2021 Jeep Wrangler Review

2021 Jeep Wrangler - 4xe unnecessarily complicates an uncomplicated conveyance, but does boost economy.


The Wrangler, considered by many to be the most capable off-road vehicle, returns in 2- and 4-door (Unlimited) configurations with removable doors, folding windshield and soft and hard top options. A pickup version badged Gladiator debuted in 2019. After adding a diesel engine and a mild-hybrid gasoline V6 in 2020, Jeep goes all in with an electrified plug-in hybrid version and high-performance variant in 2021. Dubbed the 4xe, this new Wrangler employs some trick technology to operate as a true plug-in off roader with a claimed all-electric range of 21 miles. Enthusiasts need not fret, Jeep also introduced the Wrangler Rubicon 392, the most powerful Wrangler ever. competitors include the Ford Bronco, Land Rover Defender and Toyota 4Runner.

Standard engine is a 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 285 horsepower. It pairs to either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic. Also offered is a 270-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. It mates to the 8-speed automatic. Both the 4-cylinder and V6 are now available with Jeep's eTorque mild-hybrid system that is designed to smooth start/stop functionality and boost fuel economy. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine is also offered. It makes 260 horsepower and 422 lb-ft of torque. It also mates to an 8-speed automatic.

For 2021 Jeep stuffs its corporate 6.4-liter (392 cubic inch) V8 under the Wrangler's hood in the Rubicon 392 model. This engine makes 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque and is only offered with the 8-speed automatic. Wrangler 4xe sandwiches the 270-hp turbo four between a 44-HP electric motor connected through the accessory belt and a 134-HP electric motor taking the place of the 8-speed automatic transmission's torque converter. The motors are powered by a 14.0-kWh lithium-ion battery located under the rear seats. Total power output 370 horsepower. Wrangler 4xe can run in electric mode or as a hybrid.

Wrangler has solid axles return front and rear and several 4WD systems. Command-Trac is the base system. It offers rear-wheel drive, part-time 4WD high and low ranges. Rock-Trac adds electronic locking differentials front and rear as well as an electronic sway-bar disconnect. Selec-Trac offers rear-drive, full-time 4WD and part-time 4WD high and low ranges.

The dizzying model mix includes Sport, Willys Sport, Sport S, Islander, Willys, 80th Anniversary, Freedom, Sport Altitude, Sahara, Sahara Altitude, Rubicon, High Altitude and Rubicon 392 trims. Rubicon is the most capable off-road thanks to its special features, including shorter axle gearing and an electronically disconnecting roll bar. Features include blind-spot warning, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration and power operated canvas roof that slides back from front to rear. Designed to be the most premium Wrangler yet, the High Altitude package adds custom interior trim and body enhancements.

After adding a diesel last year, Jeep further fortifies the Wrangler's powertrain options with a unique plug-in hybrid and a monster V8. The base V6 is serviceable and provides adequate acceleration around town and middling passing response. It's a bit overwhelmed with a full load or passengers, however. The available 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is a better fit in the Wrangler -- though it's a shame it isn't offered with a manual transmission. It provides great around-town acceleration and good passing punch. It's also smoother and more refined than the standard V6. Unloaded, expect a 0 to 60 MPH time of around 7.5 seconds. It mates well to the slick-shifting 8-speed automatic, providing smooth acceleration and timely downshifts in passing situations. Dubbed EcoDiesel, the oil-burner doesn't disappoint. It provides solid acceleration and little of the diesel muss that is sometimes associated with sparkless ignition. Transmission shift points certainly come more quickly, but the engine provides smooth and seamless acceleration and incredible low-end torque that's so valuable when off-roading or towing.

Simply put, Wrangler 392 is a beast. Much in the way the supercharged V8 is a monster motor in the Ram 1500 TRX, the normally aspirated version in the Wrangler is absurdly powerful and provides instant acceleration and ample passing punch. It's uniquely positioned as well as the only factory-performance hot-rod in the off-road segment.

The hybrid powertrain is also unique to the segment, but is more noteworthy for it's electric only operation than its hybrid operation. When the gas engine and electric motors are working together, you hardly notice the 4xe is a hybrid at all, power delivery is smooth and seamless. With 470 lb-ft of torque on tap, it's plenty powerful. But it's in the details where Jeep's got some work to do. There are sometimes pauses in power delivery as the 4xe switches from battery to hybrid mode. In addition, power is limited to just 134 horsepower in electric mode, meaning you'll live life in the slow lane as you try and eek out your 20-or-so all electric miles. It's enough to keep up with traffic, but not much more.

The hybrid offers three drive modes: Hybrid, Electric and E-Save. Hybrid is what you'd expect and the default when the batteries aren't charged. Electric mode attempts to keep the powertrain carbon-free, but allows the gas engine to jump in for maximum acceleration when you floor the throttle. E-Save maintains battery charge for electric use later, and operates as a slightly less-efficient hybrid.

Jeep's Command-Trac 4WD system is a solid offering, but doesn't provide the flexibility of an automatic setting in 4WD mode. To get that, buyers must pay more for Selec-Trac. Either way, the Wrangler is the most capable out-of-the-box off-road vehicle available. Opt for the Rubicon, with its off-road goodies and extreme tires, and there's no trail to tough for Wrangler. One important note, the 4ex comes as a Rubicon, meaning is gets all of the 4X4 goodies and is fully capable off road.

EPA estimates for the Unlimited with the 2.0-liter engine are 22 MPG city and 24 MPG highway. V6 ratings fall to 20/24 MPG. Diesels net the best overall numbers at 22/29 MPG and 25 MPG combined. 392 models see EPA ratings of only 13/17 MPG. You'd think the new hybrid would be the most efficient, but it's combined rating is only 20 MPG. Still if you have the opportunity to plug in all the time, the MPGe rating is 49. In routine suburban commuting with the gas models expect to average close to the city number of 22 MPG, throw in a bit of gentle highway cruising and 24 MPG overall is quite possible. (Keep in mind that the Unlimited has a larger fuel tank than 2-door models.) Diesel models might average as high as 30 MPG overall. That's crazy good for a Wrangler and better than most compact crossovers. The new hybrid can throw up impressive fuel economy numbers as well, provided you take the extra step to utilize the all-electric range.

Jeep has made massive improvements in the overall ride quality of the Wrangler, though it still isn't as smooth riding as crossover competitors like the CR-V or RAV4. That said, the ride quality is completely dependent on trim and options selection. The smoothest riding would be the Sahara Unlimited (with its street tires and longer wheelbase) and the bounciest ride would come from the 2-door Wrangler Rubicon. A but the Rubicon offer a perfectly acceptable ride on smooth pavement with little head toss or bounding that you might associate from Wranglers of yore.

There have also been massive improvements made to the on-road handling of the Wrangler. The steering feels more connected and direct -- though there is definitely more play than in crossover competitors. The brake pedal feels consistent and firm underfoot, but the action is a bit long. In a way, both the steering and braking are somewhat compromised to provide better control off road. Turning circle is admirably tight, but the big -tired Rubicon wanders a bit when driving straight. Crosswinds tend to be a handful as well.

Simply put, no stock vehicle is better off-road. Those that are serious trail nuts will only consider the Rubicon. It offers 33-inch tires, lockable front and rear differentials, and a disconnectable front stabilizer bar. The beauty of the Wrangler compared to other vehicles off road is the packaging. Impressive front and rear approach/departure angles and a high breakover combine with a shortish wheelbase to make it much more maneuverable than any other competitor.

Inside, the Wrangler contemporary and fresh and very functional. Materials are appropriate for the class and Jeep claims that the interior is waterproof. A large touch-screen dominates the design, but there are traditional analog gauges as well. The switchgear has been upgraded with more logical placement and a more robust feel. The integration of Apple Car Play and Android Auto is a huge plus as is the addition of blind-spot alert.

The upright front seats provide decent comfort and enough support to hold you in place off road. Rear seats are a bit less accommodating in terms of comfort, but at least head room is good. There's scant knee space in 2-door models, and adequate adult room in 4-door models. Getting in and out can be a bit of a challenge because of the tall step-in height. Also, the doors, aren't as large or substantial as competitors because of their removable design.

Interior noise levels can be high - especially on soft-top models. Fitted with the hard top, noise levels are acceptable but higher than in most competitors. A new tilt-and-telescope steering column helps drivers get comfortable behind the wheel and outward visibly is quite good expect dead astern where the tailgate-mounted spare blocks the view. Towing capacity is 2000 pounds on 2-doors and 3500 pounds on 4-door models.

Cargo capacity is scant on 2-door models and 4-doors offer just 32 cubic feet overall. The rear seats fold to increase cargo space but create an uneven load floor. The swing-out tailgate can be a problem as well (something that's compounded by the soft top that doesn't easily open at the rear). Interior storage is negligible with just a few open and covered bins throughout.

One additional note, Wrangler offers an impressive array of top options and overall configurations. As noted, the doors are removable and the windshield folds. There are three top options: A hard top with several removable sections, a canvas convertible top that is completely removable and a non-removable canvas center top that power-slides to the rear -- in essence a massive sunroof.

Bottom Line -- Jeep totally overhauled Wrangler a few years back, but significant engine upgrades over the past two years make it even more impressive. The Wrangler's combination of features, refinement (yes refinement) and off-road ability are simply unmatched (sorry Bronco). The turbo four and diesel engine offerings are well worth the extra cost. Jeep has done a masterful job of creating a Wrangler that's both modern and extremely capable. Prices are high and discounts are few, so shop wisely.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.