Review update: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe moves an icon into the future

September 17, 2021

With the Wrangler 4xe, Jeep has just taken something simple and made it complicated without sacrificing capability or features.

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe plug-in hybrid makes running around town in a rolling brick as efficient as possible without losing what makes a Wrangler a Wrangler.

With a TCC Rating of 5.2 out of 10, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler lineup trails its cross-town rival, the Ford Bronco. But no direct competitor of the Wrangler can be had with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, and that just might be one of the Wrangler’s biggest competitive advances in the off-road segment.

I recently spent a week running the kids around town, plugging in at the grocery store, and road tripping to northern Minnesota to find where the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe hits and misses.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

Hit: Unobtrusive, powerful powertrain

The 4xe is easily the most complicated Wrangler of all time. The 4xe is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-4 paired with a 17.3-kwh battery pack, a motor generator, and an electric motor for a combined output of 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. With an 8-speed automatic transmission and a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a 2-speed transfer case it would be easy to expect this powertrain to be a hot mess, but it’s anything but. The power is readily available and does its thing in the background. Run it in Hybrid mode and the system will default to Electric mode if there’s enough juice in the battery pack and one isn’t calling for all the power. When the juice runs out of the battery pack, the 4xe runs like a typical hybrid. It’s seamless, it’s smooth, and it’s all in the background.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

Miss: Weak electric motor

The 134-hp electric motor that’s sandwiched in the 8-speed automatic transmission isn’t powerful enough for all situations. Even in electric-only mode with enough juice in the battery pack, the turbo-4 will kick on if the accelerator is put to the floor. That won’t happen in a Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

Hit: Real, usable range

The 2021 Wrangler 4xe has an EPA-rated 22-miles of electric range and 49 MPGe in hybrid mode, though the fuel economy drops to 20 mpg combined in gas-only mode. Each time I unplugged the 4xe with a 100% state of charge there was an indicated electric range of 24 miles, and that’s exactly what I saw in real-world driving regardless of the situation. Whether on city or suburban streets or cruising down the highway at 65 to 70 mph, and that’s exactly what the mileage on the odometer read on a couple of highway trips before it defaulted into Hybrid mode. Over the course of a week and 111 miles running around town the 4xe’s trip computer said it averaged 44.6 mpg with 90.9 miles of electric-only driving and 20.4 miles requiring the gas engine. I plugged the 4xe in whenever I was at home and once at the grocery store, which had a ChargePoint Level 2 charging station.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

Miss: Efficiency is relative

The 4xe is a plug-in hybrid, but it’s still a rolling brick with laughable aerodynamics. To call it efficient is a stretch. The same powertrain in a vehicle that sits lower, has better aerodynamics, and far less capability would enable more electric driving range. The noted 44.6 mpg average is based on a formula calculated by the trip computer. Once the juice ran out on the highway I averaged 22.2 mpg, which is fine, but a turbodiesel Wrangler has EPA ratings of 29 mpg highway and 22 city. While 22-24 miles of electric range is very usable day-to-day, having 40 to 50 miles of electric range would be perfect to ensure those without charging stations at work could most likely live off electric-only driving during a daily commute. The Wrangler’s battery pack is mounted underneath the rear seat so as to not compromise the Wrangler’s capabilities, and there isn’t another place to put batteries while the gas powertrain remains.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

Hit: Location is everything

Most plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles have the charging port located on the front fender behind the front wheel or in the rear quarter panel instead of a gas engine’s fuel filler. The Wrangler breaks with that mold and places the charging port at the base of the driver-side A-pillar. It’s a smart location that keeps the port away from anything that could damage it while off-roading.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

Hit and Miss: Living with a Wrangler, regardless of it being a PHEV

The plug-in hybrid powertrain is going to open the Wrangler to an entire new buyer base, but everyone best come armed with the knowledge that a Wrangler makes day-to-day living a more visceral and rougher experience.

Like any other Wrangler, the 4xe’s doors and roof come off by unscrewing some bolts and by undoing some harnesses, and the windshield can fold down. Removing the four doors and hardtop took less than an hour. It could’ve gone faster without my 5-year-old helper, but we made memories. Removing the doors and top lead to a fun adventure, whether off-road or on.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

But the Wrangler, for all its capability, is still a crude vehicle. The upright windshield is a destroyer of all the bugs on the highway. My daughter asked if it was raining once it got dark. “No, that’s the sound of bugs hitting the windshield,” my wife said. With the aerodynamics of a brick, along with the ability to remove the doors and top, the wind noise is atrocious. Around town it’s fine, but on the interstate we had to constantly ask my kids to speak louder. Driving back to the cities through a rainstorm felt as if we were driving through a tornado between the howling wind and pounding rain. It’s a body-on-frame SUV, and it will not ride or handle like a Grand Cherokee or RAV4. The recirculating ball steering system is old-school technology and has the precision of a toddler trying to walk in a straight line.

But all these things can be forgiven if one’s willing to tolerate them for this icon’s off-road capability and the associated lifestyle.

For those who want a Wrangler for weekend adventures and have a shortish work commute during the week, the 4xe simply makes sense. There’s simply nothing that can directly compete on all levels.

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2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

Base price: $49,490, including destination
Price as tested: $56,380
EPA fuel economy: 49 MPGe, 22 miles electric range, 20 mpg
The hits: Plug-in hybrid powertrain, no compromises to Wrangler lifestyle, efficient for a Wrangler, great charging port location
The misses: Efficiency is relative, could use more electric range, weak electric motor, still loud and crude

2021
The Car Connection
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2021
The Car Connection
 
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