If there’s one vehicle that we thought might never make the transition to battery power it was the go-anywhere Jeep Wrangler. Well, the joke’s on all of us, as Jeep is wasting no time embracing the electrified future with this 2021 Wrangler 4xe hybrid, the first of three plug-ins planned for this year.  

The main thing to know about this plugin hybrid or PHEV is that it still drives just like a Wrangler. The biggest difference is it can run almost silently on battery power, not something we’re used to in a rugged utility like this. The 4xe is rated for 22-miles of EV only driving and you can select when to use. Once you’ve exhausted those EV miles, hybrid mode transitions from electric to gas are mostly seamless, only really hearing the engine under hard acceleration.  

The one noticeable downside to the whole experience is that you can really hear the HVAC system buzzing when driving on strictly battery power.  

The 4xe’s 17-kWh battery is located inside the vehicle, packaged beneath the rear seat, leaving cargo space intact, as well as keeping it out of the elements. It feeds energy to a pair of electric motors; one replacing the alternator on the front of the engine, and one integrated into the 8-speed automatic transmission. No manual available with this plug-in powertrain. 

The gas engine is Jeep’s 2.0-liter I4 turbo; which when combined with the electric motors, sees the total output jump to a healthy 375-horsepower. Power is plentiful but the turbo-4 comes into its own at the higher end of the tach, and automatic shifts are quick and smooth.

  Saying that the 4xe still drives like a Wrangler means putting up with lots of body roll and numb steering. You could get into trouble taking tight corners too quickly, but fortunately electronic safety systems are there to help warn you off, while also encouraging you to just relax and enjoy the drive.

In the transition to PHEV status, there have been no compromises of the Wrangler’s Trail Rated capabilities. 4-wheel-drive with 2-speed transfer case is still standard. Now, Jeep claims the integration of electric power only enhances the Wrangler’s off-road performance. To find out for ourselves, we made use of the eSave mode while on the pavement, to hit the trail under strictly battery power; allowing us to tread more lightly than ever. When it comes to our muddy Mid-Atlantic, local trail hounds will tell you you’re only as good as your tires; and our Sahara-trimmed tester struggled to find grip at times, but was mostly unstoppable thanks to its Selec-Trac 4-wheel-drive system. So, on we went.

For our complete road test of the Jeep Wrangler 4xe be sure to catch MotorWeek episode #4101 that begins airing on PBS September 10, 2021. For a listing of the PBS public television stations that broadcast MotorWeek, go to motorweek.org and click the “About the Show” tab at the top. The show can also be streamed in its entirety on PBS Living through Amazon’s Prime Video, while the test of the Wrangler 4xe will also be available at motorweek.org and on youtube.com/motorweek.

It only seems fitting for a brand that relies on a vehicle that was designed in the mid- 20th century, would use that vehicle to fully push the brand into the 21st.  Is it a full EV?  No! is it a huge step in that direction?  Yes!  The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is the most technically advanced Jeep yet, and a whole new way to be a pioneering off-road leader.