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2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe review: Retro-electrified

Mention off-road vehicles and the first one that comes to mind is the venerable Jeep Wrangler. This icon made a name for itself in the dirt by giving its drivers the ability to go anywhere whether it’s paved or not. It defines the idea of freedom, a vehicle made to take you places and bring you new experiences. Now, the legend has been electrified in the form of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe and it promises to amplify its capability with more power and improved versatility thanks to its plug-in hybrid powertrain. Let’s dive in and see if the Wrangler with a plug is as capable as its siblings.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe exterior

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe rear three quarters 02
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Available only in the four-door Unlimited body style, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe retains the same iconic design as its non-electrified siblings. You get the seven-slot grille, round headlights, turn signals on the fender arches, square taillights, and a boxy greenhouse. The spare tire remains mounted on the back. There are several Easter eggs throughout the car including little Willys Jeep icons on each wheel and the windshield. Blue tow hooks, trail-rated badge, and model names on the front fenders, and blue and black Rubicon and 4xe badges hint at this Wrangler’s electrified powertrain.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe interior

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe front seats 01
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The Jeep Wrangler is one of two SUVs that lets you have an open-air experience. You can take the doors, roof, and rear window panels off to give you the most liberating driving experience on and off the pavement. Its windshield also folds down to further amplify that. However, there is a trade-off and that’s sound insulation. You get a lot of road, wind, and tire noise entering the cabin even with the vehicle completely closed up especially on the highway.

Since the 4xe model is available only in the Wrangler Unlimited, it’s fairly practical. Four people and their gear easily fit in the car. The front seats are comfortable enough for long road trips and you can get them with heating if you opt for the Cold Weather Group. Additional small-item storage would also be welcome because the glove box is small and the only place to put your phone in on the center console is the storage bin and cup holders. Folding the second row gives you more cargo space but you need to flip the cushion over first before you drop the seat backs.

Due to its body structure, there are intrusions in the cargo area. Parts of the vehicle’s frame are within the cabin to allow for removable panels, roofs, and windows. Models with the optional Alpine audio system have a subwoofer in the cargo area cutting into the available space. Thankfully, the lithium-ion battery is mounted under the rear seats and the passenger compartment, meaning it doesn’t cut into the interior.

Most of the materials used in the Wrangler 4xe’ s cabin feels good to the touch. There are lots of soft-touch bits but there are also harder plastics near areas you interact with. The controls operate with a good level of tactility and they’re nice and large, making them easy to use even if you have gloves on.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe tech features

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe main display 01
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The Wrangler 4xe uses the older Uconnect 4.0 interface. Our test car came with an 8.4-inch touch screen, which is easy to use and responsive. Despite being an older version, it remains one of the most intuitive infotainment systems on the market. The menu structure is logical and there are next to no submenus. However, the map graphics on the built-in navigation are grainy. It also does a fantastic job combining the native interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you to easily toggle between the two. The nine-speaker Alpine audio system sounds good and can easily drown out the wind noise during highway driving.

There are a limited number of driver assistance features available on the Wrangler 4xe. For instance, you can’t get steering assist, lane departure warning, and lane centering even with the Safety and Advanced Safety groups. The features you can get, though, work well. Adaptive cruise control does a great job maintaining your set distance and reacts quickly to other vehicles cutting you off or the car ahead suddenly braking. It’s tuned more conservatively to make up for the Wrangler’s weight and size, meaning it slows down earlier when traffic conditions ahead get congested.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe driving impressions

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Driving the Wrangler 4xe immediately lets you know that it’s an off-road SUV first despite the current generation’s more civilized personality. The steering is slow and light and you feel its 5,222-pound curb weight. On pavement, it’s bulky and isn’t up to the task of getting tossed around. Even with the plug-in hybrid’s lower center of gravity, there is a noticeable amount of body roll and vertical motions through corners and uneven pavement. You have to make a lot of steering corrections when driving at highway speeds to keep the SUV tracking straight because it follows ruts and little cracks on the road. This is especially notable on the Rubicon model with its knobby all-terrain tires.

Things change when you get the Wrangler 4xe in the dirt. To put it simply, this rig is unstoppable. From high-speed desert running to rock crawling, it’s up to the task and will get you to your destination even if there are no roads involved. Between its part-time 4WD system, locking differentials, disconnecting anti-roll bars and axles, generous ground clearance, and all-terrain tires, there’s no reason you can’t go over an obstacle in front of you. A ravine followed by what looks like a set of stairs made of rocks? No problem. Trails with insanely uneven terrain that gets one wheel in the air more than once? Not even a challenge.

Regardless of whether you’re on a paved surface or not, the Wrangler 4xe rides comfortably. The suspension is calibrated on the soft side, allowing it to handily absorb all kinds of road imperfections and keep harsh impacts out of the cabin. Further making the SUV ride better are tires with generous sidewalls because there’s more cushioning from potholes, ruts, and other obstacles.

Part of the credit goes to the Wrangler 4xe’ s plug-in hybrid powertrain. It couples a 2.0-liter turbo-four with an electric motor, a 17.2-kWh battery, and an eight-speed automatic transmission for a combined output of 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. This powertrain effortlessly moves the 2.5-ton SUV around, making everything from highway passing maneuvers to getting up a hill or to freeway speeds a cinch. Seamless shifts from the gearbox and minimal turbo lag contribute to how easy it is to extract the most out of the powertrain.

In the dirt, the instant torque from the electric motor means it can motivate the vehicle for extended periods. Since you’re going slow in most off-road situations, the Wrangler 4xe can easily crawl over rocks and the majority of obstacles in all-electric mode. The only time the gas engine comes into the picture is when you ask for more power or if it’s needed to get up a tricky obstacle. A meaty midrange also means the turbocharged four-pot doesn’t have to work as hard to get you through the majority of trails.

Brake pedal operation is usually where you’ll notice a vehicle’s electrified nature. That’s the case with the Wrangler 4xe but only because of its ability to recuperate energy. Transitions from regenerative to mechanical braking are seamless and it’s impossible to detect where it happens. A button lets you toggle max regeneration on or off. Keeping it active gives you enough recuperation to nearly bring the vehicle to a complete stop, meaning you don’t need to step on the brake pedal as often.

As with most body-on-frame SUVs focused on off-road capability, there’s a lot of front-end dive during emergency braking. This is especially apparent when you slow down suddenly at highway speeds. You feel the Wrangler’s rear end come up slightly as the weight moves to the front of the vehicle.

The EPA rates the 2021 Wrangler 4xe at 20 mpg across the board when operated as a hybrid. With a full tank and a full charge, it can travel up to 370 miles. In all-electric mode, it’s good for 22 miles according to the EPA. Charging the battery to 100 percent with a level 2 AC charger or 240-volt outlet takes just over two hours. A conventional household outlet will get you a full charge overnight.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe pricing

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe starts at $52,820 for the base Sahara grade. Our off-road-focused Rubicon test car starts at $56,220. With the Preferred package 29V, Safety Group, Advanced Safety Group, Steel Bumper Group, and several stand-alone options including a power canvas roof, leather upholstery, the integrated off-road camera, and the Sting-Gray exterior color, this example came in at $68,615. The Wrangler 4xe is eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit plus local and state incentives.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe final verdict

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Electrification simply ups the potential of the iconic Jeep Wrangler and makes it a stronger overall package. Between its apocalypse-ready capability to its newfound power and efficiency, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is the ultimate version of an already compelling vehicle. The added civility of the current generation adds to that because it somehow complements the SUV’s off-road-focused nature. This may just be the perfect vehicle for off-road excursions and outdoorsy activities. For those that want all of that in a package brimming with heritage, Easter eggs, retro touches, and an open-air driving experience, no other vehicle will do.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Jeep
  • Model: Wrangler 4xe
  • Trim: Rubicon
  • Type: 4-door mid-size SUV
  • Combined horsepower: 375
  • Combined torque: 470 lb-ft
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 20/20/20
  • EV range: 22 miles
  • Pros: Unstoppable off-road performance, excellent powertrain, user-friendly infotainment system
  • Cons: Loud cabin, lots of intrusions in the cargo area, drives its size
  • Base price: $52,820
  • Price as-tested: $68,615
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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