We’re all aware of the Jeep Wrangler’s legendary off-road capabilities, and the newly available plug-in-hybrid version (identifiable by electric-blue tow hooks, badge tracing, seat stitching and other cues) marries Wrangler’s 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. to two electric motors and a 17-kWh battery pack.
It can commute, climb rocks and ford streams as well as any other Wrangler and more smoothly, quietly and fuel-efficiently, at least for the first 20-plus miles (32 km). And the motor’s strong instant torque is a much-appreciated bonus both on- and off-road.
With a total system output of 375 hp and 470 lb.-ft. (637 Nm) of torque, a Wrangler 4xe (say: “four-by-E”) can launch from zero to 60 mph (97 km/h) in a quick 6.0 seconds yet can cruise (conservatively) up to 25 miles (40 km) on its battery alone before the engine kicks in. It boasts the same beefy Trail Rated running gear as conventional Wranglers: solid front and rear axles, full-time 4x4 two-speed transfer case, fully articulating suspension and 30 ins. (76 cm) of water fording capability. And its EPA ratings are 49 MPGe on battery power and 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km) gas only.
Jeep calls it the “next natural evolution for Jeep 4x4,” offering (limited) fuel-free off-roading and working to install grid- and/or solar-powered EV charge stations along popular off-road trails.
“We are committed to make Jeep the greenest SUV brand,” says Christian Meunier, Stellantis’ Jeep Brand CEO. “The electrification of the Jeep lineup will allow commuters to travel solely on electric power, delivering an efficient and fun on-road experience and offering an ability to enjoy even more Jeep capability off-road in nearly complete silence.”
PHEV Powertrain (pictured, below)
The 2.0L direct-injected turbo-4’s twin-scroll turbocharger is mounted directly to the cylinder head. The liquid-cooled, high-voltage motor/generator, driven by the engine crankshaft via a heavy-duty belt, replaces the conventional alternator, spins the engine for start-stop operation and generates electricity for the battery pack. A second high-voltage motor/generator replaces the conventional torque converter of the 8-speed automatic.
Torque from the engine and motor blend seamlessly to drive the 4xe when the binary (on/off) clutch between them is closed, while the motor provides electric-only propulsion when it’s open. A variable clutch manages the motor’s engagement with the transmission to improve drivability and efficiency.
Three operating modes are available. The default Hybrid mode blends torque from the engine and motor, using battery power first, then engine torque when the battery reaches minimum state of charge (SOC). Electric mode runs battery only until it reaches minimum SOC or the driver requests more torque, which engages the engine. eSave mode prioritizes engine power to save the battery’s charge for later use and/or charge it while driving.
The 96-cell, 400V, 17-kWh lithium-ion battery pack (with nickel manganese cobalt graphite chemistry) and its controls live in an aluminum housing under the second-row seat with its own heating and cooling circuit to keep it at optimum temperature. An Integrated Dual Charging Module combines the battery charger and DC/DC converter in one compact unit.
These components are housed and protected in a steel structure below the battery pack, and the high-voltage electronics are waterproof-sealed. A 12V battery runs accessories.
Models and Features
Jeep 4xe PHEVs are available in Sahara ($47,995), Rubicon ($51,695) and High Altitude ($53,570) models for 2021. Saharas and High Altitudes feature full-time 4x4, front and rear “next-generation” Dana 44 axles, Selec-Trac 2-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear and Selec-Speed hill-ascent/-descent control.
An available Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential adds capability in such low-traction conditions as sand, gravel, snow and ice. The Wrangler Rubicon 4xe boasts Jeep’s Rock-Trac 4x4 system with a 2-speed transfer case and 4:1 low-range gear ratio, Tru-Lok electric front- and rear-axle lockers, a 77.2:1 crawl ratio and front-axle electronic-sway-bar disconnect for improved suspension travel and articulation.
Like all Jeep Wranglers, 4xes are “Trail Rated” with such off-road necessities as skid plates and tow hooks front and rear, and Rubicons offer 10.8 in. (27.4 cm) ground clearance and 44-, 22.5- and 35.6-degree approach, breakover and departure angles, respectively.
Yes, 4xe Wranglers can do anything other Wranglers can, including towing up to 3,500 lbs. (1,588 kg), and the availability of instant low-end torque from the electric motor enables precise, controlled climbing and crawling with no need to build up engine rpm.
Regenerative braking provides up to 0.25 g of deceleration before the friction brakes blend in, and a Max-Regen button slows the Jeep more aggressively while recovering more electric energy.
You can feel the 500-700-lb. (227-318 kg) extra weight of the battery and hybrid system, the ride is typical Wrangler bouncy and the solid-front-axle steering a bit wonky on rough surfaces, but smooth-road handling is adequate. Most impressive is the 4xe’s strong acceleration, especially in two-lane passing, as the motor’s instant torque boosts response below the turbo-4’s torque peak.
The infotainment touchscreen is small by today’s standards but works well in company with our preferred two knobs. We drove 19.2 miles (31 km) in Electric mode on a mix of roads in workday traffic before the engine kicked in and averaged 22.3 mpg (10.5 L/100 km) in our 112.5-mile (181-km) test drive.
Assembled in Toledo, OH, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe will be sold globally, with electric vehicle charge port plugs tailored to specific regions. Level Two 240V charger units can be purchased online or at Jeep dealers.