If you were to accuse Stellantis of only making EV compliance cars in the United States, you wouldn’t be off-base. Former executive Sergio Marchionne famously told the media to not buy the Fiat 500e because he lost $14,000 on every one he sold. But that was then, and this is now.
Today, Stellantis is in the business of making electric vehicles that they actually intend to sell, since more stringent emissions requirements and altering consumer tastes means that not everything has to have a Hellcat engine.
To prove that point, the first big electrification push in the United States with the Jeep brand is the flagship Wrangler. Since 1941, the Wrangler has been tearing up the trails, and business car parks, all around the globe. Up until recently, the box on wheels was only available in one engine option. Now there’s several, including a plug-in hybrid version.
That plug-in hybrid is why I got on an airplane and flew to the Texas Hill Country outside of Austin to spend a day wheeling this new Jeep.
Under the hood is a 2.0-liter gasoline-powered and turbocharged I4, mated to a hybrid electric motor and 17 kWh battery pack. The automatic-only 4xe delivers 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels (when required) via an 8-speed ZF transmission.
The 4xe makes the most torque of any of the modern Jeep Wranglers, matching the output of the HEMI Wrangler 392.
Being a plug-in hybrid, the Wrangler 4xe can also go up to 21 miles on electricity alone. That silent driving experience helps the Wrangler get a combined 49 MPGe on the EPA testing cycle.
Jeep claims that the 4xe Wrangler is all Jeep, so very few changes were made when the powertrain changed. The 4xe can still ford 30 inches of water. It still has dual lockers and a front sway bar disconnect (on the Rubicon version). It’ll crawl along in 4-lo without any fuss. It’s a Jeep.
What is different is the way it Jeeps. Off road, there is no sound if you drive in the fully-electric mode. All you hear, aside from the hum of the pedestrian warning speaker, is the sounds of nature. The birds chirping. The tires slipping on the rocks as they struggle for grip. With the roof and doors off, it’s nearly completely silent off-roading.
While that is cool, the electric motor makes the Wrangler more capable. Since it doesn’t use a conventional torque converter, the electric motor is locked to the drivetrain when in EV mode. That means there’s virtually no torque converter slip low speed crawling. Combined with the instant torque of an electric motor and you can rock crawl with basically the accelerator pedal.
If you need just a little bit of a push up a rock, you just need to apply a little bit of the pedal. If you need more grunt, just press the pedal down a little further. It feels like your right foot is directly connected to the BFGoodrich KO2 A/T tires (with optional M/T if you want).
It’s easily the best — stock — Jeep Wrangler I’ve ever driven off road. It’d be the one to buy if I was spending my time on the trails at Moab or on the Rubicon.
The 21 miles of electric only range is great if your commute takes you around town. If you have EV charging at work that helps you get even more electric only range, since you can plug in there. But it’s not as much range as some other PHEVs out there.
The most disappointing thing is when you run out of electricity and driving in hybrid mode. While I’ll give you the caveat that I was driving a Rubicon with no doors or windows, and the heater was on because I was riding with Jim Morrison, Head of Jeep Brand, and he was a bit chilly, I still only managed to get an indicated 18.5 mpg in combined city and highway driving.
That’s not terrible, especially for a Jeep. But for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, it’s also not stellar. Sure, it’s a brick on wheels, but the EcoDiesel version of the Wrangler can easily get 30 mpg indicated without issue.
However, I do appreciate that Jeep now has options. Mr. Morrison was telling me how the 4xe customer is the same as the EcoDiesel customer or the 392 customer, and that it’ll draw new people to the brand.
It also gives you a choice. If you will spend most of your time on the highway driving longer distances, you want the diesel. If you want to wake your neighbors in the morning, you want the 392. If you live within 20 miles of your job or most of your commuting is done locally, the 4xe is a solid choice.
Plus, the 4xe benefits from the $7,500 tax credit, if you can get it, which makes it the least expensive Rubicon Wrangler you can purchase.
It’s also the best Rubicon Wrangler you can purchase if you actually use your Jeep for Jeep stuff, and not crawling the curbs at the local shopping center.
There are no doubts that the 4xe is a proper Jeep. It’ll do proper Jeep things. It’ll also change your perception of off-roading and show you how electricity can make the experience better.
This is a Jeep thing that I completely understand.