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Auto review: Wrangler goes green, but it's still all Jeep

by Tribune News Service | December 25, 2021 at 10:00 p.m.
Few trails are too rough for the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe's multiple 4x4 systems, 11 inches of ground clearance, steel bumpers, skid plates and locking front and rear differentials. (Stellantis/TNS)

The iconic Jeep Wrangler, the go-anywhere 4x4 that was born in 1941 as a U.S. military vehicle, has enlisted into today's growing army of hybrids.

Amazingly, 80 years later, there's a Wrangler that can be plugged in, yet climb rocks and crawl down lumpy dirt trails and do it as quietly as the nature surrounding it. Well, only for a short while with just a 21-mile electric-only range. But at least it's an option.

The 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 4xe (that's 4-by-e) is the first plug-in hybrid in the Wrangler regiment and it's likely to raise some eyebrows. First, is this thing really Jeep-rugged? Can it do everything the nonhybrids do? And, second, is the 4xe a worthy hybrid? Is it "green" enough to make a difference, or is it mostly for show?

Here are the short answers. First, yes, this is a serious off-roader; The 4xe delivers everything that Jeep does best. It has plenty of power -- second only to Rubicon 392 -- with a combined output of 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. Few trails are too rough for its multiple 4x4 systems, 11 inches of ground clearance, steel bumpers, skid plates and locking front and rear differentials.

It can even wade through 30 inches of water with its high-mounted turbocharger and electrical components that are sealed tight, Jeep says.

In answer to question No. 2, it gets 49 mpg-e ("e" for equivalent) on electric, but just 20 mpg when operating on gas only. So you'll need to plug in every night for optimum mileage, and remember its a mere 21 miles of electric-only range.

On the plus side, the 4xe is not restricted to electric so it has a total driving range of 370 miles. And, Jeep is teaming with Electrify America to establish a charging network across America, including such off-road hotspots as the Moab, Rubicon and Big Bear trails out West.

The 4e, distinguished by a raised hood with "4xe" outlined in blue, matches all the usual features of the nonhybrid Wranglers. Both the fabric roof or optional hardtop and doors are easily removed, and the windshield folds down.

It also happens to be the quickest of the Wranglers, hitting 60 mph in just 6 seconds. Under the hood: a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 270 hp. It's matched with two electric motors, one up front and one in the rear; The combined power is routed through an 8-speed automatic transmission.

On the road, the 4xe feels like any other Wrangler, for better or worse. The ride is firm so bumps and dips are transmitted to the cabin. Its boxy shape makes it susceptible to gawky handling, more lean on corners and abuse from crosswinds. But Jeep owners know all this and are OK with it. The 4xe can tow up to 3,500 pounds with a tow/electric package ($795)..

The cool thing is an e-Save button that allows it to run on gas-only until you get to the trail, then run quietly on electric and listen to the birds. It won't last long on 4WD and in off-road conditions, but it may be enough for short commutes. Expect weaker performance with only 134 hp to move the 5,300-pound beast.

Charging the 17-kWh lithium ion battery pack, which sits under the rear seats, takes about 12 hours with the standard 120v charger. Better to upgrade to the 240v Level II charger, which cuts charging time to just two hours. Small charging lights on the dash let you keep track of the progress from outside the vehicle.

Wrangler is notoriously roomy inside and it has great visibility. Audio and climate functions are controlled by knobs and buttons that are water-resistant and ready for top-down, doors-off driving. All-weather floor mats are ready for mess, too, so the cabin can be hosed down after playtime in the mud.

The four-door Unlimited, the only version available with the 4xe, seats five and the square cabin offers ample head room all around. Front seats are comfortable, supportive and trimmed in leather with accent stitching. Seats are adjusted by hand but there is a manual-assist system that makes it easier. The rear seats also get AC vents and USB ports.

The instrument panel has two analog dials for the speedo and tach that flank a digital information display. An 8.4-inch infotainment screen houses Jeep's Uconnect system; it's intuitive, quick to respond to commands, and simply one of the best in the industry.

Navigation can find the trails and a forward-facing camera peers ahead for the obstacles. The system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while a 9-speaker Alpine audio system comes standard,

Cargo space is more than ample with the Unlimited Wranglers: 31.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 72.4 cubes with the rear seats folded down. That's more than most of its rivals.

The 4xe has all the safety features of other four-door Wranglers but advanced driver-assist features are optional and part of two safety groups. One package for $995 gets a rear park assist system; another advanced safety package for $795 adds adaptive cruise control with automatic stop-and-go feature, forward collision warning, brake assist and automatic high beams.

The 4xe comes in three trims. Besides the Rubicon at around $60K, the Sahara starts around $51K and the High Altitude around $57K.

It's difficult to accurately forecast the fuel savings because of the low electric-only range. And, even a $7,500 federal tax credit doesn't cover the gap between the 4xe and the nonhybrid Rubicon.

But 4xe sales are off to a brisk start: Jeep folks said summer sales were far exceeding expectations. So maybe fans of the Jeep Wave figure that, whatever the fuel savings, every drop helps.

Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe

Base Price: $51,695

As tested: $61,690 (Includes leather seats, $1,695; Cold Weather group, $595; Trailer two package, $795; Safety and Advanced Safety groups, $1,690; steel bumpers, $1,745; remote key, $645; premium Sunrider soft top, $595)

What's all the excitement about? Wrangler's first plug-in hybrid makes off-roading a quiet adventure

Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine mated to two electric motors and an 8-speed automatic transmission

How's the performance? It's all-Jeep on-and-off road, and quicker to 60 mph at 6 seconds. Electric-only performance is brief and not frisky

Fuel economy: 49 mpg-e on electric; 20 mpg combined on gas only

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(Barry Spyker was the automotive columnist for The Miami Herald and editor of its Wheels & Waves section. Readers may send him email at spy2351yahoo.com.)

©2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

photo The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe chassis. (FCA US LLC/TNS)

Print Headline: Auto review: Wrangler goes green, but it's still all Jeep

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