Most people think of Jeep as a company that makes powerhouse 4x4s, rugged SUVs, and off-road vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel fuel. One of the last things most people would expect from Jeep – especially a Wrangler – is an electric powertrain that turns the popular 4×4 into a plug-in hybrid. However, that’s exactly what Jeep did with the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe.
The announcement of the Wrangler 4xe came as a surprise to many people, but the revelation of its capabilities and the underlying technology revealed that the Wrangler 4xe was more than just a trim variation for the 2021 model year. It represented a steep departure from the standard Wrangler while still delivering the kind of performance and off-road capabilities that many people expect from the 4×4.
What the Wrangler 4xe Does Different
Typically the Jeep Wrangler has been known for pushing the boundaries on off-road capabilities, especially the Rubicon and Sahara trims, where the 6.4-liter V8 Hemi helps power the mid-size SUV into uncharted territory, while the 33-inch all-terrain tires help the Jeep achieve easy feats in off-road trails thanks to the 10.9-inch ground clearance. We expect a lot of torque and plenty of impressive figures when it comes to departure angles and approach angles. But what we don’t expect is traveling dozens of miles with electric-only power in a Wrangler.
That’s one of the key differences between the standard Wranglers of old and the 2021 Wrangler 4xe, which isn’t just another 4×4 but rather a combination of tried and true off-roading features combined with new eco-conscious designs to reduce emissions and increase the overall performance range. Instead of being paired with a Hemi V8, the Wrangler 4xe comes with a DOHC direct-injection turbo engine that’s a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. The horsepower generated by the engine is 273 horsepower, and it manages up to 470 pound-feet of torque. However, the horsepower is increased to 375 hp when the electric power is added to it. But what really separates it from the other versions of the Wrangler are the two additional electric motors that power the Wrangler 4xe.
How the Electric Motors Help Power the 4xe
With three motors in total, the Wrangler 4xe manages to reduce overall carbon emissions while also tapping into the electrical power necessary to maintain the expected off-road capabilities that people flock to the Jeep brand for. The motors are located at different sections of the drivetrain, one on the end of the gearbox and the other is next to the petrol-based motor. The two additional electric-only motors aren’t terribly powerful on their own but are designed to help aid the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with additional horsepower and torque.
The electric motor near the gearbox produces up to 134 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, so technically, it’s really no slouch even on its own and could very well power a subcompact front-wheel drive sedan with nary a problem. Of course, the Jeep Wrangler is no subcompact sedan and is actually classified as a mid-size crossover SUV. Hence, it needs a lot more oomph to get off the starting line and stay ahead of the pack. The third aspect of the powertrain is a belt-driven electric motor, which delivers an additional 44 horsepower and 39 pound-feet of torque to the vehicle. The two additional electric-only motors in combination with the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder all help give the Wrangler its muscle and off-road capabilities while cutting down on fuel consumption and reducing emissions.
How Far the Electric-Only Power Can Take the Wrangler
I imagine few people would even ponder the possibility of traveling anywhere in a Wrangler only using electric power, but it’s actually a possibility with the Wrangle 4xe. With multiple drive modes available, it’s quite convenient to drive 50 miles entirely on the electric motors using the E-Selec driving mode. The electric motors, however, aren’t designed to be the only mode of propulsion for the Wrangler 4xe, which is why the 4xe is a hybrid plug-in rather than an all-out electric-only 4×4 like some other vehicles out there. Alternatively, you can use the E-Selec driving mode to mix and match the electric and combustion-based engines so that you can travel a total of up to 370 miles before you actually have to refuel or recharge. The electric-only motors also allow the Wrangler to operate in a quiet mode, which is something that electric vehicles are quite known for.
E-Selec Lets You Choose How to Drive
You don’t have to just drive with the electric motors, nor do you have to only use fuel, but you can choose to do either, as well as opt to engage the hybrid capabilities thanks to the E-Selec driving modes. You get three easy-to-use buttons with the Wrangler 4xe that allow you to switch to E-Save mode, where you can put the battery pack in reserve mode and use the electric motors for later. This is a great alternative for when you’re driving out on long highways far away from a charge station, and you would prefer to rely on tried and trusted gas to get you from one destination to the next.
The Electric mode is exactly what it sounds like; putting the Wrangler 4xe’s combustion-based engine in idle while the electric motors do all the work. It’s a neat mode to make use of when you want a quiet, relaxing ride through town or when you feel like putting as few emissions into the air as possible. The Hybrid mode is the standard mode, which makes use of all the motors throughout the powertrain, combining the electric capabilities with the combustion-based 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine.
Benefits of a Hybrid Wrangler
I imagine most people would think that there are really no benefits to the Wrangler stepping so far outside of its bounds to embrace hybrid technology, but you couldn’t be more wrong. One of the key elements for a Wrangler to perform as well as it does in the category of off-roading is due to having lots of low-end torque for crawling. Typically this is achieved through lots of revs with a high differential offset for the axles, which basically allows the Wrangler to stockpile those revs and turn it into instant torque once the driveshaft starts turning the axles.
With traditional combustion-based engines, you need to make sure you get the revolutions high enough to create enough torque for crawling, but with electric engines, there’s no need to “rev” up the engine because electric motors don’t go through the strokes of a combustion engine. Instead, they oftentimes have the electromagnetic rotors directly driving the driveshaft rotation, so the torsional output goes through fewer roadblocks, so to speak, to get the electric motor to transfer torque to the transmission and from the transmission to the driveshaft and from the driveshaft to the axles.
So in a way, the hybrid design is actually perfect for crawling, especially low-speed crawling, because electric motors perform especially well off the starting line by delivering instantaneous torque to the vehicle, which in turn makes it excellent for getting instant traction and momentum off the line for off-roading or uphill climbs for vehicles like the Wrangler 4xe. And thanks to the Wrangler 4xe still offering optional drive modes for trails, hills, and mountainous pathways, the hybrid design actually seems less like a departure from an off-road vehicle and more like common sense engineering to get the most out of a 4×4 in our ever-advancing technological age. So even though the Wrangler 4xe is a stark departure from the norm, it’s still designed to give you the best off-road experience on the market.