What's your perfect one-car garage? Maybe you like track days, so you'd pick a sorted BMW E30 or a new Toyota 86. Maybe you're an outdoorsy, SUV-avoidant wagon fan, and something like a Subaru Outback with a giganto roof rack fits the bill.
If your preferred form of vehicular fun is crawling around on rocks or heading out into the rougher parts of the wilderness, though, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is an excellent answer to the one-car garage question. Jeep's first electrified Wrangler—a plug-in hybrid that can run on battery power alone, at least for a spell—really does a little bit of everything well without losing sight of what it means to be a Jeep.
The 4xe pairs a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four internal combustion engine with two electric motors for a combined output of 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. That's as much torque as the V8-powered Rubicon 392, except peak torque hits at lower revs and the whole rig gets well over twice the real-world in-city miles-per-gallon.
I drove this thing on-road and off around Austin, Texas last week, doing all the Jeep things one does, including rock crawling and puttering around with the doors off. The ultimate question—how the plug-in hybrid powertrain will wear over time when you treat it like any other Wrangler—can't be answered just yet. Still, the performance advantages and overall functionality of the 4xe mean that unless you're married to the Hemi V8 roar of the 392, and I can't really fault anyone for that, this is probably the one to have.
One of the biggest concerns with a vehicle meant to go way, way off the beaten path is durability. Thus, it was my duty to treat the Wrangler 4xe test vehicles as mercilessly as possible on the short off-road course Jeep provided, which had a deep puddle to ford, and rocky uphills and downhills to crawl over with grades as steep as 40 percent.
The Wrangler 4xe comes stock with strategically placed steel skidplates under the drivetrain components you'd least like to dent out on a trail. I added a fair number of scrapes to them without any issue, and the Jeep kept on going as intended. Even the polished-up Rubicon 4xe on display for the event's big presentation about the vehicles had its fair share of scrapes, which I noticed when I crawled under to take a closer look at the skidplate situation:
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To completely shield it from pointy rocks and the like, the 17.3-kWh, 400-volt, 96-cell lithium-ion battery technically sits in the interior of the Wrangler 4xe under the rear seat. This also helps keep it at an optimal operating temperature, since the battery works best between 70 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. One electric motor takes the place of the alternator on the engine, and the other sits at the front of the transmission in lieu of a traditional torque converter with a pair of clutches that can decouple it from the engine and allow the 4xe to run in electric-only mode—and yes, the doors-off silent driving experience is a sweet one.
Level 2 (240-volt) charging promises to refill the battery back from empty in two hours, but as I'll explain in a bit, Jeep has added a few ways to recharge it on the go and preserve whatever juice remains for when you want to deploy it.
The Rubicon 4xes we drove on the off-road course had the usual laundry list of useful off-road specs that made climbing over uneven rocks and steep grades feel almost effortless: meaty Dana 44 axles, a 4:1 low-range gear ratio, electronic front- and rear-axle lockers (which move both wheels on an axle at the same speed for better traction), an electronically disconnecting sway bar that allows for more articulation (so more wheels stay on the ground more often), 17-inch wheels shod with 33-inch off-road tires and a 77.2:1 crawl ratio.
While the 4xe does only come with an eight-speed automatic transmission, that +/- shifter at least allows you to manually control which gear it's in. Being able to choose what drivetrain setting you're in—all-electric, no-electric or hybrid—is neat, especially since EV mode gives you immediate torque and only the faintest, unobtrusive pedestrian warning hum that runs at speeds under 20 mph.
There's also a trick hill ascent and descent control that keeps the Jeep moving downhill at 0.6 mph regardless of inputs, and that speed can be increased or decreased by increments of 0.6 mph using the +/- shifter. None of this is as challenging as wheeling with a manual transmission, but Jeep representatives didn't rule out the possibility of a future manual-transmission (or two-door!) 4xe in the future, either.
As with any newer tech, it's also the long-term durability that people worry about. We love rigs like the Toyota 4Runner precisely for their straightforward durability, and an all-new plug-in hybrid system is the exact opposite move from Jeep stuffing a tried-and-true non-hybrid minivan V6 in other Wranglers. That being said, Jeep says its engineers put the drivetrain through some 3.2 million miles of validation testing before unleashing the Wrangler 4xe drivetrain on the general public.
Jeep was able to build on the knowledge and software development from the development of the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivan even though the Wrangler 4xe's mechanical architecture is completely different. So, it's at least not a start-from-scratch scenario, and that all sounds pretty hopeful for the long run. We'll have to see, of course.
The Wrangler 4xe's hybrid components (including the battery) were designed to work when submerged in water, too, which made fording a deep puddle easy-peasy. Jeep says it can ford up to 30 inches of water, and that checks out. I, a large child with a driver's license, made big splashies and couldn't quit laughing for a good five minutes. Instant torque, everybody!
Let's get one thing out of the way: Electrified powertrain or not, you're still moving a big box down the road with a Wrangler. Jeep didn't add any special aerodynamic tweaks in the name of eking out more range from the 4xe. The 4xe is the same retro shape we know and love that's shared with the rest of the Wrangler lineup.
Yet for Rectangles: The Vehicle, it really moves. Floor it, and you'll get shoved back in your seat. It also does this with impressive in-town economy for a square getting pushed along the roads.
The EPA rates the 4xe at 49 MPGe (combined city/highway), which stands for "miles per gallon equivalent"—an estimate based more on comparing costs than anything. Yet the 4xe shined in the city in hybrid mode when the battery was charged up, consistently reading around 30 MPG on the in-dash readout during my test drive, and even going over 32 MPG in some of the more tedious downtown traffic. The next-highest city MPG per the EPA's figures are the turbo six-cylinder EcoDiesel Unlimited and the two-door 2.0-liter four-cylinder models, both of which are only rated for 22 MPG in the city.
The 4xe's hybrid drivetrain is very smooth, too. I hardly noticed it switching between gas and electric modes, and it was nowhere near as jarring as older start-stop systems. Driving it on-road or off- really doesn't feel too strange compared to a traditional automatic-transmission Jeep, either. Put it in D and it crawls forward by default.
Thanks to its electric half, 470 lb-ft of torque comes on low down in its rev range, making navigating obstacles off-road a breeze as well as shooting up to speed on the highway a joy. This is not your parents' tame Prius—it's a hybrid built for hoons.
You can still be responsible with it, though. Jeep claims it will get 21 miles of electric-only use, but for our test drive, it sent our group down a local twisty parkside road I know really well. Even in my "whee curves" brain-space, I got 18.7 miles before it ran out of charge.
The 4xe's Max Regen setting for its brakes allows the Jeep to use its regenerative brakes to the max. Jeep claims this setting adds up to 0.25 g of stopping force in addition to whatever you press down on its traditional friction brakes, enabling one-pedal driving as you're slowing down in traffic. It doesn't feed a ton of energy back into the system, but it does help prolong the battery a tiny bit and it's smooth enough that I got used to how it felt. The only downside is that it won't remember to turn it on when you get in the car, so you have to manually hit the Max Regen button every time you start the car.
The body-on-frame box that is a Wrangler is naturally more top-heavy than your average sedan, and it has to cope with both that shape and the extra heft of the batteries under the rear seat accordingly. Despite the chunk-o-battery in the middle, I was surprised at how well the 4xe handled. The electric power steering was also light, but with decent feedback.
According to Wrangler 4xe Engineering Integration Manager Dan Fry, the Wrangler 4xe's center of gravity was moved backwards and down due to the placement of the battery and other extra hybrid components, which made it a bit tamer to drive on the road compared to a conventionally-powered Wrangler. You're going to feel more of the bumps on the road as you would in any traditional SUV, but nothing was too jarring.
Of course, it also has all the other good parts of the JL-gen Wrangler, too. The UConnect infotainment system is relatively intuitive, the controls make sense and the heated seats and steering wheel get pleasantly roasty in no time. I, notorious convertible hater, turn into a doors-always-off bro the second a Wrangler is involved, too. Look, it's nice to see where your wheels are off-road, and it's just silly fun everywhere else. The JL's whole roof is designed to either open up or come off, too, if you are a convertible or sunroof fan. The whole vibe of the JL Wrangler is joy, plain and simple.
The biggest shortcoming of the Wrangler 4xe is easily its fuel economy on longer highway drives. The hybrid system is great in-town, but on a longer road trip, there are fewer opportunities to recharge the system with braking and the engine doesn't actually recharge the battery unless you specifically select "Battery Charge" in its internal-combustion-only E-Save mode. It took me about an hour and half minutes of in-town driving with the brakes set on Max Regen for the hybrid system's battery to go from 98 percent to about 10 percent, and once that was empty, it was empty until I switched off hybrid mode into E-Save.
E-Save itself is pretty neat, as it shuts off the electric part of the drivetrain entirely to save it for when you want it, like on tougher off-road obstacles where instant electric torque comes in handy. Its "Battery Save" option focuses on maintaining the charge in the battery through braking and coasting, whereas "Battery Charge" actively uses the engine to recharge the battery. "Battery Charge" works pretty fast, as it only took about 10 minutes of driving to refill the battery by 10 percent. Still, I was left wishing it used the engine to recharge in hybrid mode so I wouldn't have to think about it at all.
Expect to spend extra on fuel until that battery is recharged—and even more so than with many other Jeeps, likely thanks to the hefty pack it's hauling around. The EPA doesn't break out a separate highway fuel mileage figure for the 4xe, but lists its gas-only figure as the third thirstiest Wrangler trim when it comes to combined city/highway mileage at 20 MPG. Only the four-door V6 and the 6.4-liter V8 ranked lower on that mark. I got moderately better than that out on the road with an exhausted battery, though, getting an average of 23.1 MPG per the gauge cluster. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.
The only other downside to the hybrid system is the lack of under-seat storage in the second row. That's the best place to store stuff out of sight in a regular Wrangler Unlimited when you park it, but in the 4xe, that's where the battery sits. There's still plenty of room inside (and on top, and in 3,500-lb trailer, should you choose) for stuff, however.
Are those few downsides worth it to have a load of on-demand torque, though? Hell yeah.
The Wrangler 4xe doesn't compromise on Jeep fun with a hybrid system, and if anything, the hybrid makes it even better. It lets you save money on your boring commute so you can blow it on park fees and mods later. Only the Rubicon 392's V8 makes more power in the entire Wrangler lineup, which is pretty incredible given that this is meant to be the eco-conscious option. Which of course, it is, given that short stuff like neighborhood errands can be accomplished entirely in electric mode.
The 4xe's MSRP of $47,995 makes it relatively pricey for a Wrangler, but as a plug-in hybrid, it still qualifies for a $7,500 tax credit. That puts the grand total less than the entry point for a gas-powered Rubicon, which isn't bad at all.
If you want a fun off-roader but don't want your wallet to get eaten alive at the fuel pump, this could be it.
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