While Jeep fans are undoubtedly excited about the V8-powered Rubicon 392, it’s not the only new Wrangler powertrain for 2021. As those strange Utah monoliths foretold, this year marks the release of the hybrid Jeep Wrangler 4xe. But while increased electrification can be good for efficiency, has it helped or hurt the SUV’s off-road chops?
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe isn’t mild—it’s a full-on plug-in hybrid
It’s worth pointing out that the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe technically isn’t the first hybrid Wrangler. However, up until now, the off-road SUV has only offered mild-hybrid powertrains. Jeep’s 4xe models, though, aren’t mild hybrids. Rather, the 2021 Wrangler 4xe is a genuine plug-in hybrid.
Under the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe’s hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder linked to two electric motors. One’s attached directly to the engine, while the other is attached directly to the eight-speed automatic transmission, Car and Driver explains. It’s essentially the now-discontinued 2.0-liter eTorque mild-hybrid system but with an extra motor, Hagerty reports. And helping power the system is a 17.3-kWh battery pack mounted beneath the rear seats, The Drive reports.
The extra motors give the 2021 Wrangler 4xe quite a decent kick. Altogether, the plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler has 375 hp and 470 lb-ft. That’s 28 more lb-ft than the Wrangler EcoDiesel offers. And it makes the 4xe model the most powerful Wrangler after the Rubicon 392, which also makes less torque.
Besides adding oomph, the hybrid powertrain means the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe can operate in EV-only mode for up to 21 miles. Hence why Jeep is building trailhead-located charging stations; with a Level 2 charger, the SUV can recharge in two hours. And with a blend of EV and ICE, the EPA estimates the hybrid Wrangler gets the equivalent of 49 mpg combined. Plus, it has adjustable regenerative braking and three driving modes.
However, while fuel efficiency is important to hybrid buyers, it’s arguably not the most important thing for Jeep Wrangler buyers. That would be off-road capability. Luckily, the 4xe seems to have that in spades.
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is “not a great hybrid, but an awesome Jeep,” Roadshow says
The 4×3 hybrid powertrain is available on any four-door 2021 Jeep Wrangler, MotorTrend reports. That includes the most off-road-ready trim, the Rubicon. And while the battery pack does add quite a bit of weight, it doesn’t blunt the Jeep Wrangler’s ability to tread off-pavement.
Just like the non-hybrid models, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe has over 10” of ground clearance, 4WD with a transfer case, and in Rubicon trim, front and rear locking differentials, The Drive reports. And because the sealed and waterproof battery pack is under the rear seats, the hybrid Wrangler still has a 30” fording depth, Motor1 reports. It’s also climate-controlled, Roadshow reports.
Plus, going with the Rubicon trim means goodies like Dana axles, an electronically-disconnecting sway bar, a shorter final drive ratio, and bigger off-road tires. And even non-Rubicon 4xe models have several skid plates, The Drive reports.
Unfortunately, the plug-in hybrid powertrain isn’t as efficient as the EPA estimates, Roadshow reports. In its hands, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe saw a combined 24 mpg after starting in EV-only mode. And once the battery pack’s depleted, the SUV only sees 20 mpg combined, MT reports. The rather low fuel economy is due to the pack’s extra weight, Automobile explains.
However, as we said before, people don’t buy Jeep Wranglers, hybrid or not, for fuel efficiency. And the extra weight pays dividends on paved roads, MT reports. It lowers the SUV’s center of gravity and improves the weight distribution, making for better handling. It also makes the Wrangler 4xe feel more stable on the highway, Automobile reports.
Those electric motors also boost the 2021 Wrangler 4xe’s low-end torque, making rock crawling a breeze, MT reports. And it means you can hit the trail in electric-only mode while keeping gasoline in reserve for the ride home.
Is it worth buying?
Admittedly, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe isn’t perfect. Besides the somewhat poor fuel economy, the hybrid drivetrain’s operations can cause some occasional shudders, MT reports. And the brake-by-wire system doesn’t always provide consistent feedback at very low speeds, Automobile reports. However, both MT and Automobile note that “some of these issues are endemic to modern PHEVs.”
In terms of price, the cheapest 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe, the Sahara, starts at $47,995. The Rubicon 4xe, meanwhile, starts at $51,695; the High Altitude 4xe starts at $53,815. For the first two trims, that’s about $9000 more than the equivalent non-hybrid four-door Wrangler. As for the High Altitude 4xe, the non-hybrid version is about $3700 cheaper. However, getting the Sahara or Rubicon 4xe means getting the larger center touchscreen, an upgraded Alpine audio system, and on the Sahara, leather seats, Car and Driver reports.
But is the hybrid Jeep Wrangler worth the up-charge? That depends. If you like the idea of off-roading silently and/or live somewhere that the 21-mile electric-only range isn’t a problem, it makes a lot of sense. But if you plan on doing a lot of highway driving, the diesel makes more sense from a fuel economy standpoint.
Still, if you were worried that going hybrid meant the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe couldn’t handle itself off-road, worry no more.
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