The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is second only to the mighty Rubicon 392 in terms of power: 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque (which actually ties the 392) from its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four and an electric motor stuffed between the engine and the transmission. So it’s a quick Jeep—we clocked it at 5.5 seconds, zero to 60 mph—and efficient (as Wranglers go), earning a 49 MPGe rating from the EPA. But there’s a big caveat there: that gaudy EPA number applies only to electric mode.
Deplete the battery and drive it like a regular hybrid, and that number drops to 20 mpg combined, which is no better than most non-hybrid Wrangler trims, and actually worse than some of them—the diesel Rubicon earns a 23 mpg combined rating. So for the 4xe to make sense for a reason other than its strapping horsepower (which, we admit, is a good reason on its own), you’d need to take regular advantage of that EV mode. The question, then, is whether the 4xe’s electric mode is any good.
Some plug-in hybrids have EV modes that are robust, like shorter-range electric cars (see: the dearly departed Chevy Volt) and others seem like Rube Goldberg schemes to goose EPA numbers and/or qualify for tax credits (the Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4 Plug-In Hybrid). The Wrangler is on the robust side. Its roughly 14.0-kWh battery pack is good for an EPA-rated 21 miles of electric range, with enough capacity to qualify for the full $7500 federal EV tax credit. And its motor is reasonably stout, making 134 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque.
Some plug-ins place the electric motor on one axle or the other to achieve all-wheel-drive (the Mini; Volvos) but the Wrangler mounts it ahead of the transmission, where it can take advantage of the eight-speed automatic’s bounty of ratios. That position also means that EV mode can power all four wheels, even in low-range four-wheel-drive. Despite the conventional wisdom about EVs not requiring more than one gear, they like to have more than one gear. And unlike its Chrysler Pacifica PHEV cousin, the plug-in Wrangler gives the driver the option to dictate the powertrain’s behavior, choosing from hybrid, EV or battery-save modes. In EV mode, it’ll stay in EV mode unless you floor it or the battery runs out.
For all the advantages of its layout, the 4xe’s EV mode gives us a 5318-pound Wrangler Rubicon with less horsepower than a 2002 TJ-generation four-cylinder. Is that OK to drive, at all? Surprisingly: yes. Now let’s get into the important questions.
How Slow Is It?
Off the line, the 4xe feels reasonable. That’s the best way to describe it. Around town, it’s fine. A very not-official acceleration run showed a zero-to-30 mph time of less than six seconds, but from there the acceleration tails off dramatically. From 50 mph to 60 mph takes an eon or two, adding up to a zero-to-60 mph time that has to be near 20 seconds. Even from rest, acceleration is never so rapid that the digital speedometer has to skip any numbers. But above 50 , you get a good long look at each digit. In the lower gears, you’re keeping up with traffic. And you can cruise at highway speeds as long as the battery allows. It just takes a while to get there.
The 4xe actually has two electric motors, but the second one—44 horsepower and 39 pound-feet of torque—can’t help the cause in EV mode. That’s because that one, the starter-generator, is connected to the crankshaft pulley. So with the ICE engine dormant, it’s out of the game.
Can It Tow?
Yes, it can. I hooked up my 12-foot utility trailer and added a 2021 Polaris RZR Trail (1238 pounds, dry) and a Honda TRX 90X (262 pounds). Along with the trailer itself, the total weight was around 2000 pounds. Which, literally, is a ton of weight, and more than halfway to the Wrangler’s 3500-pound tow rating. And while the 4xe got even slower, it relentlessly hauled its burden up steep hills and over 55-mph back roads without calling on the four-cylinder for help. The range dropped precipitously, likely twice as fast as usual, but some local EV-mode towing is certainly a possibility with the 4xe.
Can It Do A Burnout?
Yes, with an asterisk. Unlike the Rubicon 392, the 4xe’s full-time transfer case includes a two-wheel-drive mode. So I set it to rear-drive, turned off the traction control, engaged EV mode, held the brake while adding gas, and . . . pulled smoothly away. There’s no way the electric motor will overcome the rear brakes for a brakestand, nor does it have the oomph to simply bark the tires on its own. But that’s on pavement. On dirt? Yeah, it’ll roast them, as the two KO2-sized trenches in my driveway can attest. I’d say this was my first EV dirt burnout, but I’ve also drifted a Mitsubishi iMiev out of my driveway, because I’m a maniac.
Can It Off-Road?
This might be the most salient point for some Wrangler 4xe owners: the ability to silently go off-roading. And on this point, the 4xe Rubicon is as stout as other Rubicons: 30-inch water fording ability, locking front and rear diffs, electronically disconnecting front sway bar. I went creeping around with it in EV mode, and the strictures of technical trail-running—low speeds and precision are rewarded—are in sync with the capabilities of the electric side of the powertrain.
But if you’re about to hit the dunes at Glamis or attempt the bounty hole at your local Tuff Truckz Mud Fiesta: Yeah, fire up that turbo four. As useful as EV mode can be, it’s nice to know that there’s also 375 horsepower there when you want it.
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