2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe and Wrangler 4xe: What's Quiet Off-Roading Like?

jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 08 exterior offroad front angle scaled jpg 2023 Jeep Wrangler 20th Anniversary Rubicon 4xe | Cars.com photo by Corey Watts

When you hear the term “plug-in hybrid,” an economical commuter vehicle might be the first thing that comes to mind — something like a Toyota Prius Prime or a Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid. Jeep, as a maker of rugged off-road machines, might not seem like an obvious brand to offer a PHEV, but in fact, it has two: the Grand Cherokee 4xe and Wrangler 4xe, with the latter being the bestselling PHEV in America.

Related: What is a Jeep Jamboree?

Fuel efficiency and the ability to drive solely on electric power are the primary benefits of a plug-in hybrid, of course. An overnight charge on a regular household outlet supplies the typical PHEV with more than enough juice for gasoline-free daily commuting for the vast majority of Americans; the all-electric driving range of current PHEVs varies from around 20 miles to 45 miles. The Wrangler 4xe is EPA-estimated to go 21 miles solely on electric power, while the Grand Cherokee 4xe is rated at 25 miles of all-electric range.

In the case of Jeep’s PHEVs, there’s another plus: quiet off-roading while running on electric power instead of the gasoline engine. We wanted to see what that’s like, so we took the two most off-road-capable 4xe models, a 2023 Wrangler Rubicon 20th Anniversary Edition and our long-term 2023 Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, to a Jeep Jamboree event at the Badlands Off Road Park in Attica, Ind.

jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 01 exterior group scaled jpg 2023 Jeep Wrangler 20th Anniversary Rubicon 4xe (left) and 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe Trailhawk | Cars.com photo by Corey Watts

How to eSave It Up

Both the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee 4xes have the same basic plug-in hybrid powertrain, with variations to fit their respective vehicle platforms. We started out our days on the trails with a fully charged battery on both vehicles — a pretty simple thing to do thanks to the 4xes’ eSave drive mode. This mode does just what its name suggests: It saves the battery’s charge by prioritizing the gasoline engine to power the vehicle. The eSave mode also has a charge setting that uses the gas engine as a generator to recharge the battery. Hybrid mode (the default setting) uses both the gas engine and the electric motor, and Electric mode operates the vehicle solely on battery power until the battery’s charge is depleted (unless you floor the accelerator pedal, in which case the gas engine kicks in to assist).

The Badlands Off Road Park was a 45-minute drive from our hotel, so we pushed the eSave button before we departed. (The system defaults to Hybrid mode every time the vehicle is started, so the driver needs to manually activate the eSave or Electric modes.) On our drive over to the park, we noticed the battery’s state of charge hovered around 95%, not 100%. This makes sense because this way, the powertrain benefits from the “free” energy provided by the regenerative braking system. The 4xe’s regenerative brakes include a driver-selectable Max Regen mode that dials in more aggressive regenerative braking when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal. It’s not the one-pedal driving that you get in many EVs and a couple PHEVs, but Max Regen significantly reduces the need to apply the brake pedal.

jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 38 interior dashboard controls scaled jpg 2023 Jeep Wrangler 20th Anniversary Rubicon 4xe | Cars.com photo by Max Bednarski

The Sounds of (Near) Silence

As we headed out on the trails at the Badlands park, we activated the Electric drive mode. Driving off-road solely on electric power is a somewhat surreal (and very pleasant) experience. The absence of the gas engine’s exhaust note puts you that much closer to nature. I heard birds singing and crickets chirping, and when we were fording a stream, I heard the relaxing burble of the water flowing past. It was therapeutic even though it wasn’t totally silent. The absence of an exhaust note means the other sounds the vehicle makes are more prominent, like the climate-control system’s fans and the fans of the Grand Cherokee’s ventilated front seats. And the ambient temperature hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit on both of our trail days, so we were using those fans on high most of the time.

The 4xe’s electric motors are not completely silent, either; there’s a muted electric whir that rises in pitch as you depress the accelerator pedal. I appreciated this sound because it helped me calibrate my accelerator-pedal inputs. One of the challenges of off-road driving is giving the vehicle the right amount of power: Too little pressure on the pedal, and you won’t make it up the obstacle or maintain enough forward momentum to power through a tough or muddy spot; too much pressure, and you’ll lose traction and spin the wheels, or careen off the top of a ridge or other obstacle too quickly. Having an aural aid so you can hear how hard the powertrain is working is helpful in these situations.

Another boon of an electric powertrain in off-road driving is ultra-smooth power delivery. Tackling serious off-road terrain requires a four-wheel-drive transfer case with low-range gears, and shifting into 4-Low really changes the way an off-road vehicle’s internal-combustion powertrain behaves; there’s more high-rpm engine noise and there can be some clunky behavior.

When you’re running in pure-electric mode, there’s no need to get the gas engine up to optimal rpm to make it up a steep incline or what have you. The electric motor’s torque is available immediately, and since there are no gears to speak of, the power delivery is perfectly smooth and the accelerator pedal’s response is perfectly linear — easy-peasy, especially for drivers who are new to off-roading.

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jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 41 exterior offroad front angle scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 68 interior front row scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 71 interior instrument panel scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 72 interior center stack display scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 73 interior center stack display scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 69 interior drive mode scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 70 interior drive mode jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 43 exterior offroad front angle scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 40 exterior offroad front angle scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 46 exterior offroad rear scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 45 exterior offroad front scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 64 exterior front damage scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 65 exterior side view mirror damage scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 66 exterior wheel damage scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 67 exterior wheel damage scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 62 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 61 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 60 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 58 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 57 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 59 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 56 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 55 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 54 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 40 exterior offroad front angle scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 47 exterior front angle scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 63 exterior front damage jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 51 exterior front scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 48 exterior profile scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 49 exterior profile wheel scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 50 exterior wheel ride height scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 52 exterior rear scaled jpg jeep grand cherokee trailhawk 4xe 2023 53 exterior taillight scaled jpg

How Long May You Run?

When the Wrangler 4xe was launched as a 2021 model, Jeep claimed the vehicle’s powertrain was good for around three to four hours of driving off-road, and our experience at Badlands backs that up. We set out on the trails at around 9 a.m., and both the Wrangler’s and Grand Cherokee’s battery packs were down to almost zero when we stopped for lunch at a little past noon.

That didn’t mean our electric off-roading was completely done for the day, however. After lunch, we turned on eSave mode again and activated the Battery Charge setting, and after a couple of more hours of off-road driving, both the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee’s batteries had gained back a respectable amount of charge: They were back up to 30% or so, which was enough for us to turn on Electric mode again and do a bit more quiet off-roading later in the afternoon.

We’ll also note that Jeep has been installing Level 2 electric vehicle chargers at the trailheads of select popular off-roading areas (which 4xe owners can use for free). The Badlands park is one of those spots, so we plugged in the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee for about an hour at the end of our first day while we ate dinner. It takes about two hours to fully charge a 4xe’s battery pack with these chargers, so we didn’t top off our batteries, but it’s still a nice option to make optimal use of a meal break.

jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 05 exterior offroad front angle scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 30 interior front row scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 34 interior gearshift scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 33 interior drive mode scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 35 interior center stack display scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 31 interior steering wheel scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 32 interior instrument panel scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 36 interior center stack display scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 11 exterior offroad rear angle scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 21 exterior front angle scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 17 exterior front badge scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 22 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anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 12 exterior offroad front scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 07 exterior offroad rear scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 09 exterior offroad front scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 23 exterior rear scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 37 interior dashboard controls scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 26 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 27 exterior undercarraige scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 25 exterior wheel scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 20 exterior profile wheel scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 24 exterior taillight scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 28 interior engine scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 29 interior engine scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 19 exterior profile badge scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 16 exterior front scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 18 exterior profile scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 10 exterior offroad front angle scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 15 exterior front scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 06 exterior offroad front angle scaled jpg jeep wrangler 20th anniversary rubicon 4xe 2023 04 exterior offroad rear angle scaled jpg

The Costs Involved

No new Jeeps come cheap, and the 4xe Jeeps cost a lot more than their comparably equipped non-hybrid counterparts — around $10,000 more. The cheapest 2023 Wrangler 4xe starts at more than $56,000 (prices include destination), and the Grand Cherokee 4xe Trailhawk starts at more than $67,000. And the only way to get a 2023 Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is with the 4xe powertrain; Jeep dropped the regular gasoline-only Trailhawk for the 2023 model year. Jeep is adding a lower-priced Sport S trim level to the Wrangler 4xe lineup as part of the Wrangler’s refresh for 2024 that drops the price of entry by around $5,000, but even then, you’re still above the $50,000 mark to start. Both 4xes are, however, eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $3,750.

As we experienced firsthand, the 4xe system offers benefits beyond fuel efficiency. Just remember to be diligent about plugging in your 4xe; we suspect that a lot of owners don’t, which means they paid all that extra money and are lugging around the weight of the electric powertrain without reaping the full benefits of the system.

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Senior Research Editor Damon Bell has more than 25 years of experience in the automotive industry, beginning as an Engineering Graphics researcher/proofreader at model-car manufacturer Revell-Monogram. From there, he moved on to various roles at Collectible Automobile magazine and Consumer Guide Automotive before joining Cars.com in August 2022. He served as president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association in 2019 and 2020. Email Damon Bell

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