We live in incredible times. Just a few short years ago, there was only one engine you could get with your Jeep Wrangler. Now there’s half a dozen. Sure, the tried-and-true 3.6-liter Pentastar is a great place to start, but you can also get the 2.0-liter turbo, the 48-volt 3.6-liter eTorque setup, the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel, and a bonkers 6.4-liter Hemi. Plus, for 2021, Jeep is offering a plug-in hybrid version. Called 4xe, it promises green off-roading in a way only a Jeep can. But does it deliver?
(Full disclosure: Jeep flew me to Austin, Texas to drive the new 4xe Wrangler on- and off-road. In addition to airfare, they fed and lodged me in a COVID-friendly manner adhering to both state and federal guidelines. I also took a green Jeep hat.)
The Texas Hill Country is a fantastic place to test a new vehicle both on- and off-road. When most people think of Texas, they think of the flatness of Dallas or the humid sweatbox of Houston. Hill Country is full of great driving roads and fantastic hills, plus ranches that have epic rock crawling areas and streams and rivers to ford. For the uninitiated, Hill Country doesn’t seem like Texas at all.
That’s where I’ll start in regards to my day in the 4xe. Jeep promised that the first electrified Wrangler would be a proper Jeep, and it wanted to bring that point home with the off-road course set up for us. We would traverse the maximum 30 inches of water the Wrangler Rubicon could ford (unchanged from other Rubicons). We would climb some of the steepest rocks I’ve ever climbed, and coming down those rocks we’d be hanging on our seatbelts as if we were going over the first hill of a rollercoaster. In fact, when the head of Jeep Jim Morrison described the day’s activities, he sounded like one of those teenage ride operators on a huge coaster at Cedar Point.
Separating the 4xe from other Wranglers is the hybrid powertrain. It’s a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 attached to a hybrid system. It makes 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. It’s only bested in torque, slightly, by the Wrangler 392’s 470 lb-ft. Power is sent to all four wheels by an 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s an off-the-shelf ZF unit, like in all Jeeps, but the torque converter is replaced by two clutches to handle the hybrid operation.
The electric portion of the Jeep starts with a 17-kWh lithium-ion battery located beneath the rear seats that can power the Wrangler 4xe for up to 21 miles on pure electricity. The system can be topped off on a 7 kW level 2 charging station in about 2 hours using a standard SAE J-1772 connector. Additionally, if the driver selects the E-Save mode from the hybrid system, it can recharge the battery a bit as you drive, ensuring you have electric-only range when you get to your destination.
In Europe, that destination would be a city center where internal combustion engines are banned. In the United States, it’ll more likely be a trail at Moab.
Off-roading a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is similar to off-roading any other Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Excellent off-road tires from BFGoodrich ensure that you’re stuck to whatever surface you’re on. Front and rear lockers, plus an electronic sway-bar disconnect improves articulation and traction. An excellent crawl ratio in 4-lo makes it easy to walk up any obstacle.
But any Jeep can do that. What makes the 4xe special, and better, is that it does it in complete silence. You can hear the birds chirping. You can hear the bees humming. You can hear the Jeep Jamboree spotter yelling at you so you don’t roll the rig. It’s all the great sounds of nature.
Additionally, you get instant torque. When the clutch disconnects the gasoline motor, the electric motor has a direct connection to the drivetrain. With all the torque available at 0 rpm, you can control nearly the entire off-road experience by throttle application alone. A little tap gets the wheels moving. A little bit more gets you up the rock. There’s no applying throttle and waiting for a gas motor to rev up. It just climbs.
It’s the most predictable and engaging stock Jeep I’ve driven off-road. If I were going to buy a Jeep to off-road, I’d get the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe. Hands down it’s the best off-road Jeep — stock — that I’ve driven.
On the road, the 4xe drives like every other Jeep. With the extra weight of the batteries, it does feel like it smooths out the bumps a bit more but it’s still a big box on off-road suspension driving down the road. If your daily drive is 21 miles or less, you won’t use a drop of fuel. Since Wranglers aren’t typically the most fuel-efficient vehicles, it’s great to know that most people buying one can handle the day-to-day without burning fuel. But then those same owners would have the gasoline range to get them where they need to go on the weekends.
My biggest gripe comes when you’re out of all-electric range and you fall back onto the hybrid system. Now granted, my time was in a roofless and doorless Rubicon, but an indicated 18.5 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving isn’t ideal. If you drive long distances every day and want a Wrangler, buy the EcoDiesel. It’s easy to get 30 mpg in that rig and the torque off-road will be welcomed, even if it’s not as good as the 4xe.
The Wrangler 4xe does exactly what it describes on the tin. It’s a Jeep that you can off-road on pure electricity. It’s a Jeep you can putz around town in without burning fuel. Plus, if you are eligible for the full $7,500 tax credit, the 4xe is the least expensive way to get a Rubicon.
Morrison says that this Jeep will bring new people to the brand. People who couldn’t consider a Jeep in the past because they aren’t known to be the most environmentally-friendly vehicles. It offers a great new engine alternative in a product that appears to have an engine for everyone.
Inherently, each Jeep Wrangler is a bit of a compromise, and the 4xe’s hybrid-only fuel economy could be a bit better in the real world. But for those who are used to that already — again Jeeps are bricks driving through air — the 4xe gives the best off-road experience. If that’s your goal, this is the one to get.
[Images © 2021 Chad Kirchner/TTAC and Jeep/Stellantis]