Today, Stellantis (the company formerly known as Fiat-Chrysler before a merger with Peugeot) sent me something really cool to review: a 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe (pronounced “four of E”), in Rubicon design. Like many readers, I was also skeptical. The vehicle offers only 21 miles of electric range before it becomes a hybrid, and next to even my 2018 Nissan LEAF, it’s pretty pathetic. Having had a rather extreme wheelbase with 4xe, I can already say with certainty that the capacity is worth the trade-off in this case.
In later articles, I plan to go more in depth about the vehicle’s efficiency figures and also get some videos where I address some of the worst challenges that western Texas and southern New Mexico have to offer. Today I took a simpler approach to get acquainted with the vehicle. I used it as an average shopper: electric city driving during the week and a little adventure on the weekend.
First, I used the vehicle to do errands that most people would do. This gave me a good idea of how city driving is solely on electricity. For daily needs, this either covers the needs completely or knocks out enough gas combustion to make the effective MPG really, really high.
Secondly, I took the jeep out on some terrain trails to see how weekend fun it is. Sure, for many trails you have to use a little gas to get to the track head, but once you are there you can choose how you want to drive your track experience. At full electric (in 4-Low as needed) I did not come across anything that the Jeep could not deal with on electric power alone.
The commuter and food experience
I already had a pretty busy day planned, so I was ready to start running errands in the Wrangler as soon as Jeep left it. My camera equipment went in for some pictures I took, some Amazon returns and two children to try on clothes. I went in again to get my water bottle and found my wife in the driver’s seat when I got out again. I turn out that she had always wanted a jeep and never bought one, and there was no way I was going to pry her out of the seat.
It turns out that her dad’s fears when she was younger (“You’ll roll over that thing!”) Were largely unjustified. Yes, it’s a Jeep and I would not go around trying to drive it, but it’s a 4-door Jeep, which gives it a longer wheelbase, and Jeep’s design has come a long way over the years. On the street, the suspension was surprisingly firm and controllable, with some relatively small brake dives if all it had to show to be a Jeep. Body rolling and other things that cause discomfort on the city streets were all very well controlled. You can not treat it like a sports sedan, but you do not have to drive around and fear that you will end up on the wrong side if someone sees it wrong.
Unlike some PHEVs I have driven, such as the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, it is very difficult to get this Jeep to burn gas in electric mode. Nothing less than a hard mash of the narrow pedal will make the turbo-4 bark to life. With 180 lb-ft of torque that the electric motor can give you, normal driving requires only fairly light pressure. With 2/3 or 3/4 throttle control, you can even get a decent passing force out of it without burning a drop of gas.
If you need more power than the engine can provide, and you mash that pedal on the floor, it will deliver a LOT of extra power to get around an idiot trying to interrupt you. Not even then is it hard as my old Chevy Volt was when it came to life. The engine comes up, gives power without making a ridiculously loud noise and then shuts off almost as soon as you are done with the extra power.
Summary: you will not burn gas by mistake. The 21 electric miles will be electric miles if that’s what you want. Do you need more than 21? If you have a place to charge it during the day, you can recharge your battery in about 2.5 hours.
I had only one small complaint: even with the maximum rain turned on, there was no holding function. For most rides, especially in traffic, you can get around with just one pedal. It will slow down almost to a stop. But when you want to stop completely, you still have to put your foot on the brake and keep it there. If you release it, the vehicle will “crawl” like an automatic transmission. If there is a way to activate full single pedal driving, I have not found it yet.
The Off-Road experience
While 4xe only gives you a few miles of electric range, it does so without compromising on what it is. The vehicle is a real Jeep Wrangler. They did not cut any important Jeep corners to electrify it. It will do everything that a gas-powered Wrangler Rubicon (or Sahara if you buy it) will do, and more.
How? Instead of optimizing for efficiency, the Jeep Wrangler built the 4xe to be as similar to a regular Jeep as possible. The electric motor is built into the 9-speed automatic gearbox which is screwed to the back of a gas engine. The power (whether it is electric, gas or a mixture of the two) comes out the back and goes into the same gearbox as a regular Jeep. The power then goes from the transmission to solid front and rear axles (Rubicon has real Dana 44s front and rear). Even the battery is securely tucked inside so you do not lose even a sixty-quarter-inch clearance.
So, yes, it’s a real Jeep, 100%, and not a wannabe.
Yes I am sure. I tested it.
The end result is a vehicle that uses a lot of electricity to get around, but it is the most capable off-road vehicle anyone can buy today in June 2021, and there will be things it can do that the entire electric car race will not do in the next few years. .
Even after searching for hours, I could not find anything that it could not climb up and / or over (within reasonable limits, of course – I will not try anything I know is not possible for a regular Jeep). It did fast and fully electrical work with deep sandarroyos, steep rocky climbs and even a “Level 4” or “Level 5” track (as defined by the local terrain club):
4. “Road surface consisting of loose rock and soil with some rock surfaces. Heavy erosion, rock steps not higher than 18 “, small boulders up to 12”. At least 33 “tires required”
5. “Road surfaces are rutted and rocky with ledges or boulders not exceeding 24”. At least 33 ”tires are required. Unit with extra traction (cabinet, limited slide) or working winch to help. Good vehicle orientation and departure angles to help ”
The Level 5 track was enough to scare me a little in a couple of places, but it was never something the jeep could not take care of as long as I chose the right line (an important skill one must learn from others). It always had enough space to fit between the large boulders, and when things were a little too much, the slides kept something bad from happening.
Do not worry, Stellantis, the jeep came off without a scratch!
Unfortunately, I have only been out at night and driven real off-road driving, and could not get a good video yet. I will do this in daylight in the next few days so you can see what it can do directly from the factory.
How does an electric car work on challenging terrain?
There were two big things that made this a better experience than a comparable gas vehicle.
First, you can use regenerative braking to control the speed when going down steep slopes. You have to use friction brakes on the steepest, but it provides a very smooth experience in most cases.
Secondly, the smooth application of electric torque was excellent for climbing large rocks and ledges. Instead of having to charge the torque converter and make lots of micro-adjustments with the accelerator pedal, you can usually just give the 4x a fairly light but consistent pressure on the accelerator pedal and just let it climb. Getting that power from zero rpm instead of having to go over idle is a huge, huge help.
Under no circumstances on the trail did the engine start, not even up steep, steep slopes.
Conclusions so far
Jeep has a real winner here. And by winner I do not mean “it will sell well because it’s cheap” or “that’s what traditional car buyers want.” It sells a vehicle that can do things that no other mass-produced electrified vehicle can do today.
Before anyone “except Cybertruck!” is me, remember you can go to a jeep dealer and pick up a Wrangler 4xe today, maybe not next year EST (Elon Standard Time). The Wrangler is 6 inches narrower and several feet shorter than the Cybertruck prototype, so it fits on many challenging paths that a Cybertruck will turn its sides on or simply get stuck in. In terms of weight, it is incomparably lighter. It uses proven terrain parts that you can easily replace or upgrade in the event that you break something (provided you do not upgrade it for extreme work for preventative purposes).
Like other upcoming alternatives, this will significantly reduce emissions. Although you may need to use gas with this 4xe to get to the track head (and Jeep puts in charging stations at popular tracks), between the electric power and the switching options, you can get out on the trail without burning a drop of gas, and get through it easier than you would do with gas anyway. In the city, most owners will reduce their gas combustion by 90% and do so without losing any of what makes the jeep a jeep. This means that people will actually consider buying it if they want or need a Jeep.
I’m looking forward to full EV options in the future (including some Jeep work), but this is the best you can get today and gives us a sneak peek at what we can expect from future SUVs.
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