maximum regenerative braking almost enabling you to drive with just gas pedal as it produces quite a bit of deceleration without the application of the brakes when enabled.
Jeep’s quest to offer buyers a wide range of powertrains has been accomplished by adding the 4xe to the formula, which can be had on a variety of Wrangler configurations. Those who opt for the 4xe Wrangler must go in it with a conscious notion that they must plug in the Jeep to get the best results or they are left with something that’s no better than any other powertrain setup in terms of fuel economy. Also, the added benefit of the instant torque to “crawl” through obstacles is something enthusiast will enjoy about the Wrangler 4xe.
Pricing for the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe, which is at the higher end of the trim spectrum, tests for $61,690 as you see here, which includes a decent list of option packages, including an Advanced Safety Group, Leather-trimmed Seats, Cold Weather Group, Safety Group, and Trailer Tow & Heavy-Duty Electrical Group packages.