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  5. First Drive: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe

Exterior view of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe

Since the 2018 model year, Jeep has made major strides in broadening the Wrangler's engine options. The current Wrangler is still available with the well-known 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, as well as a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6, and even a 6.4-liter Hemi V8.

The newest addition to the lineup is 4xe, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) setup that combines the peppy inline-four with two electric motor generators (one replaces the alternator, the other takes the place of the eight-speed automatic's torque converter) and a high-voltage battery pack. The entire package produces 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, and gives the Wrangler 4xe the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds. Fully charged, the 4xe provides 21 miles of emissions-free electric driving range.

Jeep offers three 4xe models, all of which come in the four-door Unlimited body style and are available at AutoNation Jeep dealerships. Pricing for the 4xe range starts with the $47,995 Sahara, goes up to $51,695 for the Rubicon and tops out at $53,815 for the High Altitude.

I recently attended the media launch of the first Wrangler PHEV, where I drove down the curvy roads that wind through Central Texas and crawled over the challenging granite rock formations spread throughout Inks Ranch.

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2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Exterior

Exterior view of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe

Subtle differences distinguish the various 4xe models from each other. Sahara and High Altitude come with 20-inch wheels and body-color fender flares; High Altitude continues the monochromatic theme with body-color bumpers and mirror caps. Rubicon 4xe sets itself apart with black fender flares that arch over a set of 17-inch wheels encased in chunky 33-inch all-terrain tires.

Jeep uses a special accent color, fittingly named Electric Blue, to identify the 4xe. It highlights some of the exterior badges, the Rubicon's and High Altitude's tow hooks, and the Rubicon's hood lettering. All models come with a covered charging port above the front driver's-side fender. Using that to fully charge the 17.3-kWh battery with a 120-volt Level I charger takes 12 hours. On the 240 volts of juice from a Level II charger, that time drops to two hours.

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2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Interior

Exterior view of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe

There's more distinctive tech on the inside. Every 4xe trim level comes standard with the Uconnect 4C and navigation running on an 8.4-inch touchscreen. All I needed to do to get to the various checkpoints Jeep set for the day was tap the screen to pull up one of the pre-programmed routes, then head off.

The E Selec buttons to the left of the steering wheel allowed me to decide just how I wanted to use the battery pack's power. Pressing the one marked Hybrid made the 4xe deplete its electric power before switching to the engine. Electric cut that out of the loop completely until there was absolutely no electric range left, then seamlessly switched over to the 2.0-liter power plant. If I wanted to hold onto the charge in the battery for later use, I could hit the E-Save button. A menu in the touchscreen let me choose between retaining that charge or charging the battery as I drove, which would occasionally fire up the gas engine as a sort of generator to add power to the cells.

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2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Performance

Exterior view of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe

It was an odd sensation traveling through downtown Austin on nearly silent electric power, but it was one I quickly got used to. The power came instantly, yet smoothly. I made sure to activate the regenerative braking system's Max Regen function and found that while it still required me to use the friction brakes at a stoplight, it did scrub off speed predictably and linearly.

The minimal sound made by the electric drive mode comes out for a reason. When the 4xe is moving at 20 mph and slower, its Pedestrian Alert System emits a sound to warn the visually impaired and others who might not be aware there's an electric vehicle around them about its presence.

Jeep equips the Sahara and High Altitude 4xe models with the full-time Selec-Trac four-wheel drive system, which features a 2.72:1 low range ratio. The Rubicons that my colleagues and I used for the off-road portion of the drive program come with the full-time Rock-Trac transfer case and 4.0:1 low range gearing.

One of the earliest sections of the course was a stretch of deep water that showcased the 4xe's ability to ford up to 30 inches of water while keeping its sealed high-voltage electronic components bone dry.

As I progressed through the ranch, I had to call upon more and more of the Rubicon's special hardware. I switched to 4LO, pressed a button to electronically disconnect the front sway bars, and locked the rear differential to get over the first few rocky inclines.

Earlier in the day, rain had poured down, leaving the ranch's massive granite formations slick. As the sun dried everything out, it left the highest outcroppings dry and the pits slippery and treacherous. Mud quickly built up in the treads of the Rubicons' meaty tires. The Jeep Jamboree crew members adjusted their lines of attack to the conditions. It was up to me to choose the right starting speed and maintain my momentum. That was a little tricky once I switched to full electric mode because I had never wheeled in a PHEV before. Getting enough power when I needed it wasn't a problem. My challenge was staying on the throttle and letting the 33s and locked front and rear diffs do what they do best. Once I did that, the 4xe reached the summit just like a traditional Wrangler - except in almost complete silence.

By the time I arrived at the host hotel in the evening, I had put 206.8 miles on the Rubicon 4xe's odometer, 32.1 of which were on electricity alone. According to the trip computer, my gas fuel economy was 21 mpg, slightly above the EPA's estimate of 20 mpg combined. Running on both electricity and gas, the 4xe is capable of returning 49 MPGe.

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Exterior view of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Safety

The 4xe's revolutionary new powertrain doesn't change the fact that it's available with Forward Collision Warning, Blind-spot Monitoring, Hill Descent Control and other advanced driver aids and safety features.

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Exterior view of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Overall

Although Wranglers are typically found on rugged outdoor trails, many of them are also used as daily drivers in suburbs and cities. The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe was built to conquer both environments. It can cruise through downtown on pure battery power, then claw its way to the top of a difficult trail. You just need to decide if you want to make the trip up there on gas or electricity.

*Prices exclude destination charges and available $7,500 federal tax credit.

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Derek Shiekhi | May 03, 2021


2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Specs

Layout

4-door, 5-passenger, 4x4

Engine/Transmission

PHEV, 2.0L I4, electric motor, 375 hp, 470 lb-ft
Eight-speed automatic

Mileage

20/49 mpg (combined/MPGe)

NHTSA Safety Rating

N/A


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*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.