It's far from perfect, but it makes a lot of sense.
We've tested many plug-in hybrid vehicles this year, but none have left us as perplexed as the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Hybrid. This vehicle is cool and flawed in equal measure. The Wrangler 4xe is Jeep's first PHEV here in the United States, but the American automaker says it plans to have one in every segment by 2025, including an all-electric vehicle in 2023. So, how does the Wrangler fair as an introduction to Jeep's electrified future? Well, it's complicated.
First, it's worth a refresher on what makes a PHEV different from a standard hybrid. While standard hybrids (HEVs) operate like a normal gasoline-powered car (you put gasoline in the tank and go), a PHEV can also be plugged in like a battery electric vehicle (BEV) and driven around on electricity for a limited range. PHEVs are ideal for commuters who don't travel very far on a daily basis and can take full advantage of the short electric range. Depending on your lifestyle, the 4xe might be the best Wrangler available, or a waste of money.
Here is what we loved about the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, and what we might change.
Besides the V8-powered Rubicon 392, which costs $74,395, the 4xe (pronounced '4-by-e') is the quickest and most potent Wrangler money can buy. It operates using the same 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine found in other Wrangler trims, paired with two electric motors and a 17-kWh battery pack to produce a total output of 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque (that second number is tied with the HEMI V8 model). With the electrified propulsion, the 4xe rockets to 60 mph in a scant six seconds.
The 4xe is considerably slower when operating only on electric power, producing only 134 hp. Driving the 4xe in EV mode is a surreal experience, since Wranglers are often accompanied by loud gasoline engines that distract from wind and road noise. Pressing the pedal too hard will trigger the gas engine to fire up, but you can keep up with traffic in EV mode. We enjoyed leaving the stoplight smoothly and silently, before the engine kicked in to deliver more invigorating acceleration.
PHEVs are a nice stopgap for buyers that aren't ready to embrace a fully electric vehicle, offering EV range for daily commutes, and gasoline engines for long trips; but most suffer from pretty abysmal EV range, limiting their usefulness. The best PHEVs on the market can travel around 30 to 40 miles on a charge, but the 4xe only manages around 22 miles. This is fine if your commute to work is around 10 miles or less, and as we don't have access to home charging, the 4xe required frequent trips to the charging station.
The 4xe defaults to hybrid mode, where it combines the gasoline engine and electric motors, but drains the battery. In EV mode, the engine is shut off except for specific, high-throttle situations, while e-save keeps the battery charged for later or uses the engine to recharge. Using the engine to recharge the battery is an easy way to skip the charging station, but it wreaks havoc on your fuel economy.
Since the battery isn't massive, charging the 4xe only takes around two hours on a level 2 charger. This balloons to around 12 hours on a Level 1 charger, likely requiring an overnight session.
Jeep offers the 4xe drivetrain on the Sahara, High Altitude, and Rubicon trim levels, with the Rubicon being the most off-road capable model. Rubicon buyers like to know that their vehicle can handle the most extreme off-road situations, and the 4xe does not disappoint. There is essentially no downside to getting the 4xe over any other drivetrain. Even in EV mode, the 4xe offers the full capability you'd expect of a Rubicon model, including low-range and locking differentials.
The additional torque from the electric motors helps the 4xe crawl up some insane obstacles, and off-roading with no engine sound is interesting to say the least. The all-electric range runs out quickly on an off-road trail, but it's rather enjoyable while it lasts. We think the 4xe makes a bit more sense on the road-focused Sahara and High Altitude trims, but it's nice to know that the Rubicon's capability isn't impeded in any way with this drivetrain.
Most automakers position their hybrid vehicles as the fuel efficient option, but the 4xe actually drinks more than other Wrangler drivetrains. The EPA rates the Wrangler Rubicon 392 as the thirstiest with a 14-mpg average, the EcoDiesel sips the least fuel at 25-mpg combined, and 4xe is rated at 20-mpg combined when running on gasoline or 49 MPGe when using gas and electricity. By comparison, the non-hybrid four-cylinder Wrangler averages 22 to 23-mpg (depending on configuration) while the 3.6-liter V6 averages between 20 to 21 mpg with the eight-speed automatic.
With a short commute and frequent charging, the 4xe could potentially save you money over a V6 or four-cylinder Wrangler. But if you plan to use it like a conventional car and rarely plan to plug it in, you can expect to see pretty abysmal fuel economy. During our week-long test, which included frequent charging and charging using the engine, we only averaged 19.2 mpg. Jeep clearly wants buyers to consider the 4xe as a performance option, not a fuel-saving one.
Aside from the V8 Rubicon 392 model, the 4xe is the most expensive Wrangler drivetrain on paper. However, the 4xe manages to qualify for the full $7,500 federal tax credit, making it a more reasonable upgrade. Jeep only offers the 4xe in four-door Unlimited guise, starting at $49,805 for the Sahara, $53,500 for the Rubicon, and $55,625 for the High Altitude. Factoring in the automatic transmission on a base V6 Rubicon, the 4xe is roughly a $9,000 upgrade. That's significantly more than the $1,000 upgrade for the turbo four-cylinder or $3,500 for the EcoDiesel, but the tax credit essentially brings that number down to around $1,500.
Remember, the 4xe is much more powerful than the non-hybrid four-cylinder or the EcoDiesel, and is second only to the Rubicon 392, which is significantly more expensive. The electric range isn't massive, but it's nice to have in a pinch. And although you don't receive the tax credit up front to lower the price, Jeep can factor it into a lease payment to make the monthly cost much lower than you'd expect.
We've heard some buyers have leased the 4xe for less than a gas-only Wrangler. It may not be the most efficient PHEV on the market, but by taking advantage of the tax credit, the 4xe might be the smartest way to buy a Wrangler right now.