Readers of my reviews will know that I’m a fan of the Jeep Wrangler. Although I’m one to be enticed by the latest technological advances in cars, there’s just something old school, iconic and appealing about the Jeep Wrangler that appeals to me. Throw in whatever adjectives you’d like but it’s just cool!
When Jeep announced the new plug-in hybrid version of its Wrangler, the 4xe (pronounced four-by-E), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one to give it a go. Now it’s here and it’s quirkier, different, and better than I expected.
A little background first though. The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is just the first of the models that is leading Jeep’s charge to be “the world’s most sustainable SUV company”. Plug-in hybrid versions of their core models will be eventually joined by fully electric models. Indeed, we already know that a 4xe version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee is on its way, for example.
Jeep’s bosses say that the company is fully ready to embrace electrification and that it’s just one of the many things needed to make Jeep into a modern, contemporary brand that will break through and sustain in the future.
Tell me about the tech and the specs
There’s no doubt that this latest generation of Wrangler, first introduced for the 2020 model year, is a huge improvement compared to the prior generation Wrangler.
The essential Wrangler hallmarks remain true to the off-roading icon’s heritage, such as the body-on-frame design, and solid axles, but yet the Jeep has also been equipped with all of the latest modern conveniences.
Powering this new Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid is the 270 horsepower 295 lb-ft of torque 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine combined with two electric motors for propulsion.
There is a 134 horsepower 181 lb-ft electric motor and a pair of clutches where a torque converter would normally be, in addition to a beefed-up electric start/generator good for another 44 horsepower and 39 lb-ft of torque. Total combined system output is 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, almost the best in Jeep Wrangler range. But the 4xe also weighs between 500-700 pounds more than the equivalent four-cylinder engine Wrangler.
These hybrid specs are seemingly oxymorons, or at least very foreign to the likes of typical Jeep Wrangler owners who obsess over other numbers such as ground clearance and breakover angles. But we are at an interesting tipping point in automotive history as most auto manufacturers are set to phase out internal combustion engines completely within the next decade.
Cleverly, the Wrangler 4xe’s battery pack is mounted under the rear seat so it is protected from the elements but yet won’t take up any of the inside space. With comprehensive weatherproofing around all of the electrical bits and bobs, the Wrangler 4xe can wade as deep as a typical Wrangler model, up to 30 inches. Battery cooling is done using the Wrangler’s existing air conditioning refrigerant.
The 400-volt 17kWh lithium-ion, nickel manganese cobalt battery pack recuperates energy from a belt-integrated start/generator under deceleration as well as from a conventional charging port located high up on the front left fender.
Styling across the Wrangler 4xe line-up is nearly identical to that of the standard Wranglers, but blue tow hooks, badging and interior elements mark it out as the hybrid model.
Like the non-hybrid Wrangler, the 4xe Rubicon test vehicle I had was equipped with four-wheel-drive, with power being sent from the combustion engine through the excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Unlike the non-electrified Jeep Wrangler, the plug-in hybrid model offers a full-time 4WD High Range mode which can be used on dry pavement, giving the Wrangler 4xe all-year round stability and traction without needing to even touch the transfer case lever (should one desire).
What is it like to drive?
In short, driving the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe weirdly wonderful, especially if you’re a “normal” Wrangler owner.
Jeep’s seamless integration of electric power into the Wrangler’s robust four wheel drive drivetrain gives you all of the benefits with little of the downsides. There is instant torque in electric mode on-road and off. While it might not be obvious to the uninitiated, this instant torque allows for a more precise and controlled driving experience when climbing or crawling over obstacles.
Despite being the heaviest Wrangler in the range, you wouldn’t know it at all when pressing the pedal to the metal. The initial wave of torque is intoxicating and the rear tires squeal easily if left in two-wheel-drive mode. 0 to 100 km/hr sprints, in full-time four-wheel-drive mode, can be done in just about six seconds.
Until you experience full EV Driving first hand, there’s nothing that can compare to the pure silence of not having a gas motor. Yet, with the Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon, you can hear the great outdoors, for good or bad, whether you’re in traffic or off-roading alongside nature deep in the forest.
Three 4xe trim levels are available. Entry-level 4xe and mid-range Sahara trims are equipped with full-time four-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer case and heavy-duty Dana 44 axles.
My top-of-the range Rubicon model included upgraded Rock-Track 4×4 system, axle lockers, improved articulation, and a front sway bar disconnect for improved suspension travel. All of this heavy-duty hardware does mean that the ride is a bit stiff and jiggly and there’s lots of wind noise at highway speeds, regardless of roof choice.
My test vehicle was also equipped with the optional Sky One-Touch Power Roof. This (rather pricey) option makes it even easier to experience the outdoors with just a push of a button. The only downside is significantly more wind noise at highway speeds due to the retractable canvas top versus the removable hard freedom top.
How do the different modes work?
Assuming you’re able to plug-in often, you can literally drive the Wrangler on pure electric power for as long as you have juice. Like other plug-in hybrids, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe combines the most useful elements of electric and gas vehicles, offering engine-off motoring for most short distance jaunts. Yet, readily available gasoline is at hand as a safety net should one want to venture off the beaten path, or on longer road trips.
Three drive modes are available: Hybrid, which uses the combustion and electric motors in conjunction; Electric, which shuts out the combustion motor until the battery’s charge is depleted; and eSave, which uses the gas engine exclusively. eSave allows you to save the battery’s charge till a latter point in your journey, such as the last half of your journey home, or if you want to motor around in pure EV mode at your destination.
A new ‘Eco Coaching’ display allows drivers to monitor power flow and optimise use of regenerative braking, schedule charge times and view driving history.
A ‘Max Regen’ function can be used to optimise electrical energy generation, using ‘more assertive’ regenerative braking. A max of 0.3g of braking force can be generated when slowing the Wrangler by lifting off the accelerator alone.
The Wrangler 4xe is good for up to a claimed 35 km of full electric-only range, and surprisingly I managed to get closer to 40 km by using the most aggressive regen settings.
Although it may seem like a novel vehicle, I found the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe to be highly usable in day-to-day life. How often do you see Wranglers being daily driven anyhow, having never seen a gravel road let alone a logging road?
With its clever powertrain, its intelligent packaging, and its go-anywhere-park-anywhere good looks, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe has got to be my favourite Jeep-to-date!
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