The new Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid is the brand’s biggest step into the realm of electrified driving, offering up to 21 miles of electric range per charge. No, a big battery hasn’t magically transformed the Jeep into an eco-friendly car powered by a breath; the improvements aren’t even that great when you look at the numbers. But electrification didn’t cost the 4xe apparently any of the off-road capability or performance we’ve come to expect from the Wrangler and its Trail Rated badge. If nothing else, it’s better than ever.
Electric blue tow hooks at the front and rear visually differentiate the 4xe from more conventional Wranglers, perhaps more than the slim charging port mounted high on the driver’s front fender. The blue theme also extends to the Trail Rated badges and other graphics on the boxy body. To the casual observer, the 4xe doesn’t look much different, especially when immersed in a healthy layer of mud. But of course there are bigger changes hidden beneath the surface.
2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe speaks softly, carries large battery
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The 4xe is powered by Jeep’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine, aided by a small starter / generator. It is similar in design and function to the, although this works at 400 volts instead of 48.
Sandwiched between the gasoline engine and the standard eight-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the torque converter, is the larger main electric motor. A pair of clutches tie it to the gearbox and petrol powertrain, allowing the combustion engine to be completely decoupled from the wheels for fully electric driving. Downstream, you’ll find the same all-wheel drive system, two-speed transfer box and locking differentials as the non-hybrid Wrangler, with a 2.72: 1 final drive axle for the basic 4xe Sahara or 4.0: 1 for the more 4xe Rubicon off-roader .
All together, you’re looking at very generous 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. Theit has the same maximum torque and more power, but the precise control and instant torque of the electric motor combined with the 4×4 system’s low-speed scanning hardware make the 4xe the Wrangler more capable on extremely technical terrain, according to Jeep.
There are three E Selec modes that allow the driver to choose how to use the 17 kilowatt-hour battery juice. Electric mode uses the battery only for up to 21 miles of mostly quiet driving at a speed of 49 mpge estimated by the EPA. The default hybrid mode blends with gasoline power once the battery is depleted, while eSave prioritizes the combustion engine to preserve or generate charge for the battery, which is useful for saving some EV range at low speed for the end of a motorway section. The EPA reckons your economy will drop to around 20mpg once the battery is low, which is surprisingly 2mpg worse than the non-hybrid Wrangler with the same engine. Driven by the initial electric range, I finished a day of testing at 24 mpg combined.
There is also a Max Regen setting that can be applied to all three modes. It’s close to a driving mode with a pedal, providing a full 0.25G of regenerative braking in lift, but still drives at very low speeds. Jeep’s engineers did a good job fine-tuning the feel of this mode; the amount of regeneration or engine brake seems constant regardless of the battery status and / or the E Selec mode chosen.
Most of my testing involved keeping Max Regen mode and to give the 4xe the best shot to reach its rated range, the 4×4 system is best used with the 2-High rear wheel drive setting. That way, I was able to put 23.8 miles of mostly silent city driving behind me before the gas engine fired, which is slightly above Jeep’s estimate. There’s still quite a bit of road, wind, and occasionally transmission noise and my example rolls on the standard 20-inch road-friendly wheels with all-season tires. Expect less reach from the Rubicon’s 33 inch high knobs and shorter final drive e significantly less at highway speeds. Hybrid or not, the Wrangler still has the aerodynamic profile of a brick palette and overall efficiency tanks above 50-60 mph.
Connect to a 240-volt level 2 charging station, such as the– suck the battery of the Wrangler in about 2.5 hours. In a normal 110-volt household wall socket, which extends to just over 12 hours from flat.
Of course, the most important thing about the 4xe is that it is still a Wrangler; it has yet to provide, everywhere, the ability to name commands. To test it, I switched to a more rugged Rubicon model with its 33-inch tires, dropped into 4-Low, locked the differentials, and turned on the all-electric mode to tackle an off-road course.
The journey began by fording 30 inches deep water without electrocuting anyone involved. The entire high-voltage electrical system is sealed and waterproof, and the battery pack is effectively hidden in the cabin, under the rear seats, where it is air-conditioned and protected from bumps, punctures and scratches.
With its impressive 77.2: 1 scan ratio and drops of electric torque on tap, the Rubicon 4xe made it easy to work some pretty challenging climbs on solid, smooth rock faces. And while the 4xe’s PHEV hardware adds quite a bit of weight to the Wrangler’s package – around 770lbs more than a comparably equipped Rubicon V6 – the battery position actually improves weight distribution, moving quite close to a division. 50:50 depending on the set-up and lowering the center of mass slightly, for a more planted feeling even at severe angles. Creep was made easier with the latest generation Selec-Speed Control that smooths hill climbs and descents, but the throttle was remarkably sensitive and easy to modulate even without it.
Perhaps the funniest and weirdest part of the 4xe off-road experience was how utterly and eerily quiet the powertrain was even when lifting off the mud and on ridiculously steep climbs. As much as I love the sound of a powerful ICE, hearing the rubbing of the tires on the ground added an unexpected dimension to the crawling experience and I particularly enjoyed being able to hear my watchers’ commands and the nature surrounding the trail more easily. Of course, that meant the occasional knocks or scratches from the undercarriage when exploring the 4xe’s 10.8-inch ground clearance and 22.5-degree turning angle limits were also much more pronounced.
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe starts at $ 49,490 for the Sahara base, including a $ 1,495 destination tax. That’s about $ 8,825 more than a similar spec Sahara V6, but up to $ 7,500 in plug-in tax rebates and any state-specific incentives should ease the sticker shock. The most robust and feature-rich High Altitude Rubicon modes I have tested start at $ 53,190 or $ 55,074, respectively.
The Jeep Wrangler 4xe is just an OK plug-in hybrid. Its range and fuel economy are rather weak but, with frequent refills and shorter journeys, there is still a lot of potential to bend the rules of “your mileage can vary” to your advantage. However, the 4xe is truly the most capable, technically advanced and environmentally friendly Wrangler ever and its ability to tackle the great outdoors quietly and confidently with a nod to environmental responsibility is currently unmatched. At least, until.