2021 Jeep Wrangler 4XE Unlimited Sahara Review – Save Fuel, Keep the Wrangle Experience
The idea of a plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler intrigues me. Wranglers that run exclusively on dead-dino juice have never been terribly fuel efficient. That’s true of recent efforts, too, despite overall improvements in automotive technology/design/engineering that have helped even the thirstiest of gas guzzlers become, well, less thirsty.
So it makes sense that a Wrangler that can run at least part of the time on electrons would pique my interest. Even if the alternative powertrain underhood changes little else about the Wrangler experience.
2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE
The plug-in hybrid system mates a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque to a starter/generator motor (44 hp, 39 lb-ft) and a transmission traction motor (134 hp/181 lb-ft) that integrates into the eight-speed automatic transmission. Total system output is 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque (if you’re flummoxed because the numbers don’t add up, don’t be – for a variety of reasons total system output usually doesn’t match the sum of its component parts).
Jeep promises an EPA-estimated MPGe of 49 and mpg of 20. That's city/highway combined, as the EPA doesn't appear to break it out under the normal city/highway/combined metric.
My test mule was a Sahara with tires that weren’t well-suited to mudding, so I didn’t off-road this Wrangler (I might’ve tried if the terrain was dry, but the folks at my favorite off-road haunt told me it had rained a lot and the trails were slick). This is fine – if you plan on going off-pavement on a frequent basis, Jeep offers the 4XE in Rubicon trim.
This Sahara was better suited to the street, but aside from the powertrain, it was hard to tell the difference between it and a gas-engined Wrangler. The torque is noticeable, of course (only the gas-sucking 392 engine, which is the polar opposite of this Wrangler’s powertrain, matches the 4XE for torque when it comes to the ’21 Wrangler lineup, with the EcoDiesel getting 28 fewer lb-ft), and there’s a welcome silence when operating in electric mode (up to 21 miles of pure electric use is available). There is one noticeable dynamic flaw – the hybrid transitions aren’t always smooth. Otherwise, the experience is mostly bog-standard Wrangler.
Meaning the ride, while much improved over the previous generations, can still be a bit “trucky”. Meaning that even with tires better suited to street duty, the handling can be wonky at times, with steering that requires fairly frequent adjusting. It’s the same story we’ve seen with just about every version of the Wrangler since the current generation launched, though the more trail-ready trims such as Rubicon fare a bit worse in the urban jungle.
Not that most Wrangler buyers care – these are the tradeoffs one makes for Jeep off-road ability and utility, and the current Wrangler remains much easier to live with and wheel around the city than the previous-gen version.
Even the interior changes little, save for the necessary gauge/info changes required by the powertrain, and buttons that allow you to pick your preferred drive mode. They are: Hybrid (default, draws power from the battery first before switching to gas as needed), electric (electric-only until the battery gets too low on charge or you need a boost from the gas engine for passing), and eSave (uses the gas engine in order to save battery charge).
Speaking of charging, I ran into no problems plugging into a Level 2, getting a full charge in just about three hours or so. Not that it would’ve mattered if I couldn’t charge – I’d just run on gas.
What vexes me about the 4XE is the use case – do you really need it? You pay a higher base price for the 4XE…so are the fuel savings, silence, and extra torque worth it?
As usual, it comes down to the individual buyer. If you can easily charge every night, especially on a fast charger, and make 21 miles or so of your commute gas-free, the extra cost may be worth it. If you’re not bothering to plug in and just using the 4XE as a regular hybrid, well, again, it may be worth it in terms of fuel savings – you’ll have to do the math yourself.
Just for reference, my tester based at over $51K and topped out just north of $60K.
Use case aside, the 4XE is a fine version of the Wrangler. I wish I’d had a chance to take it off-road to see how the instantly available torque would work on the trails, but as a street machine it worked just fine. Sure, the transitions between powertrain aren’t always smooth, but they aren’t terribly jarring, either. If you can afford the price of entry, the 4XE can be a nice little fuel-saver that allows you to still experience Wrangler life.
What’s New for 2021
2021 marks the first year that Jeep has offered a Wrangler with a 4XE powertrain.
Who Should Buy It?
The Wrangler buyer with fuel savings on the brain.
[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]
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