What Is It?
The Jeep Wrangler has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the most capable off-road vehicles available, with the ability to traverse practically any type of terrain. Now Jeep adds a new dimension to off-roading in a Wrangler — the quiet performance of an electric motor. Thanks to the new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe plug-in hybrid, enthusiasts can now enjoy silent driving and greatly improved fuel economy without sacrificing any of the Wrangler’s off-road prowess.
Jeep provided us with a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe painted in Black Clear Coat. In addition to all the off-road goodies that comes with the Rubicon, the test Wrangler was also equipped with heated front seats, a trailer-towing package, Jeep’s Advanced Safety Group, Steel Bumper Group and 3-piece hardtop for a total MSRP of $64,315. Although Wrangler is currently the only plug-in hybrid compact SUV, competitors still include the Ford Bronco, Toyota 4Runner, Land Rover Defender and Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
The Jeep Wrangler 4xe carries the same styling as its non-electrified siblings; however, there are a few cues that identify this new fuel-efficient version. Jeep designers employed an Electric Blue accent color as part of the vehicle exterior, with this eye-catching color found on the Trail Rated badge, Jeep badges, tow hooks and other trim highlights. The only other elements informing observers that this is an electrified Wrangler are the charging port on the left-front fender and the 4xe badge at the rear of the SUV.
Under the Hood
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe’s high-tech powertrain consists of a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine and two electric motors for a combined output of 375 horsepower and an impressive 470 lb-ft of torque. Not only is this powertrain the most efficient in the Wrangler lineup, it also offers considerably more power than Wrangler’s standard V6 engine.
How the Wrangler 4xe Works
A high-voltage motor at the front of the Wrangler 4xe’s gas engine replaces a conventional alternator and starter motor. This motor connects to the driveshaft and spins the engine quickly and seamlessly for smooth start/stop operation, while also generating electricity for the battery pack. A second motor/generator replaces a traditional torque converter in the automatic transmission. Depending on the needs of the powertrain, the gas engine can be completely disengaged so only the electric motor is sending power to the wheels. Alternatively, the engine can re-engage to allow power from both the gas engine and electric motor to flow through the transmission. With this setup the Wrangler’s off-road capability remains unchanged from gas-only variants.
At the heart of this electrified Jeep is a 400-volt 17-kWh nickel manganese cobalt battery pack consisting of 96 lithium-ion cells. To protect the batteries without impinging on the Jeep’s off-roading prowess, the pack gets mounted beneath the rear seat to protect it from the elements. Engineers redesigned the seat to create space for the batteries, and the seat bottom flips up for access. The Li-NMC battery pack is mounted in an aluminum housing fitted with a dedicated heating and cooling system to keep the batteries at optimum operating temperature. All high-voltage electronics that connect the battery to the powertrain are sealed and waterproof, ensuring that Wrangler can still traverse up to 30 inches of water without any risk of a short circuit.
Plug It In
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe can be charged via an electric charge port in the left-front cowl for easy access. Charging at a standard 110-volt home outlet takes 10 to 12 hours for a full charge, while a Level 2 charger will complete the task in a few hours. LED lights on the port indicate charge status, and a battery-level monitor on the dashboard makes it easy to check levels.
According to the U.S. EPA, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe has fuel-economy ratings of 49 MPGe combined and 20 mpg combined when operating in hybrid mode. During our drive we averaged around 30 mpg overall in a combination of on- and off-pavement driving. When fully charged, the Wrangler 4xe we drove displayed 23 miles of electric-only driving range — slightly better than the EPA rating of 22 miles.
Inside, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe doesn’t vary much from the traditional version. However, the LED charge indicator at the top of the dashboard conveys the vehicle’s hybrid status, and blue stitching adds a nice touch while also matching the blue exterior details. Bonus: With batteries tucked under the rear seat, interior space remains virtually unchanged from the traditional Wrangler.
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe has three drive modes depending on need. The default Hybrid Mode uses the electric motor first, adding in the internal combustion engine as needed. Electric Mode keeps the Jeep running on the electric motor alone until the battery drops to its minimum charge level. The engine will start automatically in Electric Mode if the driver is demanding more torque. In eSave Mode the Wrangler 4xe’s 2.0-liter engine operates on its own, allowing the driver to conserve battery power for later use.
As with most hybrid powertrains, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe uses energy recovered during braking to recharge the batteries. When 4WD is engaged, all four wheels provide torque to the regen system. The driver can also select a Max Regen option that enables one-pedal operation — lifting off the throttle applies the regenerative brakes automatically, slowing the vehicle without the driver needing to press the brake pedal.
On the Road
The on-road drivability of the Wrangler improved significantly when Jeep introduced this latest generation, and the solid, comfortable ride continues with the 4xe. In Hybrid Mode the 470 lb-ft of torque is evident, providing strong acceleration from a standstill. Driving through town, the system seamlessly switches between Electric and Hybrid modes as needed.
It’s easy to keep the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe in EV-only mode during normal driving situations. The throttle doesn’t need to be babied, and as long as the driver doesn’t push the right pedal to the floor the 4xe is content to cruise along silently in EV mode for up to 23 miles — a surreal experience in a Jeep Wrangler. Acceleration remains reasonable when operating on electric power alone.
To fully enjoy the Jeep Wrangler EV experience, we employed eSave mode to preserve the fully charged battery during our drive to a favorite woodland trail. Arriving with the fully charged battery, we switched to EV mode, and with the roof off the Jeep we were able to fully enjoy the quiet running of the 4xe. Frankly, all we heard was the crunch of tires on gravel and the plash of water from puddles. Rolling to a stop in the Wrangler 4xe concluded in complete silence — except for birdsong.
Call it a testimony to the build quality of this new Jeep — while traversing trails riddled with bumps and potholes, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe stayed quiet, with no discernable squeaks or groans emanating from the vehicle. With no engine to drown out sound we expected to hear some chassis noises, but we were pleasantly surprised — the 4xe remained quiet and stable, providing a solid ride.
Delivering the popular Wrangler to market as the first electrified vehicle from Jeep makes a lot of sense. It gives the company an opportunity to demonstrate that a plug-in hybrid Jeep is just as capable as a traditional gas-powered version. With increased power, better fuel efficiency and more than 20 miles of EV driving, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is not only a solid performer, but also a sign that the future of Jeep is assured.
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