Review: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe brings battery benefits off-road
When Jeep announced an electric Wrangler, and the 4xe (“four-by-E”) brand, heads definitely turned. The benefits of electric motors off the pavement are easily understood by off-road enthusiasts, but are they apparent when combined with the legendary prowess of the Jeep Wrangler?
At first glance, the numbers for the Wrangler 4xe aren’t very impressive. A little 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and just enough electrics and battery to go about 25 miles (40.2 km) on a charge isn’t the stuff of rock crawling legend. Turbocharged engines in low-speed, hardcore off-pavement crawling aren’t very popular and 25 miles doesn’t sound very far. But taken in the context of the Jeep Wrangler and its usual ownership, these start to make a lot more sense.
At a Glance
- Good combination of engine and motors with thoughtful details
- Level 2 charging capable
- Does not compromise legendary Jeep off-road capability
The 2.0L four is relatively new to the Jeep lineup, appearing as an engine option shortly after the current generation debuted with its standard V6. It’s one of five drivetrain options now available for the Wrangler, which also include a diesel and the nutrageously powerful 6.4-liter V8 in the 392 model. The plug-in hybrid 4xe makes the fifth option, combining the 2.0L turbo and its 270 horsepower (201 kW) with electric motors and batteries for a total of 375 hp (280 kW). More impressive is the amount of torque that the plug-in hybrid adds, taking the 2.0 from 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) to 470 lb-ft (637 Nm) – a number matched only by the big 392 and its guzzler of a V8.
The Wrangler 4xe is available in either the Rubicon off-road or the Sahara models and the total range available will largely depend on which of the two packages is chosen. The slightly lighter weight Sahara has closer to 25 miles of range from the 17.3-kWh battery pack (about 15 kWh usable) whereas the Rubicon will be closer to 20 miles (32.2 km) or so. For serious off-roading, that’s plenty of all-electric range for quiet, battery-powered crawling while the gasoline engine covers the overlanding and getting the rig to the end of the pavement.
Another reason for that range choice? It covers most daily commutes. Since most Wrangler owners daily drive their rig, daily driving to and from the usual places will mostly or completely be covered by the battery. Which means the terrible fuel economy inherent to a Wrangler is no longer a downer. For us, this was the biggest tell in why the Wrangler 4xe is sui generis. The EPA now rates the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe at 49 MPGe (4.8 L/100km), more than double the 20 mpg (11.7 L/100km) rating it receives with the 2.0L only.
The drivetrain in the 4xe is made up of a 2.0L engine, two electric motors, and the 17.3-kWh battery pack we’ve mentioned. This runs through the usual low-geared transfer case and Dana axles that the Rubicon (and Jeep) has always used, so the total output at the wheels is no different than it is in any other Wrangler Rubicon. Clearance angles, ride height, tires, etc. are also identical.
The 4xe only changes the Rubicon’s powertrain. Which means the capabilities of the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe are unchanged from the gas-only or diesel Rubicon. If anything, we noted the battery pack towards the rear of the rig helps balance the often front-heavy four-door model of the Wrangler when crawling and digging. Unlike the diesel and (especially) the 392, the Wrangler 4xe isn’t front-heavy. Also unlike those and other models of the Wrangler, the 4xe delivers torque quickly (much of it immediately) at low speeds and, if the engine is involved, still has the “build up” quality off-roaders are used to as they work the throttle. It’s basically the best of both worlds.
As with all Wranglers, of course, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe has the same downers inherent to the model. Namely, it’s still a rough highway ride, seating is high and fairly square, and there is no dead pedal for left-foot stability (hint: there are aftermarket add-ons to solve that last problem).
Any reservations regarding the electrics in the 4xe quickly dissipate as the benefits become clear and one begins to wonder why this hasn’t been a thing until now. It’s a perfect marriage. On the other hand, some of the details show that it wasn’t until just recently that much of what makes the plug-in option convenient was available. Off the pavement, the electrics have several advantages, like “engine braking” via the motors to add more downhill control to instant torque. Around town, they also have advantages, namely that running in EV mode is quieter, less polluting, and cheaper.
For testing, the author has a 240-volt/50-amp charger capable of delivering up to 42 amps of current to a vehicle’s charge plug. Surprisingly, the Wrangler 4xe was one of the few plug-in hybrids tested thus far that will accept more than 30 amps of charge. When empty, the 4xe accepted about 32 amps of charge for nearly three hours before dropping to 20 amps and slowly decreasing to 0 for a total recharge time of about seven hours. During that time, it took on 15.05 kWh of power in all. When charged from a standard 120V/15A household plug (dedicated circuit), the Wrangler 4xe took maximum amperage (12) for the entire charge duration and required about nine hours to finish. Basically, the first three or so hours of charging will get you about 75 percent of the battery on a higher-speed charger, but the amount of time required to charge to full doesn’t change as much as one might expect. That’s common with plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV).
During our week with the 2021 Wrangler 4xe, we drove around town extensively running errands, school drop offs, etc. and loved the quiet electrics. Going longer distances, there is an option to disable the battery and save it for later, which is perfect for road tripping to the off-road destination. If left at default, the Wrangler 4xe will try to use full EV mode as much as possible. It’s higher speed range (over 55 mph/88 km/h) is limited to about 15-18 miles (24-29 km) in all.
To summarize bluntly, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is the best of everything. It offers cheap and quiet around-town driving, the ability to go long distances without worrying about where you’re going to fuel up, and the ability to off-road with instant torque and good vehicle balance. We saw no compromises and only gains in the Wrangler 4xe. Nicely done, Jeep. Nicely done.
Pricing for the Wrangler 4xe starts at US$52,520 for the Sahara model and $56,220 for the Rubicon.
Product Page: 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe