The Hybrid Electric Jeep Wrangler Is Here!
2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Plug-In Electric Hybrid: First Look
The wait is finally over! Jeep has just unveiled the much-anticipated plug-in hybrid electric Wrangler. Now, save the torches and pitchforks until we're finished. This new Wrangler, dubbed the 4xe (pronounced "4-by-e"), is actually pretty cool. Jeep designers and engineers went to great lengths to ensure that none of the Wrangler's legendary off-road capability was lost by installing the new powertrain. In fact, by incorporating an electrified drivetrain Jeep has only enhanced Wrangler. Let us explain.
Wrangler's Hybrid Powertrain
At the heart of the Wrangler 4xe lives Jeep's turbocharged 2.0L I-4 engine. In a standard installation this engine produces 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. This is pretty stout when you consider it only makes 15 hp less than the 3.6L V-6. And the I-4 produces 35 more lb-ft of torque than the V-6. So, there's no reason not to love the 2.0L engine anyway; however, by adding an electrification element to the mix, Jeep is able to up the combined output of the Wrangler 4xe to 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. That makes the Wrangler 4xe the most powerful Wrangler produced to date.
How the system works is as simple as it is complex. To maintain all of Wrangler's off-road ability the electric drive system needed to be incorporated into the existing drivetrain footprint. So, using a specially designed ZF (ZF 8P75HP) eight-speed automatic transmission Jeep effectively replaced the traditional torque converter with an electric motor-generator unit. This motor-generator utilizes a binary (on/off) clutch to meter where drive power is derived from. With the clutch engaged the gasoline engine contributes all or some of the power; when disengaged the Wrangler is powered purely by the electric motor.
The driver has some input into how the vehicle is powered, as the Wrangler 4xe is fitted with three different drive modes. The default drive mode is Hybrid, which seamlessly blends power from the gasoline engine and electric motor. This mode also prioritizes the electric drivetrain, only bringing in the gasoline engine when necessary to either add torque or recharge the battery. Next is Electric mode, which just as the name suggests, limits the Wrangler to running only on electric power. Much like Hybrid, however, the gasoline engine will still kick in when needed (so there's no worry of getting stranded when the battery runs dry). Finally, there's eSave mode. This mode allows drivers to save battery power and run only on the gasoline engine. The theory is this mode can be used when you want to save battery power for, say, a silent trail ride, so it's necessary to not use up all of the battery reserves on the highway.
Let's Talk About the Battery
Part of being an electric vehicle means that there needs to be a battery pack stored somewhere on the vehicle. A lot of vehicle manufacturers choose to mount these batteries low in the chassis, often under the vehicle, for both weight distribution and packaging. Naturally, stuffing a battery pack under a Wrangler wasn't going to be an option. We've all seen the fiery mess Tesla vehicles become when their floor-mounted battery packs are breached.
Instead, Jeep opted to utilize the empty space below the rear seat to house the 17-kWh battery pack. While this may appear on the surface as a gross waste of precious interior space, any Wrangler owner can tell you that the space under the rear seat is nearly worthless to begin with (speaking from experience). The reality is, moving the battery into the vehicle allows the Wrangler to retain all of its off-road capability and remove all risk of otherwise damaging the battery pack. The seat has also been redesigned to flip forward, in case there's ever a need to access the battery.
In technical speak, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe's battery is a 400-volt unit with a capacity of 17-kWh. It's made up of 96 individual cells that use a nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) graphite chemistry. The battery is encased in an aluminum housing and has its own heating and cooling circuit, which ensures that the battery is always at the optimum temperature.
So, How Do I Charge It?
The Wrangler 4xe has an integrated Dual Charging Module (IDCM) that combines a battery charger and a DC/DC converter into one unit. The vehicle also sports a Next-Generation Power Inverter Module (PIM), which is significantly smaller in size than previously. These components are housed in and protected from damage in a steel enclosure below the battery pack.
The electric charge port has a push-open cover and is located on the driver-side windshield cowl. This position allows for easy nose-in parking at the local charging station (though we'd prefer to back in). At the charge port are LED indicator lights that display charge status, along with a LED array on top of the instrument cluster that displays battery level at a glance.
Charging the vehicle can be done in any of three ways: plugged in at home, plugged in at a public charging station, or while driving by the vehicle's onboard charger. While Jeep hasn't released charging statistics just yet, in our experience with other plug-in hybrids of this battery size, we estimate that it will take about 12 hours to charge from a standard 120-volt outlet, about 4.5 hours from a 240-volt home outlet, and about 2.5 hours on a standard 6.6-kWh public charging station. That's assuming the vehicle is capable, and the chargers are functioning as intended (which the public ones often don't). If you were to never plug the Wrangler 4xe in, it would operate as a standard hybrid, though you'd lose out on the benefits of EV driving.
I'm Sold. How Far Can I Drive It?
Jeep claims that the Wrangler 4xe will be capable of up to 25 miles of pure EV driving. For most people, this will be enough for their daily commute. In a perfect world, a person could charge overnight at home, drive to work and plug in, then return home to charge again for the night. Theoretically, with less than a 25-mile commute you could drive the Wrangle 4xe as an EV most of the time.
For those who will need to drive farther than the electric range will allow, Jeep is estimating that the Wrangler 4xe will be rated at a fuel economy of 50 mpg-e (the combined equivalent for hybrid vehicles). Which means, in theory, the Wrangler 4xe will be capable of more than 800 miles on a fill-up. In the real world, without charging, you're likely looking at closer to 500 miles per tank, which is still darn impressive for a gasoline-powered Wrangler.
Can I Get It in a Two-Door? How About a Rubicon? Maybe a Gladiator?
At launch, Jeep has announced that the Wrangler 4xe will be available as a four-door Unlimited model only. And this makes sense, as there's more room for packaging the battery, controllers, and other hybrid necessities in the larger Wrangler. Sorry, two-door fans, we really don't see it happening any time soon.
For those that still want the unmatched off-road ability of the Rubicon, however, you're in luck. The 2021 Wrangler 4xe will be available in three trims: 4xe, Sahara 4xe, and Rubicon 4xe. Looking at the spec sheets, nothing is lost from the respective packages by selecting the hybrid drivetrain. What's not been mentioned is if the stated EV range of 25 miles applies to all models or just the base 4xe. We suspect Rubicon models will be rated less due to their larger tires and higher curb weight.
So, what about Gladiator? Let's not get ahead of ourselves; Jeep has made no mention of a hybrid Gladiator. It doesn't hurt to speculate, though, since the drivetrain is largely the same. For now, we'll be happy with Wrangler and wait and see what 2022 brings. Afterall, Jeep has said they want to electrify the entire lineup in some way.
What's the Catch?
So far, we're not seeing any negatives. The hybrid electric drivetrain only enhances the already amazing vehicle that the Wrangler is. In fact, it improves on the one area where Wrangler has historically struggled, fuel economy. There's not even a towing penalty as the Wrangler 4xe is rated to tow the same 3,500 pounds as any Wrangler Unlimited.
If there is going to be a catch, it'll be cost. Using Toyota's RAV4 and RAV4 Prime as an example, there is about a $7,000 premium to go from a gasoline-powered RAV4 to the plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime. So even if the 4xe adds the same $6,000 premium as the current 3.0L EcoDiesel ($4,000 for the engine and $2,000 for the transmission), it's going to be a tough pill to swallow. Anything less than that, and it's a no-brainer for sure.
After digging deep into the specs of the new 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe, we are all in. We love the idea of being able to plug in and drive around town on just electricity. And we also love that the combined power output creates the most powerful Wrangler built to date. Jeep did right by combining the electric drivetrain components in such a way that not an ounce of Jeep's Trail Rated capability was lost. And kudos to the company for not just offering the 4xe drivetrain on a base or limited model, but instead going straight for the heart of the market with Sahara and Rubicon. We cannot wait to get behind the wheel of a Wrangler 4xe, and we truly feel that this could be the turning point for public perception of plug-in hybrids in America.