After doing the initial review of the Wrangler 4xe Stellantis sent me, I realized that there are really two vehicles to review here.
First, there’s the beastly off-road vehicle that gives us insight into the future of electric off-roading. Not only is it cool in its own right, but it gives us a lot of insight into what we can expect as vehicles like the Rivian, Cybertruck, and other vehicles come out in the next couple years. I’m going to address this more fully in another article, but the big takeaway is that off-roading under electric power is awesome, and we have a LOT to look forward to!
The second vehicle you get with the Wrangler 4xe is the daily driver. While it’s Trail Rated, is this something you could jokingly call “Mall Rated?” In other words, would you really want to drive it to work or to run errands? Or will it give you a horrible ride, fool you into burning gas, and not actually save your money or the environment?
Unfortunately, I can’t give you the whole answer here at the top of the article, because it depends heavily on what kind of driving you’re doing, plus personal taste. Read on to see if the vehicle is a good fit for you!
What It’s Like To Drive The Wrangler 4xe On Pavement
Environmental concerns aside (I’ll get to those further down), it’s actually the best Jeep Wrangler I’ve driven on pavement. Compared even to other serious off-road performers, it gives a much better experience on pavement.
First, its handling is greatly aided by being a plugin hybrid. Jeep couldn’t put the battery pack below the vehicle because doing that would leave it vulnerable to destruction if it were to hit a rock hard. Departing from the “skateboard” layout most dedicated EVs use typically messes a vehicle’s handling up (among other problems), so that was an initial concern I had.
In this case, it actually helped the Jeep’s handling to put the battery where it did. Because it still has a gas engine in the front, Jeeps are typically a little front heavy. With the battery’s weight further back and down low, it both balances the weight distribution out and still lowers the center of gravity a bit.
The result is a Jeep that handles pretty well. You won’t be taking this thing through autocross courses, and you won’t drive curvy freeway ramps as quick as you would in a Model 3. That’s because it’s optimized for off-road performance. It still feels very stable and planted.
The power for the 4xe is comparable to the 392 V8 version of the Jeep. The electric motor alone is around 130 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, which is comparable to many older Jeeps. Add the power of the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, and it adds up to modern V8 power that’s always just a stomp away in EV mode.
One of the things that’s very different about this vehicle is that it uses the transmission even under full electric power. That’s because the electric motor is mounted between the gas engine and the transmission, right where a torque converter usually goes. When you take off in electric mode, you’ll notice that it gets a good burst of torque and, like most EVs, starts to lose power as the speed goes up. The transmission shifts to the next gear, and you get a second burst of torque. This happens up to 7 times as you increase speed.
Not only does this make for better power and torque at all speeds, but it also gives you better efficiency than the electric motor alone would give you.
How Clean/Cheap It Is Depends On Your Situation
If you’re looking to save money on gas and/or reduce your emissions, you need to look at your personal situation to determine whether that’s going to happen with this Jeep.
If you can’t plug it in either at home or at work, it’s not going to help you much. The EPA ratings are poor for this vehicle in hybrid only mode with no plugin power. With 20 MPG combined, that’s probably not worth carrying all the extra weight around for. However, in my testing I got 23 MPG highway and 32 MPG city by driving it a little carefully. Others have also reported that they tend to do better than EPA estimates, so I’m not alone here.
If you like the power and think these numbers are good enough, it could be a good choice for you. Just don’t expect miracles if you can’t plug it in.
If you can plug the vehicle in at night to a normal wall plug or have opportunity to use “Level 2” 240 volt charging, the situation is far better. If your daily driving is under 100 miles, the plugin aspect is going to help you out.
If you drive 20 miles or less between charging opportunities most days, you’ll do almost all of your driving on electric power and won’t burn a drop of gasoline most days. That’s where this vehicle truly can shine as a good environmental option. If you can charge at both home and work, you can get a lot more than 20 miles out of it, and save even more, and go up to 40 miles while still being basically as clean as any EV out there.
If you’re a “hub and spoke” kind of driver, making short trips from home or work with rest time between times you go out to work (delivery, handyman, real estate, etc), charging between drives can help you do most or all of your driving on electric power instead of burning gas. For that situation, level 2 charging is recommended (2.5 hours from empty to full battery).
If you drive between 20 and about 50 miles between charges, it’s still going to be about twice as good as the hybrid-only numbers, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. The Jeep has a hybrid mode that selectively mixes in electric power during a longer drive to maximize efficiency, and you’ll want to use that feature for drives beyond 30-50 miles.
Even if you need to go 100 miles between charges, that’s still going to reduce your gas bill by about 25% compared to the hybrid-only numbers. Also not bad.
Expect any highway trips to not be very efficient. You’ll get limited EV range due to the poor aerodynamics of a Jeep (that’s part of the package you’re buying here, for better or worse). If you’re only taking a long drive a few times a month, it’s not that bad. If you’re driving on the highway multiple times per week, you’re not going to like the gas bill and should consider a full EV (and Jeep will sell you one in the near-ish future).
The Jeep Wrangler 4xe is a compromise vehicle, like any other vehicle. Everything in life is a trade-off.
For a Tesla, you’re getting great street performance and handling in most cases, but don’t expect to do much off-road without causing severe damage to it. For most people who don’t explore difficult to reach places, it’s not a deal breaker, so they go with the Tesla or other full EV.
For the Wrangler 4xe, you’re getting better off-road performance than anything currently available for sale in mass production. Nothing that’s even a plugin hybrid today in June 2021 will come close. The cost is that you don’t get a lot of electric range and it’s not a great street performer compared to the Tesla. It’s still a pleasure to drive, though.
The hard truth is that you’ll need to look at the choices and decide which of these is a better fit for the driving you’re doing. If you can do most of your daily driving on 20 miles or so of range, and then take the Jeep out into the woods on the weekends, it is probably a great choice. If you drive a lot and don’t need the off-road performance, it’s probably not a good fit for you.
As with anything, your mileage may vary.
All images by Jennifer Sensiba.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book
Our Latest EVObsession Video
CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.