2021 Jeep Wrangler Review

2021 Jeep Wrangler - Go anywhere in all-electric mode


Jeep’s highly recognizable and highly successful compact Wrangler harkens back to a simpler era; before cute compact crossovers invaded suburban driveways like locusts.  A sturdy body-on-frame structure combines with solid front and rear axles, a design intended for four-wheel, off-road adventures and whatever daring encounters with heavy snow or deep mud awaits.

Now for the first time in its 80-year history, Jeep adds a touch of ‘green,’ as in economically conscionable… and along the line, drivers may also save a little green as in greenback currency.
Enter Jeep Wrangler Limited 4xe, (pronounced ‘Four By E’ not ‘Four Exxx E,’) a vehicle for changing and charging times offering a hint of hybrid.  

The term ‘hybrid’ too often gets tossed around in hap hazard fashion, with different meanings to different ears.  In Wrangler’s case, hybrid refers to a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) design, offering benefits of pure electric power, with a conventional internal combustion gas engine on board. This combination adds extra miles and additional peace of mind knowing that when the electric battery runs low, approximately 350 driving miles remain with the four-cylinder kicking in.

The Limited moniker represents a four-door version of the go-anywhere Wrangler, a traditional two-door offering. The Unlimited variant stretches overall length by a sizeable 22 inches. Both Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited underwent next-generation redesigns in the 2018 model year with the PHEV variant debuting in 2021 exclusively in the four-door variant.  It’s still Jeep capable, with ample 10.1 inches of ground clearance allowing crawls through 30 inches of water.

Wrangler 4xe carries forward conventional Wrangler nuances including side doors that disengage from the frame, a fold-down front windshield and a removable three-piece modular panel roof.

For Wrangler 4xe, the 21 miles of estimated all-electric range rates as comparably modest.  Other available PHEVs offer greater all-electric range, with larger rechargeable battery packs, but also cost a bit more greenback. A recently tested BMW X5 plug-in hybrid electric crossover managed 31 miles of estimated all-electric travel, with a price starting about 20 grand higher.

Flip up second-row seat cushions for a sneak peek at the 14.0-kilowatt, 96-cell lithium-ion battery pack. Stationary bench bottoms stay put with no front-back sliding option. Seatbacks, however, fold down with a 70/30 split.

The battery pack works in tandem with two electric motor/generators.  One mounts at the engine’s front, replacing a conventional alternator, to spin the engine, assist start/stop functions and replenish battery energy.  The second unit connects to the eight-speed automatic transmission case setting Wrangler in motion.

Combining electric and internal combustion technologies add up to impressive torque and horsepower numbers. Horsepower reaches a respectable 375 with peak torque (low-end grunt and oomph) reaching 470 lb.-ft., on par with V-8 gas-engine results. This motivates a zero to 60 time in 6 seconds.

Two Wrangler 4xe trims include Sahara ($47,995 starting price) and Rubicon ($51,695) including all premium content of their internal combustion counterparts. In addition to the U.S. market, Jeep markets Wrangler 4xe in China and Europe.

Keep in mind Wrangler qualifies for the federal government’s $7,500 alternative-fuel tax credit redeemable when filing federal income tax documents.  Illinois once included a green-type incentive,  but phased out the plan in 2014.  This could return as political winds globally blow favorably towards alternative-powered transportation.

One major differentiator between the two 4xe trims; full-time four-wheel drive systems.  Sahara includes Selec-Trac 4WD while Rubicon opts for the Rock-Trac heavy-duty 4WD. Both feature a manual, floor-mounted gear shift for maneuvering among four-low, four-high and two-high.

At first glance, the 4xe screams ‘JEEP’, more so than ‘GREEN, so differentiating it from a conventional all-gas version remains a challenge, unless one knows where to look.’ Both include round headlight housing flanking seven vertical slates as well as thick black grab bars adorning side doors. Rectangular, portrait-positioned sideview mirrors jet from front doors.   The black front bumper extends out from the front of the grille incorporating fog lights and tow hooks. The back bumper jets out in similar fashion. Side fenders extend out from the body while hovering atop squared wheel wells.

The lower hatch door, hinged the right, opens similar to a refrigerator door design with the full-sized spare tire aboard. Upper glass flips up when the bottom portion swings out. Long stationary running boards adorn lower sides, assisting entry and exit. Unlike conventional crossovers, this body-on-frame sport utility vehicle exudes edginess, with 90-degree angles creating a tall-standing silhouette.

Adjacent to the driver’s side A pillar; a circular black flap housing the plug port recharging the onboard battery pack, the key exterior differentiator between 4xe and traditional Wrangler Unlimiteds.

An 18-foot power cord connects up with a standard 110-volt plug.  It’s probably all one needs.  Folks deciding upon an all-electric vehicle with larger on-board chargers usually invest in a wall-mounted 220-volt charger, greatly reducing juice-up time.  In Wrangler 4xe’s situation, its 32-amp on-board charger requires about 12 hours to re-juice from a depleted state; A 220-volt (also referred to as a Level 2) charger would reduce time down to two hours and 15 minutes.  

Wrangler Unlimited, plug or no plug, borrows many winning nuances from Dodge and Chrysler brands making travel a bit more pleasant.  The push-button electric start/stop features amber ‘Run’ and ‘Off’ illumination indicating the state of power, especially useful with a quiet running electrified offering.  

Helping interaction of the multi-function Uconnect touch screen with navigation; toggle finger buttons located on the steering wheel’s back side, greatly easing volume and listening selections while keeping a firm wheel grip; a simple, easily executable design that’s best in the business.    

Above a rather diminutive glove box one finds a horizontal grab bar assisting shotgun passengers. In addition, sturdy grab handles adorn inside A and B pillars. The flat roof offers head-room-a-plenty in all five seating positions. Four circular air vents adorn the flat, straight-across militaristic-type dashboard with little top side.

Because Wrangler incorporates removable side doors, power window tabs relocate to the center dash below HVAC controls. A large, thick, center tactile dials monitor fan speed while temperature and direction summon from nearby push buttons. Two similar-sized dials flank these controls to monitor volume and station selection of the mid-size, 8.4-inch in-dash screen. The three dials reside at the same level as the nearby glove box grab bar.

On the dashboard’s far left near the headlight dial, three push buttons select a specific drive mode: all electric, hybrid or e-save. The system defaults to hybrid during starts.  The all-electric setting taps energy from the lithium-ion battery pack as long as one percent of electric power remains, unless extra muscle gets summoned, such as when punching the gas pedal.  The e-save mode works most effectively when cruising highways (prioritizing the gas engine).

The battery constantly recharges via kinetic energy derived from regenerative brak
ing technology, constantly capturing friction for later redistribution. A ‘max regeneration’ dashboard button commands more aggressive brake friction and extending electric ranges.

Newly arrived within the entire wave of 2021 Jeep vehicle family, “Jeep Wave,” including complimentary oil changes and tire rotation for three years (with no mileage limitations), 24/7 phone support and access to exclusive Jeep experiential events.

The Jeep brand along with fellow stable mates Chrysler, RAM and Dodge, once pegs inside Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) empire; formed a new global conglomerate in late 2019, Stellantis, joining forces with Peugeot of France.

At a Glance:
Starting price: $47,995
Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline four
Combined Horsepower: 375
Electric Range: 21 miles
Wheelbase: 118.4 inches
Overall Length: 188.4 inches
Overall Width: 73.8 inches
Overall Height: 73.5 inches
Curb Weight: 5,100 pounds
Assembly: Toledo, Ohio

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.