Truck Review: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe
Jeep’s new hybrid is a capable off-road option for outdoorsmen and women who don’t need the cargo space and towing capacity of a full-size truck
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Fifteen years ago, the term “hybrid” generally referred to a goofy-looking economy car that promised slightly better fuel mileage with a whole lot more complexity than your run-of-the-mill gas guzzler. That ethos still exists in many econo-car circles, but we have also seen the rise of a new class: the performance hybrid. Electric assist equals big torque, and when tuned properly, hybrid systems can deliver serious power along with reduced fuel consumption, which is why you are seeing more full-size trucks offered in a hybrid option. After spending a week driving 1,000 miles in the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, it’s clear to me that Jeep has tuned the 4xe to be much more than just a hybrid. It’s a powerful 4×4, that can matchup with any gas-electric-powered SUV in its class.
What You Get in the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe
Jeep completely reworked the Wrangler’s drivetrain in the 4xe. Starting at the front, Jeep bolts its beefy 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine between the fenders. There is also a 44-horsepower electric starter/generator bolted to the engine’s belt drive, and then another 134-horsepower electric motor was squeezed into the bell housing of the 8-speed transmission in lieu of a torque converter, actuated by two clutches. A new set of driveshafts, a new transfer case, and upgraded JT-based axles all reflect 4xe-specific upgrades. Combined output from the gasoline and electric powerplants give you 375-horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. You read that right: The 4xe ties the Wrangler 392 V8 for highest torque figure, but the 4xe offers it at a lower RPM.
Jeep refused to plaster any tacky hybrid badges on this model of Wrangler. In fact, the only place I could find the word hybrid on the 4xe was on one of the dash-mounted mode buttons. Slight badging, graphic, and body highlights in electric blue give a hint that this is a special Wrangler, but the only giveaway is the 4xe badge and the big, bulbous charge port aft of the driver’s mirror. The 4xe package is available on the Sahara, Rubicon, and High-Altitude trim levels, and starts at $51,225.
Wrangler Rubicon 4xe Specs
- Engine: 2.0L/270-hp/295 lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus 134-hp/181 lb-ft electric motor; 375-hp/470 lb-ft (combo
- Transmission: 8-speed auto
- Curb weight: 5,322 pounds
- Wheelbase: 118.4 inches
- Length/Width/Height: 188.4 x 73.8 x 73.5 inches
- 0-60 mph: 6.8 seconds
- Braking (60-0 mph): 133 feet
- EPA City/Hwy/Combine Fuel Econ: 20/20/20 mpg; 52/45/49 mpg-econ
- MSRP: $51,225 (base)
The 4xe Offers Plenty of Options
This package is best suited for the driver who wants more engagement from their vehicle—not one who wants to simply get in, belt up, and drive away. That isn’t to say that the 4xe is complicated, but that its charms require understanding of how this unique vehicle works. The 4xe has three drive modes: Hybrid, Electric, and ESave. Hybrid mode, the default, employs both electric motors and the gasoline engine to provide maximum performance.
Electric mode prioritizes the 134-horsepower electric motor only, shutting off the gasoline engine and starter/generator motor until full throttle is commanded. The 134-horsepower electric motor mounted to the 8-speed transmission gains the benefit of eight driven gears, allowing the 4xe to accelerate (slowly) up to highway speeds without the use of the gasoline engine. ESave mode prioritizes the gasoline engine and will save battery or even recharge it using the powertrain’s generator while the engine is running. This mode has multiple options for charging or holding power in the Wrangler’s powertrain controls.
The 4xe’s small battery only netted 18 to 25 miles of pure-electric driving range in my testing, which was more than enough to run errands and cruise around town without ever starting the engine. The battery charged to full in just under two hours using a level two charger, but the standard 110v charger is plenty to top off the Jeep if you can let it charge overnight. I found myself using the ESave mode to recharge the battery on sections between trailheads, then popping it back into Electric mode for silent driving.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe Hits and Misses
Here is where the 4xe exceled, as well as some of its drawbacks.
Pros of the 4xe
- Silent crawling and off-roading with Electric power and 4 Low/4 High
- Far more powerful than I expected for a four-cylinder hybrid
- Quicker than every Wrangler in the lineup, save for the 392
- Beautiful handling off-road with a very balanced, neutral feel
- Incredible ride quality on and off road
- Great stereo and smart phone integration
- Respectable fuel economy for a solid axle 4×4 on 33-inch tires
Cons of the 4xe
- Fuel economy is better in a standard 4-cylinder and diesel models
- Sometimes slightly clunky engagement of gas/electric powertrains
- Sky One-Touch Power-Top is loud, not water tight
- Small 17.2-gallon fuel tank means a range of around 330 miles even with the electrification
- $68,615 price tag for highest trim model
How to Configure Your 4xe
The Rubicon 4xe package adds all of the beefy off-road necessities you need, including specially tuned shocks, 4:1 Rock-Trac transfer case, upgraded Dana 44 axles, 4.10 gears, skid plates, and 33-inch tires. The 4xe is the powertrain, and the Wrangler itself can be configured around it. The Rubicon is the sweet spot, but skip the $4,095 Sky One-Touch Power-Top. It is a wonderful feature, giving you the ability to retract the entire cloth top at the press of a button, and slide it back shut like a giant sunroof. I hand-washed the Wrangler in the driveway, however, and ended up with water in the interior the very first time. You can also see daylight between the cloth top and side roof rail when driving at freeway speeds. If your Jeep spends its time at low speeds in relatively dry weather, this is the top to have. But most outdoorsmen find themselves battling the elements, so I would recommend the hard top for hunters.
The Wrangler Is a High-Tech 4×4
The end result of all this high-tech engineering is a Wrangler that flaunts an entirely new trait: silent, engine-off driving. Because the large electric motor is positioned in front of the transmission, it takes advantage of the entire drivetrain. This means the transmission, transfer case, and both axles are still at play. I spent a ton of time wheeling the Wrangler 4xe in 4 Low and 4 High, with the differentials locked and unlocked. The Rubicon package even adds an electronically disconnecting front sway bar that can be detached in 4 Low, increasing compliance and allowing for more articulation.
The 4xe has torque in spades in 4 Low, allowing solid climbing of some nasty inclines and obstacles without having to summon the gas engine for backup. Regardless of which mode you’re in, wide open is wide open: you get all electric and gas power at once when you absolutely demand it. The 4xe is also an agile back-road 4×4. In the four-door Rubicon trim, the 4xe exhibits near 50-50 weight distribution over each axle, and the suspension and tire choices have been tuned extremely well for the Wrangler’s newfound power. This rig was an absolute joy to cane down twisty dirt roads, exhibiting far more poise and oomph than any Jeep experience I’ve ever had.
If you’re a hardcore Jeep enthusiast, or someone looking to get the most for your dollar, the 4xe may not be the best option. But, for anyone looking to elevate their Jeep experience, including the ability to silently crawl on or off-road in 20- to 25-mile increments, the 4xe is a fine choice. It’s also a phenomenal daily driver that doubles as a solid off-road option. And if you don’t need the storage capacity a full-size truck offers, it’s tough to beat a Wrangler.