If your first thought when hearing about Jeep (STLA) debuting its first plug-in hybrid (PHEV) was “what took so long?” you wouldn’t be alone.
In fact, Jeep didn’t start using any sort of hybrid tech until it used corporate parent FCA’s (now named Stellantis) eTorque technology in the new JL Wrangler in 2019.
Not that it seemed to matter for Jeep owners and their legion of fans. Jeep sales have been on a tear every year since around 2010, save for a slight dip in 2019 and then a bigger one in 2020 due to the pandemic.
In a return to form though, sales in the first quarter of 2021 are back in line with sales in the same period in 2019, and in Q2 the brand had its best quarter ever in the U.S. But with new regulations for emissions coming soon both here and abroad, Jeep needed a plan to start electrifying the brand, yet still keeping its adventurous, go-anywhere spirit.
This is where the Wrangler 4xe (read “four by E”) comes into play, and I’m going to spoil the review for you right here: It’s a great first effort, and in my opinion a great Wrangler.
The Wrangler 4xe by the numbers
Wranglers by their very nature are sui generis in the automotive world, meaning there isn’t anything like a Wrangler on the road. It still looks like the Willys Jeep from the 1950s — there’s no doubt it’s a body-on-frame old-school type of vehicle, and the Lego-like nature of its construction means you can take things off like the roof, doors, windshield — you name it — and customize the Wrangler to your heart’s content.
Even bigger, in my opinion, is the unmistakeable charm that the Wrangler exudes; the feeling you’re going on adventure every time you hop in a Wrangler because you can. It’s that capable — a utilitarian body style, coupled with the bulletproof standard Pentastar V-6 engine and full-time four-wheel drive — means you aren’t getting stuck on, or off, the pavement.
Jeep had to tread lightly here with electrifying, and taking the Wrangler into the future without damaging its well-earned reputation as an analog, rough, get-down-to-business off-roader. So they went the plug-in hybrid route.
The powertrain here combines a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine, with 2 electric motors that work in tandem with the engine. This setup produces a very robust 375 horsepower 470 lb.-ft. of torque.
But this is a plug-in hybrid, meaning it has an accompanying battery and electric drive system. Here we have a 400-volt, 17-kWh, 96-cell lithium-ion battery pack that when running on electric power alone, can get up to 25 miles of electric-only power. Running on purely electric, you’re getting around 49 MPGe, and 20 mpg overall in hybrid mode.
Now those numbers don’t sound so great, but if you’re only using the Jeep for short local jaunts or quick drives to work, that 25 miles of electric range can take care of most of those needs. When you do need range for a long trip, a full tank of gas and a full battery will provide around 370 miles of range.
The Wrangler goes about its way using four, user selected driving moves. Here is how Jeep describes them:
Hybrid: The default mode blends torque from the 2.0-liter engine and electric motor. In this mode, the powertrain will use battery power first, then add in propulsion from the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 when the battery reaches minimum state of charge
Electric: The powertrain operates on zero-emission electric power only until the battery reaches the minimum charge or the driver requests more torque (such as wide-open throttle), which engages the 2.0-liter engine
eSave: Prioritizes propulsion from the 2.0-liter engine, saving the battery charge for later use, such as EV off-roading or urban areas where internal combustion propulsion is restricted.
And most importantly for Jeep fans, the Wrangler 4xe still includes a proven 4×4 system. In our Wrangler 4xe Safari that meant Jeep’s Selec-Trac system with a two-speed transfer case. The 4xe Rubicon includes even more features like the Rock-Trac system with locking differentials, and an electronic sway bar disconnect.
I won’t go to deep into the interior or exterior features of the Wrangler 4xe here as we covered most of that in our JL Wrangler review from a couple years back. There are some noticeable features however, like tow hooks and certain exterior bits trimmed in the 4xe ‘electric’ blue, and of course the charging port located on the drivers front fender.
The first thing you’ll notice when driving this Wrangler is just how quiet it is. The Wrangler in its default ‘hybrid’ mode will almost always start in electric mode, and when you tap the accelerator it moves with urgency and silence — and I mean eery silence. Jeep fans will know what I mean because they are used to hearing that engine whirring, gears spinning, suspension groaning, and loud exhaust.
Here there’s none of that, just a quiet electric whir. And even when the turbo-four kicks in it’s relatively seamless and unobtrusive. It’s definitely not jarring, but when it does kick in, it produces oodles of power. When paired with the two electric motors, this powertrain sings nicely — and powerfully.
But the magic really happens when you have the convertible top down, and maybe you’ve removed the back panels too. In electric mode you can hear everything around you — maybe it’s the quiet street you’re on and the birds chirping, or maybe you’re treading off-road and all you hear is the tires on the terrain, the wind through the trees, and perhaps the gurgle of a stream nearby.
This plug-in hybrid system may not be the best, most efficient, or have the longest range, but it allows you to enjoy a Wrangler in nature, or wherever, and take in your surroundings. And let’s not forget that 4×4 system works in all-electric mode too.
No, the Wrangler 4xe Sahara isn’t perfect, but it’s a great first effort. As an auto reporter (and a Wrangler fan) I’m very interested to see where Jeep’s electrification plans head next.
Pras Subramanian is a reporter for EuroJournal. You can follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.
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