2021 Jeep Wrangler Review

2021 Jeep Wrangler - An electrified Jeep performs just like any other, if not better.


Any time spent in a Wrangler during summer months is a good time so I was looking forward to time in the all-new Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid.  Let's start with the proper pronunciation of this model as I was guilty of saying it wrong in the beginning, 4xe is pronounced "four-by-e." The Wrangler's new plug-in hybrid powertrain is a first for the off-road model and it's making the popular model even more practical for the urban-off-roaders. The 4xe delivers up to 25 miles of pure electric operation and a combined 50 MPGe when adding in the fuel ratio.  When it arrived with a full tank and charge, it provided a range of 370 miles.

4xe models are offered in three trim levels; Sahara, Rubicon, and High Altitude.  The entry-level Sahara starts at $51,025 and features leather-trimmed seats, 20-inch wheels, body-color fender flares, LED lighting, Uconnect 4C NAV with an 8.4" touchscreen and an Alpine premium sound system. My test Sahara 4xe also added options such as the cold weather group (heated front seats and remote start), advanced safety, a hardtop Mopar headliner, a body-colored 3-piece hardtop, and more totaling $56,380 as seen in pictures and the video. Rubicon models start at $54,725 and High Altitude models at $56,845. Compared to standard (non-hybrid Wranglers), prices for similar equipped 4xe models tend to be about $11,000 higher with the exception of the High Altitude which only varies by around $4,000 potentially making it the best 4xe value. Standard Wrangler Sahara's start at $39,715, Rubicons at $43,265, and High Altitudes at $50,620. The 4xe also currently qualifies for the federal tax credits.

The exterior styling of the Wrangler 4xe is nearly identical to other models. The only real identifier is the 4xe emblem on the back and the Jeep emblems outlined in blue on Sahara and High Altitude models. Rubicons add more blue accents within the hood graphics and exposed bumper hooks. Outside of that and the obvious plug port on the front driver's fender, you'd have to look closely when parked side by side another Wrangler. All models wear a Trail Rated badge of honor and come with a variety of top options. 20" black painted aluminum wheels are standard with all-season 275/55R20 tires on the Sahara and High Altitude models while the Rubicon models get 17" machined / painted black wheels wrapped in 33" LT285/70R17C off-road tires. Like all Wranglers, the tops and doors come off and the windshield folds down. Even the 4xe models can be easily configured to your personal taste, in fact the Sahara models come in 13 different colors including vibrant choices like my test vehicle's Firecracker Red, Snazzberry, Hella Yella, and Hydro Blue.

My test vehicle had the 3-piece hard top which is nice for Chicago winters and looks great on or off, but it does need at least one other person to lift off the Jeep. The process of removing the top is fairly simple and can be done in 15 minutes, but due to the size and shape of the back portion of the roof, the second set of hands is necessary, as is a place to store the pieces when the top is off. The front two pieces, however, can be popped off in a matter of minutes by one person and easily stored in an optional storage bag to give you some open-air up front. Comparatively, the soft top can be easily folded down for a full open-air experience without the added assistance.

While the 4xe aesthetically looks like all other Wranglers, what's under the hood is very different. 4xe Wranglers are powered by an advanced turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine with two electric motors and an eight-speed automatic transmission that delivers 375 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque.  The electric motors pair with a 400-volt, 17-kWh 96-cell lithium-ion, nickel manganese cobalt battery pack. The configuration maximizes the efficiency of the hybrid components and mates them to Wrangler's proven driveline. The battery packs are mounted below the second-row seats to protect them from outdoor elements allowing Jeep owners to do Jeep things.

As a plug-in hybrid, it's easy to use. You have electric range when charged, but fuel available when needed providing a nice a transition into the world of electric vehicles (EVs). Each night I plugged in the 4xe into a standard home outlet and when I woke up in the morning, the maximum electric range of around 25 miles was available for use. Utilizing a 240-volt Level 2 charger capable of 7.2 kilowatts should charge your 4xe in roughly two hours (according to Jeep) which is much more sensible than my standard 120-volt at home.  Home fast chargers are available through dealers and likely worth the investment if you purchase a 4xe. Like other EVs, the 4xe is silent after you hit the push button start and quietly roll in and out of the driveway. It's an odd experience to roll down the street in a silent Wrangler, but it kind of adds to the cool factor that comes with any Wrangler.

Drivers have the choice of three driving modes; hybrid, electric, or eSave. Hybrid is the default and blends the torque from the 2.0L engine and the electric motor. Electric is the zero-emission choice using only the battery until the charge is exhausted or the driver uses more torque such as a wide-open throttle that engages the engine. eSave mode will save the battery use for later use such as around town errands versus highway speed commutes. Note that regardless of your drive mode selection, it will always return to its default hybrid mode after turned off. As an added benefit, Jeep includes a digital eco-coach in the information display for drivers so they can see the power flow and how the impact of regenerative braking effects their range. When the driver steps on the brake pedal, the powertrain control engages the maximum available regenerative braking from the electric motors to slow the vehicle, supplemented with the Wrangler's traditional friction brakes. The regenerative braking feature also extends the replacement period for brake pads.

Once on the road, the 4xe is quick thanks to the instant torque the batteries provide. With 375 horsepower, it's currently the second fastest Wrangler behind the polar opposite Rubicon 392 with a 6.4L Hemi V8 which delivers 470 horsepower, but only gets an estimated 14 MPG. The initial power in electric mode only is quick but falters quickly, however in hybrid mode the gas engines maintain the propulsion speeds that the electric motors kickstart. It seamlessly transitions between gas and electric without a noticeable lag that I've seen in other hybrids. The two powertrains work well in tandem making this feel a bit more controlled on the highway. That said, it's still very much a Wrangler that can be a little loose in the steering, especially at higher speeds which is the price you pay to have such a highly capable vehicle built for slow moving off-road driving. Also as expected, there's significant road noise that comes with a vehicle that has many body parts that come off with a few bolts.

"A hybrid Wrangler isn't a real Jeep" was something a few people commented to me, however, this is a 100% as off-road capable as a standard model. In some instances, the low-speed torque on-demand make it a better option for tackling off-road obstacles.  This remains a trail-rated Wrangler with solid front and rear axles, full-time 4x4 two speed transfer case, fully articulating suspension, and the ability to ford up to 30-inches of water. Also available on the 4xe is a trac-lok limited-slip rear differential which will provide extra grip in low-traction situations. As a bonus, there are other advantages to taking a silent Jeep out in the wilderness such as a more immersive outdoorsy vibe to appreciate the sounds of nature.

While my test Sahara model came with more street-oriented all-season tires, both the Rubicon and High Altitude 4xe are available with the more aggressive 17-inch off-road wheels and 33-inch tires that are ideal for the trails and rocks.  When paired with other off-road features like skid plates, front and rear tow hooks, and hill-ascent and descent control, its apparent this is not just another PHEV on the road. And with maintaining its focus off-road, Jeep is currently in the process of launching a charging network placed at off-road trailheads across the US beginning with trails in Moab, Utah; Big Bear, California; and the Rubicon Trail in California. These charging stations only further highlight the move to more EVs and will give 4xe owners a chance to charge up for some extra electric only off-road miles.  

Hopping inside the 4xe is like any other Wrangler on the road physically. Drivers face twin-dial analog gauges with an information screen in between. The controls for drive mode selection are tucked out of the driver's sight line near their left knee, which is slightly awkward. At the center of the dash is a standard 8.4-inch touchscreen display that utilizes Jeep's Uconnect interface and connects with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Most of the vehicle's features can be controlled through the touchscreen, although there are also tradition buttons and dials for climate and audio controls. Window controls continue to be located in the center stack adjacent to the media ports. Also surrounding passengers are various grab handles for those trips on bumpy terrain. About the only difference with the 4xe is the addition of an LED battery level monitor bar that is placed atop the center of the dash against the windshield so that you can see the status of your charge at a quick glance.

Materials are appropriate for the Jeep and easy to wipe clean. Interior storage is minimal up front and limited to a small tray behind the gear shifter and the center console storage bin. Neither are ideal for mobile phone placement so mine was most often on the passenger seat or in one of the two cup holders if they were not in use. The drivers position and seat comfort was acceptable and at an average height I found the space to be adequate. I often carted around my entire family of 5 in the 4xe and while no one clearly complained about head room with the top off, leg room in the second row was somewhat tight. The biggest issue when all of the seats are full or the top is off is the lack of locking storage. With the batteries taking up space under the rear seats, some hidden storage is lost in the 4xe. There is a small space under the rear cargo area which is just enough to store the charger and cords, but it does not lock.

The Jeep 4xe is a great add to the already diverse line up of Wranglers. As Wranglers have grown in popularity in the urban/suburban neighborhoods, the 4xe is a perfect option to consider. It offers all of the fun and cool factors of a Jeep, but adds in better fuel-efficiency with an environmentally friendly EV option.  You'll have to look closely to distinguish them from other Wranglers both on or off the road. The 4xe is a unique model that's closest competition is the Ford Bronco and Toyota 4Runner, neither of which offer hybrid variations.

First Impression Summary:

Test Vehicle: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe

* Exterior Color: Firecracker Red

* Interior Color: Black Leather

* Notable Options: Body-color 3-piece hard top ($2,495), Remote-proximity keyless entry ($645), Cold Weather Group ($995), ParkSense Rear park Assist ($995), Advanced Safety Group-Auto high-beams, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, advanced brake assist ($795)

* Price as tested: $56,380 (with destination charge)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.