Automobile

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Is Everything You Want In A Jeep But With 21 Miles Of Extra Electric Range

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

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When a vehicle starts up in all-electric mode, I still find myself surprised. Where you’ll usually find a little rumble and the throaty sound of an engine kicking to life, you now have a totally silent experience that keeps me double-checking to make sure the car is still on. And it’s extra unsettling when that silence is coming from a Jeep Wrangler.

Yes, I had the chance to test drive the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, and I’m here to tell you all about it.

(Full disclosure: Jeep invited me out for a little Austin, Texas jaunt behind the wheel of the Wrangler 4xe, with my story to be posted on A Girls Guide to Cars. They fed and housed me for two days, and they were kind enough to let me share my Jeep thoughts here on Jalopnik as well.)

What The Hell Is The Jeep Wrangler 4xe?

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

If you haven’t been paying attention, Jeep’s 4xe (pronounced four-by-e) is its new plug-in hybrid platform. In its most distilled essence, that means that this vehicle runs on both gasoline and battery power, and it can do so in different ways: all gas, all battery, or a gas-battery blend. It’s Jeep’s first baby step toward the future, which critics are increasingly saying will be electric.

And no, the “4xe” moniker is not exclusive to the Wrangler. Jeep execs noted a few times during our press drive that the goal is to transform other Jeep favorites into PHEVs using this same style of technology.

Let’s Talk Specs

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

We tested the Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon Unlimited, so those will be the specs I’m using for comparison, but when it comes to the very basics, there’s little difference between the Rubicon, the Sahara, and the Sahara High Altitude.

  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbo inline-four plug-in hybrid
  • Transmission: 8-speed
  • Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive
  • Fuel tank capacity: 17.2 gallons
  • Battery: 17 kWh, 400-volt lithium-ion battery
  • Electric range: 21 miles
  • Full range: 370 miles
  • MPG equivalent: 49 mpge
  • MPG (gas-only): 30 mpg
  • Horsepower: 270 hp
  • Torque: 290 lb-ft
  • Towing Capacity: 3,500 lbs
  • Charge time: 12 hours for a Level 1 (110/120V) charger, 2.5 hours for a Level 2 (220/240V) charger
  • Wheelbase: 118.4 inches
  • Ground clearance: 10.8 inches
  • Off-road angles: 43.8° approach, 22.5° breakover, 35.6° departure
  • Crawl ratio: 77.2:1
  • 0-60: 4.5 seconds
  • Price: starts at $47,995. $51,695 for Rubicon model. Eligible for $7,500 tax credit

If you want to compare the 4xe to the base-model Wrangler, it comes with a $20,000 higher price tag, a slightly smaller engine, a fractionally smaller fuel tank, and more towing capacity. That extra money is there for the extra tech required to install and power the battery.

The biggest differences compared to the traditional Wrangler? The 4xe is about 770 pounds heavier due to the battery, but the battery’s position actually lowers the center of mass and shifts the weight distribution to a near-perfect 50:50.

Otherwise, the Wrangler 4xe I drove had the usual list of specs you know and love: Dana 44 axles, a 4:1 low-range gear ratio, electronic front- and rear-axle lockers, an electronically-disconnecting sway bar, and 17-inch wheels outfitted with 33-inch off-road tires. The goods.

Can It Offroad?

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

It wouldn’t be a Jeep test drive if I didn’t get a chance to put it to the test on an off-road route, so I can soundly say: it can definitely off-road.

We didn’t get a chance for a massive day of off-roading; rather, we were able to take the Wrangler 4xe out on a one-mile loop at Inks Ranch near Llano, Texas as many times as we liked. That little loop had just about everything you could ask for. We forded 30 inches of water, attacked a 35-degree uphill angle, and descended a 40-degree hill. A little bit of everything for a whole lot of fun.

And it’s capable. I do not have a massive off-roading experience (I have but one long day in Las Vegas to my name, fittingly behind the wheel of an older Jeep Wrangler), but I tried to source the thoughts of the other journalists on the press trip who did have more experience. The consensus was the same: The Jeep Wrangler 4xe is everything you’d expect from a Jeep Wrangler, with the added benefit of a silent ride.

That silent ride is the selling feature for this PHEV. Yes, I’ll admit that there’s something soul-soothing in the rumble of a combustion engine, but you’re not going to want to miss the off-road silence. Suddenly, you can hear everything: the water sloshing against the body of your vehicle, the screech of the damp tires as they search for purchase on dry rock, the godforsaken scrape of your undercarriage against a rock. I could hear every word of guidance from my Jeep Jamboree spotters without having to raise my voice, and I actually felt like I was part of the natural world instead of a big intrusive invader.

It was seriously cool. On my single previous off-roading adventure, there were several instances where our oncoming vehicles scared away local wildlife before I had a chance to spot them. And I kind of hate that. I love the outdoors, but I’ve generally tried to avoid bringing loud machines into more natural spaces because I don’t want to be intrusive. But behind the wheel of the 4xe, I actually felt like I was part of things, as cheesy as it sounds. You’re still going to make noise and scare some wildlife, even if you’re off-roading in electric mode, but your grumbling engine isn’t going to piss off a deer three miles away.

The biggest thing to get used to was the instant torque provided by the electric motor, which felt especially pronounced after driving my sluggish Suburban to the press event. The accelerator is sensitive; when you push it, it’s immediately going to go. On a longer off-road trail, I know I’d have overcome it quickly, but with our shorter route, it never quite felt like I got the hang of speed modulation. I was thankful for Selec-Speed Control, which lets you modulate your speed with the manual shifter settings as opposed to the throttle pedal. I’ll increase or decrease speed by increments of 0.6 mph, depending on which of the +/- options you select.

How Has The Technology Changed?

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

When you look at the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, you’re going to see a Jeep. On the exterior, the most discernible change are the electric-blue accents that let you know you’re driving something that contains some electric power. The biggest alterations are the ones you can’t see: the dual electric motors.

Between the conventional gas engine and eight-speed transmission is the larger, electric drive motor, which replaces the torque converter. The other motor takes the place of the alternator on the engine, which serves a similar function to the eTorque motor, albeit with 400 volts instead of 48. And, since this is a PHEV, you can use the electric motor all on its own, which means there are several different driving modes you can choose from:

  • Hybrid: This is the Jeep Wrangler 4xe’s default mode; it blends power from the 2.0-liter engine and the electric motor, using battery power first before swapping to the gas engine when it runs out of charge.
  • Electric: As you can imagine, this is the mode that runs entirely off the battery. When you run out of battery, you swap to the gas engine.
  • eSave: This mode uses the gas engine entirely, saving the battery power for later. So, if you have a long drive before you hit the trail and the trail is where you want to run on fully electric power, you’ll want to select eSave mode.

The swap from electric to gas engine is, surprisingly, not as jarring as I expected. You might feel a little rumble under your butt, but you’re more likely to suddenly wonder where all that extra noise comes from. It’s pretty seamless.

There’s also a Max Regen setting that you can (and should) use during all three modes. This is kinda-sorta one-pedal driving, except you do have to depress the brakes to get the car to come to a full stop. Basically, in this mode, when you lift off the accelerator, you achieve 0.25 Gs of regenerative braking—which means more power is channeled into your battery. Jeep chose a city route for us to explore in electric mode, and with the help of Max Regen, I was able to clock in just over 23 miles before swapping over to gas power, which is slightly more than the EPA’s estimate. Hit the highway, though, and you’ll watch that power slip away more drastically.

But I think one of my favorite features on the Jeep Wrangler 4xe was the scheduled charging option. Basically, you can toggle some settings in the Uconnect dashboard and set a specific time that your battery will charge. So, if you want to take advantage of off-peak rates, you can set the battery up to do that. Then, you just plug your Wrangler 4xe in right when you get home, but it won’t start charging until the clock strikes your designated hour.

What’s Great

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The Jeep Wrangler 4xe is a Jeep. We can make a big to-do about the electric power, but at the end of the day, this is still going to be the seven-slat grilled machine we’ve known and loved for about eight decades. This one just runs silently for a while and needs to be plugged in when you get home. That’s it.

That is to say, the only surprises you’ll find on this Jeep are good ones.

What’s Weak

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The main concern with the Jeep Wrangler 4xe is the range. While it isn’t the smallest EV range available on the market right now, 21 miles falls somewhere in the lower-mid tier range of what other manufacturers provide, and it comes in at less than the average range of 25 miles.

17-25 miles per charge seems to be about the sweet spot for PHEVs, but with its 17 kWh battery, the 4xe is creating a lot less range with a battery larger than its direct competitors. Other electric models, like the BMW X5 xDrive 40e and the Honda Clarity PHEV, both have 17 kWh batteries and are able to provide 31 and 47 miles of range, respectively. And while the Jeep is a heavier vehicle made for heavier-duty work, it’s still a little frustrating to have such a small range. Especially when you’ll have the most fun with the electric power off the road, where it’s far more difficult to source a nearby charger.

That’s sure to change with time, as we develop more efficient batteries and figure out how to use that power best. But for right now, there’s still room for improvement.

What’s Undetermined

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Jeep says that it put the drivetrain through 3.2 million miles of testing before the Jeep Wrangler 4xe was introduced to the public, but we still don’t know much about long-term wear. Off-road vehicles can take a beating, and while Jeep has designed the undercarriage skid plates to take the brunt of the damage, we won’t know how well the electric technology fares until folks have put these machines to the test for a few years.

That also raises questions about customizability, which is one of the most enjoyable parts about owning a Jeep. You’re able to get a soft-top option and remove all four doors on the 4xe, but with the dual electric motors, it’s unclear how much other tinkering you’ll be able to do with the mechanical bits without needing to outsource some help.

Conclusion

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The inclusion of an electric battery doesn’t transform the Jeep Wrangler 4xe into a magical eco-friendly beast that’s going to single-handedly save the planet—and that’s okay, because what you’re getting is one hell of a fun Jeep that does all the Jeep stuff you could ever ask for, with the added benefit of the chance to enjoy your first near-silent off-roading experience. It’s fun, and that’s all you need.

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