The first car I ever owned was a dilapidated 1985 Jeep Grand Cherokee that I bought for $ 600. The thing was a glorious mess; the only accessory that was not analog was the dashboard clock, which never did anything other than flash “12:00”. But the state of technology has progressed in leaps and bounds since the dark day of the mid-1980s, and luckily a whole bunch of these tech found its way into Jeep’s first PHEV, the 2021 Wrangler Limited Sahara 4xe.
The introduction of the 4xe marks another expansion of the Wrangler’s drivetrain options. For the 2021 model year, potential buyers have a myriad of internal combustion options, including a 3.0L diesel V6, 3.6L gasoline V6, and a gigantic 6.4L V8. The 4xe, meanwhile, is powered by a small 2.0-liter supercharged I4 and complemented by a pair of electric motor generators driven by a 17 kWh battery. Together, they produce 375 horsepower, 470 lb-ft, and 370 miles of range while delivering 49 mpg-e – nearly double the 22/29 mpg its ICE variants can muster – although without the help of the electric motor, the 4xe’s efficiency drops to around 20 mpg.
The 4xe’s main engine generator is located at the front of the engine block and is used to increase engine performance as well as to keep the battery at peak while driving. The second motor-generator is in front of the transmission with a binary clutch separating the motor from the motor – where the torque converter normally is. This is what allows the 4xe to use electric mode only, as there are no actual mechanical connections between the two systems apart from this clutch. When the clutch is open, it is electric only. When the clutch is closed, the ICE and the EM work together. And, interestingly, although it has a 12V battery to run the various vehicle accessories, the 4xe doesn’t need a 12V starter like its all-gasoline alternatives do, which means that it turns on and off silently like an electric vehicle. (This also means you can run the attachments all day long and never worry about draining the powertrain battery since they all run on the separate 12V, that’s smart.)
These engines are powered by a 96-cell 400 V, 17 kWh battery hidden under the rear seats. It uses NCM (nickel-cobalt-manganese) chemistry, the cobalt-heavy predecessor of the NCMA blend used by GM’s Ultium system. And while it cannot achieve the high charging speeds enjoyed by, say, the GM Hummer EV, with its 800V architecture, the 4xe’s battery is compact enough that it can be fully recharged with 2 hours on a level charger. 2 or 2.5 hours just driving at highway speeds, letting this main motor-generator work its magic. In addition, the 4xe’s regenerative braking system can also harvest up to a quarter of a g of momentum every time the vehicle comes to a stop while extending the life of the XE brake pads – double when the 4 drive wheels is engaged. There’s even a selectable Max Regen mode that’s essentially overdrive regenerative braking – expect less coasting and firmer stops when you’ve engaged it.
Since the 4xe is designed for off-road driving and is Trail approved – which includes a skid plate and front and rear tow hooks – the battery pack has been hardened into an aluminum case and waterproof for withstand up to 30 inches of water.
Drivers will be able to adjust the interaction between the electric and IC powertrains using a trio of buttons located to the left of the steering column, collectively referred to as the E Selec. Yes, it is spelled correctly. Choose between hybrid mode, which runs on electric power only (a range of 20 miles!) Until the battery runs out before letting the engine start to help, electric only mode which is exactly what it looks like, and eSave which is the opposite of Electric Only – runs on gas without engaging the electric side. You can pretty much tell when the electric motor is on, and I’m not just talking about the lack of sound. It’s like driving two different vehicles. In gasoline-only mode, you feel every ounce of the vehicle from around 4,000 pounds and can hear the superchargers screaming during hard acceleration. Electric-only mode gives the feel to the Wrangler light as a feather and stiff as a board but barely gets me out of my house across the Bay Bridge before I run out of juice.
The 4xe will be available in three trim levels: The Sahara 4xe, which is what I drove, starts at $ 47,995 (although the one in the video will set you back $ 54,000 with its various add-on packages); the intensified Rubicon 4xe starts at $ 51,695, and the top-of-the-line High Altitude 4xe costs $ 53,815. These are a bit more expensive than the $ 28,900 that this year’s ICE Wranglers start at. Buyers will have a choice of ten exterior colors, two interior color / material choices, and the option for a manually convertible top, a 3-piece hardtop, or a “one-touch” power roof, which is a sliding soft top. on hard side and rear windows. Side note: why is the soft top so hard to put on and take off? I feel like I need an engineering degree and three lifelines to get this thing properly installed with any regularity.
The 4xe stays true to Wrangler styling with a square exterior and high ride height – you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between the PHEV and an ICE version from a sizable distance. One design style that I really liked however is that the power outlet and the fuel filler port are located on the same side of the vehicle – the power outlet is in front of the driver’s door, the gas port is behind the rear passenger door – which means if you can remember where either one is, you’ll know where they both are, saving you time and embarrassment when trying to navigate unknown gas stations and charging centers.
I am quite fascinated by the interior of the 4xe, if only for the buttons. Oh the glory of physical switches and rubberized buttons in the age of tiered menu trees, taps and swipes. Yes, you can still go through the 8.4-inch touchscreen to activate the air conditioning controls and optional seat heaters – this is also how you access the vehicle’s ‘Eco Coaching’ pages that illustrate to owners Newbie hybrids how to get the most out of their batteries – but why bother with activating the front and rear defrost, turning on the air conditioning and adjusting the fan temperature can all be done with three button clicks and a push of a button, without ever taking your eyes off the road?
That’s not to say that the 4xe’s infotainment system is in any way deficient, it’s actually one of the most intuitive and user-friendly interfaces I’ve used in recent memory. Choose one of the seven main functions – media, climate control, controls, apps, navigation, phone and e-hybrid – in the bottom row of the screen, then use the buttons provided on that screen to do what you need to do. Everything is clearly labeled and easy to understand.
In terms of connectivity, the 4xe is essentially a rolling office. It offers the integration of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – the screen mirroring versions, and not the “assistant lives in your infotainment unit” like with the Polestar 2 – as well as Uconnect, Bluetooth , Alexa skill and even 4G LTE WiFi for up to eight devices. Oh, do you want ports? The 4xe has your ports here: there is a 12V cigarette lighter adapter, a USB, USB-C and Aux port in the center console; a secondary USB-C in the center, storage under the armrest; two more USB-C ports and even a grounded 110V outlet in the back seat.
Really, the only things that bothered me about the interior of the 4xe were the window controls, which are oddly located just south of the infotainment screen, and the rear cargo area which would have a hard time. contain a week of groceries. Seriously, you’re either going to need Marie Kondo your luggage or take out the old Astro Van if you want to take a family of four on a long road trip. I also noticed that while there was plenty of headroom in the rear seats, the legroom was limited, especially with the front seats pushed all the way back. Still, if I’m going to go through the mud in this thing, I’m going to want so many brace points that I can get my hands and knees on, really it’s kind of a win-win.
So whether you’re looking to go a little green on your next day at the OHV park, need a rugged drive to quietly escape the inevitable zombie apocalypse, or just want a sporty compact SUV that doesn’t won’t bankrupt you now. is $ 4 per gallon on both coasts, give the Wrangler Unlimited 4xe a look.
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