A Whisper In the Woods: Jeep Details the 2021 Wrangler 4xe Plug-In Hybrid

Competes with: Ford Bronco, Land Rover Defender, Toyota 4Runner

Looks like: Your average Jeep Wrangler four-door, but with blue trim

Powertrain: A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with two electric motors for a combined 375 system horsepower; eight-speed automatic transmission and two available four-wheel drive systems; 17.3-kilowatt-hour battery and an estimated 25 miles of electric-only range

Hits dealerships: Early 2021

Given all the hoopla this year surrounding the unveiling of the extraordinary new 2021 Ford Bronco, you’d be forgiven if you forgot Jeep still makes the incredibly popular Wrangler. Jeep would like to remind you that not only is it the most popular off-roader still on sale in the U.S., but it has more than a few tricks up its sleeve to keep the iconic Wrangler relevant in the face of Ford’s new competitor. The latest trick is the new 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid electric SUV with a potentially whisper quiet 25 miles of electric-only range. 

Related: Jeep Will Plug Three Coming Plug-ins, Including a Wrangler, at 2020 CES

That’s “four-by-E,” like how you’d say “four-by-four,” with the “E” signifying that this is the new PHEV Wrangler variant Jeep has been promising for a few years now. At first glance, the Wrangler 4xe seems to be a remarkably simple setup, adding a battery pack and swapping the Wrangler’s traditional eight-speed ZF automatic transmission for one that now includes an electric motor. Given the Wrangler’s go-anywhere mission, a lot more engineering and testing has been thrown at the SUV to make sure it works wherever you take it, even retaining the gas-only Wrangler’s 30-inch water-fording rating.

Exterior

From the outside, there are new “4xe” badges outlined in blue trim to tell you what you’re looking at. Blue is also the color of choice for the front and rear tow hooks, script outline, Trail Rated badge background and stitching on the Rubicon’s seats. The 4xe powertrain will be available on four-door versions of the base 4xe, Sahara 4xe and Rubicon 4xe trims, so it’s not limited to any high-level trim spec. It will have the same exterior trim and wheel changes that correspond to the trim level you select, so maybe your fenders are painted, maybe they’re black plastic, maybe your wheel sizes are larger or smaller. 4xe and Sahara 4xe models get 20-inch wheels, while the Rubicon 4xe comes with 17-inch wheels and 33-inch tires.

The biggest giveaway that this isn’t a traditional Wrangler is the high-mounted charging door at the base of the driver-side windshield. While the 4xe only minimally impacts the appearance of the Wrangler externally, the bigger and more substantial changes are underneath and inside.

Under the Hood

The 4xe powertrain builds off of the Wrangler’s optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Here, it’s combined with the eTorque starter-alternator and a new hybridized transmission that replaces the torque converter in the standard ZF eight-speed automatic with a new dual-clutch setup and a built-in electric motor. It enables the Wrangler 4xe to operate either in a claimed nearly silent full EV mode, full hybrid mode or full gasoline mode depending on the conditions, battery charge and what the driver has manually selected. All together, the system now makes a Hemi-V-8-like 375 system horsepower and a whopping 470 pounds-feet of torque.

A 17.3-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is now mounted below the modified rear seats, which flip and fold but no longer do so completely flat. While rear cargo and passenger volume are not impacted by the addition of the battery pack, total interior cargo volume is slightly lower. The battery is mounted between the frame rails for added protection, and the whole high-voltage system is completely sealed and waterproof, allowing the Wrangler 4xe to maintain the 30-inch water fording rating just like the traditional gas-only Wranglers. Charging should take 10-12 hours on standard 110-volt household outlet power, but that drops to just two hours if a 240-volt Level 2 system is employed. High-voltage DC fast charging is not offered (and not really needed).

Three modes of operation are selectable via dedicated buttons in the cabin using the new E Selec system: Hybrid (the default mode), Electric and eSave, which saves the state of charge on the battery for later use or can actually recharge the battery using the gas engine. A Max Regen feature is also included, allowing for one-pedal operation of the SUV through more aggressive deceleration via the electric motor when lifting off the throttle.

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Jeep says the hybrid combination can launch the Wrangler 4xe from 0-60 mph in just 6.0 seconds, making it the quickest production Wrangler the company has ever offered. If you’re less interested in speed and more interested in efficiency, the overall range of the beast is 400 miles on combined gas and electricity, and when treated gently, can provide 25 miles of electric-only range. This is a bit less than gas-only Wranglers, which average in the mid-400-mile range, and a lot less than the diesel Wrangler, which manages an EPA-rated 538 miles of range.

Two four-wheel-drive systems are offered. The base 4xe and Sahara 4xe use the full-time Selec-Trac all-wheel-drive setup with a 2.72:1 low-range. It comes with a selectable two-wheel-drive high mode for when you don’t need the traction, or full-time all-wheel drive if you just never want to think about it. The elimination of the torque converter has enabled Jeep to add their Selec-Speed off-road cruise control, which allows the driver to choose a speed up to 5 mph for off-road slow-speed driving. The Rubicon 4xe model uses the more aggressive Rock-Trac 4×4 system with a 4:1 low-range, electronic locking front- and rear-axles, a new full-time four-wheel-drive setting and a crawl ratio of 77.2:1.

Dana 44 axles are present front and rear on all models just like the Wrangler Rubicon, and ride height is only marginally different from standard Wranglers — unchanged on the Rubicon and about 10.1 inches on other models according to Jeep (a standard Wrangler four-door has 9.7 inches of clearance, while a standard Sahara has 10.0 inches). Overall, the Wrangler hybrid is 700-800 pounds heavier than a comparable gas-only 2.0-liter. Towing capacity is still rated at 3,500 pounds, the same as the other Wrangler four-door models, while payload capacity is 1,280 pounds (standard Wrangler payloads vary from 1,136 for a diesel Sport to 1,351 for a 3.6-liter V-6 equipped Rubicon).

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Interior

The cabin is largely unchanged from other versions of the Wrangler, with a fewf notable exceptions. Since the 4xe is more a powertrain option than a trim level, the interior appearance will be linked to whichever of the three trim levels the buyer chooses: 4xe, Sahara 4xe or Rubicon 4xe. But there’s a new switch panel with the Hybrid modes, and an indicator light atop the dashboard shows the 4xe’s battery state of charge. There are now Hybrid Electric Pages on the Uconnect system that show all kinds of vehicle information, as well as provide an efficiency coach for the driver to maximize their efforts. The gauge cluster is now different, as well, with an analog tachometer and power meter flanking a digital central screen. 

The new Wrangler 4xe will be available only as a four-door, and pricing will be announced closer to the vehicle’s arrival in early 2021.

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