When Jeep announced an electric Wrangler, and the 4xe (“four-by-E”) badge, heads definitely turned. The off-pavement benefits of electric motors are easy for off-road enthusiasts to understand, but are they obvious when combined with the Jeep Wrangler’s legendary prowess?
At first glance, the numbers for the Wrangler 4xe aren’t particularly impressive. A small 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and just enough electricity and battery to go about 40.2 km on a charge is not the stuff of the rock crawling legend. Turbocharged engines in low-speed, hardcore off-pavement crawling aren’t very popular, and 25 miles doesn’t sound very far. But seen in the context of the Jeep Wrangler and its regular ownership, these start to make a lot more sense.
- Good combination of engine and engines with well-thought-out details
- Level 2 can be charged
- Don’t compromise on legendary Jeep off-road capability
The 2.0L four is relatively new to the Jeep lineup, appearing as an engine option shortly after the current generation debuted with its standard V6. It’s one of five powertrain options now available for the Wrangler, which also includes a diesel and the incredibly powerful 6.4-liter V8 in the 392 model. The plug-in hybrid 4xe is the fifth option, combining the 2.0L turbo and its 270 horsepower (201 kW) with electric motors and batteries for a total of 375 hp (280 kW). More impressive is the amount of torque the plug-in hybrid brings, taking the 2.0 from 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) to 470 lb-ft (637 Nm) – a number matched only by the big 392 and its gobbling up of a V8.
The Wrangler 4xe is available in either the Rubicon off-road models or the Sahara models and the total range available will largely depend on which of the two packages is chosen. The slightly lighter Sahara has closer to 25 miles of range from the 17.3 kWh battery pack (about 15 kWh usable) while the Rubicon will be closer to 20 miles (32.2 km) or so. For serious off-roading, there’s plenty of all-electric range for quiet, battery-powered crawling while the gas engine covers the overlanding and brings the rig to the end of the pavement.
Another reason for that assortment choice? It covers most daily commutes. Since most Wrangler owners daily drive their rig, daily driving to and from the usual locations will be mostly or completely covered by the battery. Which means the terrible fuel economy inherent in a Wrangler is no longer a downer. For us, this was the biggest tell about why the Wrangler 4xe is sui generis. The EPA now rates the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe at 49 MPGe (4.8 L/100 km), more than double the 20 mpg (11.7 L/100 km) rating it gets with just the 2.0 L.
The powertrain in the 4xe consists of a 2.0L engine, two electric motors and the 17.3 kWh battery pack we’ve mentioned. This goes through the standard low-gear transmission and Dana axles that the Rubicon (and Jeep) have always used, so the overall power at the wheels is no different than it is in any other Wrangler Rubicon. Clearance angles, ride height, tires etc. are also identical.
4xe only changes the Rubicon’s powertrain. Which means that the capacity of the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is unchanged compared to the Rubicon with only gas or diesel. If anything, we noted that the battery pack toward the rear of the rig helps balance the often front-heavy four-door model of the Wrangler when crawling and digging. Unlike the diesel and (especially) the 392, the Wrangler 4xe is not front-heavy. Also unlike these and other models of the Wrangler, the 4xe delivers torque quickly (much of it instantly) at low speeds and, if the engine is involved, still has the “built-up” quality that off-roaders are used to when working the throttle. It’s basically the best of both worlds.
Of course, as with all Wranglers, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe has the same downers inherent in the model. Namely, it’s still a tough highway, the seats are high and quite square, and there’s no dead pedal for left-foot stability (hint: there are aftermarket add-ons to solve that last problem).
Any reservations about the electronics in the 4xe quickly disappear when the benefits become clear and one begins to wonder why this hasn’t been a thing until now. It’s a perfect marriage. On the other hand, some of the details show that it wasn’t until recently that much of what makes the plugin option convenient was available. Off pavement, the electronics have several advantages, such as “engine braking” via the motors to add more control on the descents to instant torque. Around town they also have advantages, namely that driving in EV mode is quieter, less polluting and cheaper.
For testing, the author has a 240-volt/50-amp charger that can deliver up to 42 amps of current to a vehicle’s charging socket. Surprisingly, the Wrangler 4xe was one of the few plug-in hybrids tested so far that will accept more than 30 amps of charging. When empty, the 4xe accepted about 32 amps of charge for nearly three hours before dropping to 20 amps and slowly reducing to 0 for a total charge time of about seven hours. During that time, it took a total of 15.05 kWh of power. When charged from a standard 120V/15A household outlet (dedicated circuit), the Wrangler 4xe drew maximum amperage (12) for the entire charge time, taking approximately nine hours to complete. Basically, the first three or so hours of charging will give you about 75 percent of the battery on a fast charger, but the time it takes to charge to full charge doesn’t change as much as you might expect. It is common with plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV).
During our week with the 2021 Wrangler 4xe, we drove around town running errands, school drop-offs, etc. and loved the quiet electronics. If you’re riding longer distances, there’s an option to disable the battery and save it for later, which is perfect for road trips to the off-road destination. If left as default, the Wrangler 4xe will try to use full EV mode as much as possible. Its higher speed range (above 88 km/h) is limited to about 15-18 miles (24-29 km) in total.
To summarize briefly, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is the best of everything. It offers cheap and quiet driving in town, the ability to drive long distances without worrying about where to refuel, and the ability to drive off-road with instant torque and good vehicle balance. We saw no compromises and only gains in the Wrangler 4xe. Well done, Jeep. Nicely done.
Pricing for the Wrangler 4xe starts at $52,520 for the Sahara model and $56,220 for the Rubicon.
Product Page: 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe