The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is the first plug-in hybrid Wrangler in history, and that’s a big deal. Because the arrival of electrification is inevitable for all vehicles, many wonder if niche products like the Wrangler, which heavily relies on transfer cases, driveshafts and mechanical components to operate, can even stand a chance in the upcoming age of the battery powered skateboards. With the 4xe, Jeep proves it’s possible, and the way the way it goes about it is rather clever.
All The Jeep Greatness
Obviously we’re still far from an all-electric Jeep here, but the 4xe remains a solid first step in that direction. Perhaps, more importantly is that the 4xe doesn’t look, feel nor drive any different than a conventional Jeep Wrangler. It can even be had in the same Rubicon trim, with the exact same approach and departure angles as well. The only way you’ll distinguish one is by the blue tow hooks and blue RUBICON lettering. There’s also a subtle 4xe on the tailgate.At this point I feel it’s important to mention that at the same moment Jeep released the plug-in hybrid variant, it also released the Wrangler 392, which is powered by a 6.4-liter HEMI V8. So don’t worry Jeep fans, V8 fans or whatever kind of fan you are; because you can really choose your poison with the current Wrangler.To achieve plug-in hybrid status, the 4xe, which is only available as a 4-door Unlimited model, is powered by one gasoline engine, two electric motors and a 17-kWh battery that was nestled underneath the rear seat inside a waterproof container. The main engine is Jeep’s 2.0-turbocharged four-cylinder that’s coupled to Stellantis’ eTorque mild hybrid system. On its own, it pumps out 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, and it’s connected to a small electric generator that takes care of starting it up and running the accessories. The generator also fills in during takeoffs or high-speed coasting.The second electric motor is much more powerful and was installed inside the eight-speed automatic transmission. It pumps out 134 horsepower alone, which, when paired with the gasoline engine, yields an impressive combined output of 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. When running in full electric mode, the 4xe will get 40 km of range on a full charge, and fall back to gasoline when it’s empty. And like all plug-in hybrid vehicles, you can decide to run on pure electricity alone, a mix of both electric and petrol, or keep your electric power for later use and utilize the gasoline engine instead.Pricing for a 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe kicks off at $54,995 for a Sahara and tops the lineup at $59,995 for the Rubicon model you see here. Just like its gasoline brethren, the Rubicon package adds a two-speed transfer case with a 4:1 low-range gear ratio, front and rear Dana 44 axles, front and rear axle lockers, skid plates, upgraded shocks with a slightly lifted ride height, 33-inch off-road tires and an electronic sway-bar disconnect system for improved articulation. As it sat, due to a full battalion of optional packages, my tester stickered at a staggering $74,340.
Mud And Water, But No Petrol
Because the 4xe’s electric motor was baked directly inside its transmission, Jeep was able to fit traditional driveshafts and a transfer case to it. This means it operates in the exact same way as a conventional gasoline-powered Wrangler, and can engage 4×4 low, lock its differentials and disconnect its front sway bar like in any other Rubicon.Knowing this, I felt it would be cool to venture out through my favorite trail in all electric mode. My off-road spot is about 10 km long, so I figured it would be the perfect place to sample this Jeep’s electric off-roading abilities. Plus, with a level 3 quick charger not far from the trail, my plan was to grab my electrons directly from there, drive to the trail’s entrance using gasoline propulsion, and enter the rough stuff using only electric power.But when I arrived at the charger, I was disappointed to discover that the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe doesn’t have a fast-charging port. It only accepts level 2, 240-volt power. Luckily, there was one of those available as well, but that meant I’d have to wait two hours to juice up my Wrangler. My photographer and I therefore grabbed a bite to eat, and shot another car we had on the calendar during the wait. For those wondering, yes, I plan on installing a charger on my house very soon.Anyway, once I got the Wrangler’s battery juiced up, I activated the eSave feature, which allows you to save the energy for later, and I drove off to the trail using the four-cylinder engine. While that unit provides ample thrust, it let me down in terms of fuel economy. I couldn’t get it to go under the 11L/100 km mark, which is weird, because when I drove the Wrangler with this drivetrain I was able to go down in the high eights. Could the added weight from the plug-in hybrid system have a negative impact on fuel economy?Once at the trail, I hit Electric mode, shifted the 4xe into neutral and engaged the sequence that would get this bad boy ready to take on Mother Nature. I shifted the second lever in 4×4 low, locked the front and rear lockers, disengaged the front axles and activated the regenerative braking feature, which not only recharges the battery when you lift off the accelerator, but also serves as a hill decent control system.What’s interesting about hitting a muddy trail in full electric mode is how quiet everything becomes. It’s really only you and the birds chirping, with the occasional scraping sound of a skid plate kissing some rocks underneath your seat. There’s also plenty of low end torque, which is great when climbing.But it really is the the precision and smoothness of the electric motor that gives this Wrangler an edge over its gasoline counterparts. All you need to do is feather the throttle and that drivetrain will grant you smooth and constant thrust, which is ideal when crawling your way through some obstacles.And of course, like with all good Jeeps, the 4xe is also a convertible. My model had the electronic My Sky setup which prevents you from having to remove any panels (but you can still remove some if you want). It’s also rather handy when you suddenly realize that a lot of mud is about to enter the cabin. All you need to do is hit a button on the ceiling and you’re protected from the elements. It’s essentially an enormous sunroof.To nobody’s surprise, my Jeep got me out of the trail no sweat and unscathed, albeit a little dirty. I mean, very dirty. But isn’t what Jeeps were made for? Meanwhile, the onboard computer told me I had 18 km of electric range left, not bad considering everything was locked and that the transfer case was set to its lowest crawl setting. Those things use up a hell of lot of energy, so the fact that I was able to operate them using a 17 kWh battery is rather neat. It also proves that Jeep really put this drivetrain to the test before putting a price on it.So yes, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is a convincing argument for people who still love Jeeps but also want to lower their carbon footprint. When using gasoline propulsion, it’s not all that thrifty when compared to a standard 2.0T, and the drivetrain itself is quite buzzy and annoying at times, but it’s still more fuel efficient than a V6-powered Wrangler. But the fact that you can do most of your urban errands using no fuel at all, and, more importantly, follow other Jeeps in a trail in the same matter, is downright cool. It also showcases that a Jeep can still be a Jeep even if it’s not relying on gasoline which is fantastic news for the future of this nameplate.
Review of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon by William Clavey
- Electric off-roading!
- Still has actual transfer case
- Loses non of the classic Jeep fun
- Won’t accept level 3 fast chargers
- Buzzy drivetrain
- Disappointing fuel economy
8 / 10
Clavey’s Corner is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Prices and trim levels discussed in this article reflect the Canadian car market.
Special thanks: Jeep Canada
Photography: Guillaume Fournier
Contact the author: [email protected]