Payne: Jeep Wrangler 4xe a mean Green machine

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 29, 2021

Green cars are a snore. Electrified cars are, well, electrifying.

That’s the difference Tesla figured out with Ludicrous mode Model S sedans that could blow away Hellcats at Woodward stoplights. Sports cars like the Acura NSX and Ferrari SF90 Stradale have figured it out, too. And now it’s the plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler 4xe’s turn to show off how electrification can make better toys.

The Wrangler is just a big kid’s Tonka toy. I mean, just look at it.

Goggle eyes, oversized tires, plastic fenders, roll bar and removable doors, for goodness’ sake. Built on a rock-hard ladder frame, the Wrangler’s most capable model — Rubicon — can climb over just about anything, thanks to a suite of goodies: a low-speed 4×4 transfer case, locking differentials, decoupled sway bar. And when they get bored with that toybox, Wrangler owners go buy more accessories like snorkels, lights, skeleton doors, monster tires.

The 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon adds the thrills of electrification - regen braking, quick acceleration - while not sacrificing its rugged off-road capabilities.

No surprise, then, Jeep’s elves are offering an electric motor for more giggles. In my experience, there are few more passionate owners than the Jeep and Tesla nations. Gather members of either tribe and they’ll talk in their own language for hours.

Electrifying the Wrangler will open Jeep owners’ eyes to what Tesla geeks have been wowing about. Let me count the ways.

After an overnight charge in downtown Austin, Texas, my 2022 Jeep 4xe woke up and thought it was a Model S. I poked Electric mode (Hybrid and E-Save also available, more on that later) on the left dash, then Regen on the center console and plied the Lone Star state’s capital city Tesla-style.

The interior of the 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Sahara gets leather seats to go with rugged 4x4 transfer case.

Fully charged, the 17.3-kWh lithium ion battery under the rear seat will get you 21 miles, while Regen enables one pedal driving. The regeneration toy is something pure-EV owners (this author included) have come to love, but the Jeep 4xe brings it to the hybrid realm as well.

I one-pedaled around Austin, easing into lights by taking my foot off the accelerator and letting electric motor resistance do the braking. It’s fun. It saves on brake pad wear. Jeep Nation will love it.

Or save your 21 electric miles for the Outback. Select E-Save mode and Wrangler 4xe will bank your battery charge for when you want it — say, at Holly Oaks north of Clarkston, or Ink’s Ranch outside Austin.

With five miles of battery left on the Jeep 4xe, I toggled E-Save mode as I crossed Austin’s Colorado River and headed south for Ink’s. As I learned, however, you have to be REALLY diligent about banking electrons because the Wrangler 4xe’s ample torque encourages bad behavior.

After a rest stop, I merged with authority into traffic, the Wrangler throwing its mane back like Secretariat down the home stretch. FOOM! I left traffic behind. The combination of 2.0-liter turbo-4 and electric motor means 375 horsepower and relentless low-end torque — 470 pound-feet total. That’s the biggest number in the Wrangler family, including the stump-pulling diesel.

Zero-60 flies by in just six seconds, better than anything this side of the Wrangler 392 (which is stuffed, ahem, with the same 6.4-liter V-8 as a Dodge Challenger).

The acceleration is addictive — especially in 4×4 High with all four hooves clawing the pavement — and I torched Texas stoplights and passing lanes all morning. But all that aggression is also not possible without accessing the battery — so I also burned off the five miles of banked charge. Dang it.

With extreme front and rear departure angles, the 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon can go just about anywhere.

In the wide-open spaces of Texas, this would be cause for concern in a Tesla — or any other all-electric vehicle. Wide open throttle sucks precious electrons and reduces range, a concern when charging infrastructure thins beyond metro areas.

That’s an advantage of Wrangler’s plug-in drivetrain. With the gas engine, fuel infrastructure is always nearby so I could exercise my lead foot free of range anxiety.

That’s a lesson for the Green Church, now running Washington, D.C., which insists on an absolutist, zero-sin — er, emissions — future. Plug-ins are much more convenient. Let consumers decide.

The downside is that carrying two drivetrains around ain’t cheap.

My Wrangler 4xe Sahara-trimmed tester cost a hefty $56,380 ($49,490 standard) — a cool 10 grand north of a comparable gas-powered model. Add another $1,000 to equip your garage with a 240-volt charger, and going green requires a lot of green.

To blunt the premium, D.C. pols are handing out $7,500 tax credits to the swells that can afford these expensive toys. Seriously? Another benefit that Tesla Nation has enjoyed.

The electrified fun continues off-road.

Entering Ink’s Ranch 63 miles south of Austin with no range anxiety worries and 300 miles of range still on the gas tank, I tackled some of the Southwest’s best rock-crawling landscapes.

The 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe can get about 21 miles on a charge (if you keep acceleration steady) before the gas engine kicks in.

Electric-only off-roading is a hoot. I jumped from the 4xe Sahara into a $62,415 4xe Rubicon (about the price of a Tesla Model 3 Performance) that had been juiced up on a DC fast charger. It’s part of the “Jeep 4xe Charging Network” of 240-volt chargers at off-road trails around the U.S. A full charge will take 2.5 hours — much less for just a few miles.

Jeep plans two charging stalls at each location (not the eight Tesla Nation is used to), so you might have to wait a bit if Jeep sells a lot of 4xes.

Rubicon’s rock-crawling ability is legendary (Jeep Nation: Dude, have you followed a Pink Jeep Tour around Sedona, Arizona’s red rocks? Awesome!) and electrification adds to the experience.

Like a stealthy predator, I crawled silently through Ink’s brush, streams and rocks. Off-road parks are Jeep Nation social time, and the quiet powertrain will help you hear fellow Jeepsters as they call out navigation instructions for insane cracks, cliffs and quarries.

“Keep right! OK, straight ahead! Go back! More throttle!”

Whether you are in full-electric mode or hybrid mode, the electric motor’s torque is instant. And the battery is unfazed by the elements. Not only did I navigate streams and flooded gulches in 4xe, but I did it under black skies that rained buckets.

Like a bathtub toy, Wrangler’s electronics are good in up to 30 inches of water. Not sure I’d try that in my Tesla. Off-road durability? Something Tesla Nation could learn from Jeep Nation.

2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe 

Vehicle type: Front engine, four-wheel-drive, five-passenger plug-in SUV

Price: $49,490, including 1,495 destination fee ($56,380 Sahara model and $62,415 Rubicon as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo-4 cylinder mated to an electric motor and 17.3 kWh lithium ion battery

Power: 375 horsepower, 470 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (mfr.); towing capacity, 3,500 pounds

Weight: 5,222 pounds (Rubicon as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 20 mpg combined (18.7 mpg as tested); range: 370 miles

Report card

Highs: Cool EV features like regen, battery-only mode; insane off-road capability

Lows: Gets pricey; EV learning curve

Overall: 4 stars

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