Road Test: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe

Opinion

A Very Trail-Ready Plug-in Hybrid

It’s a whole new world. Jeep global CEO Christian Meunier closed out 2021 by announcing his brand’s goal of becoming the “zero emission freedom brand,” with the Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid (PHEV) as its first example. He added that the Wrangler PHEV has been embraced by Jeep’s enthusiasts, pulling one-fourth of the model’s sales and even outselling the Toyota Prius for the first quarter of 2021, taking the title for that time as the best-selling plug-in hybrid in the U.S.

Clean Fleet Report perks up when we hear about a vehicle not known for getting good fuel economy being reimagined to be more efficient and easier on the environment at the same time. This is exactly what the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe has to offer. New in 2021, the 4xe has all the off-road ability of a non-electrified Wrangler, possibly even more as there is something satisfying about removing the top and sides, lowering the windshield, and cruising silently in pure electric mode through the desert or forest. If you absolutely must have noise when exploring the outdoors, Jeep still offers the Wrangler Rubicon 392 with a fire-breathing 6.4-liter V8 under the hood.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
Old school meets new school

The 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 4xe retains the brand’s classic old school look with a raised ride height, large tires covered by ecto-fenders and the tow hooks front and rear, painted in Electric Blue to designate this is an electric Jeep. Remove the roof and side panels, then lay the windshield flat, and the 4xe draws a direct line back to 1945 where its earliest ancestor was patrolling the battlefields of Europe.

The Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is the most civilized Wrangler we have driven, but make no mistake it still has all its serious off-roading chops. Don’t think the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is something it is not–as in a first choice for most people as an everyday driver or a family vehicle. This 4×4 is all 4×4, dripping with Jeep’s legendary off-road heritage. If you consider buying one, make sure you plan on spending time off-pavement seeking sand, mud and snow, as its DNA is far different from any other SUV on the market.

A More Efficient (And Quiet) Propulsion System

The Jeep Wrangler 4xe PHEV is powered by two electric motors and a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine. This set-up drives either the rear wheels or all four wheels through a eight-speed automatic transmission. The system, with a total of 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, is EPA city and highway combined rated at 20 mpg with the gasoline engine only. But when including the electric range of 21 miles, the city and highway combined number is 49 mpge. MPGe, or Miles Per Gallon equivalent, is a measurement of how far a car can travel electrically, on the same amount of energy as is contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
The engine alone is not that impressive

That last number is impressive, but there are a few caveats for being able to reach a lofty 49 mpge.

  • The first is that the 17.3 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery needs to be plugged in, which can be done with a 120V Level 1 common household outlet, or a 240V Level 2 charger that many owners will install at their home. With no battery charge the gasoline engine kicks-in resulting in the lower fuel economy number.
  • Jeep has three driving options of Hybrid (default setting), Electric, and E-Save, with the first two using-up the battery charge when driving. Opting for E-Save will retain whatever charge is in the battery so it can be used around town or going off-road. These buttons, located awkwardly on the lower dash to the left-and-behind the steering wheel, make it easy to forget to select E-Save. Sort of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing.
  • There is a small button with a battery icon located next to the automatic temperature control wheel. When pressed, it lights-up blue, indicating maximum brake regeneration has been selected. Brake regeneration is where kinetic braking energy is converted into electricity when slowing or coasting, and that electricity then stored in the battery.

Over 459 miles driving Southern California freeways, and doing some snow chasing in the Hungry Valley SVRA (State Vehicle Recreation Area) near Mt. Pinos in the Los Padres National Forest, we averaged 20.1 mpg. But with a full charge we were able to achieve 24 miles of all-electric range on city streets.

 For maximum efficiency, charge the battery whenever possible. If interested in saving that battery charge, don’t drive in either Hybrid or Electric modes, but opt for E-Save, as in this mode the gasoline engine charges the battery.

Driving Experience: On and Off-Road

 As noted earlier, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is the most civilized Wrangler we have driven. Clean Fleet Report’s last experience was in a two-door 2019 Wrangler Rubicon 4×4. With its short wheelbase, there was a bit of a driving learning curve. The Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, however, with four doors and a longer wheelbase meant the ride would be more in-line with other SUVs. Then again, was it?

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
Making itself at home when the road ends

Around town the 4xe is easy-to-drive, with a surprisingly tight turning radius. If driving in Hybrid or Electric mode, acceleration is quick and quiet. But, when choosing to save the battery charge in E-Save, the 2.0L turbo gasoline engine, when pushed hard, has a jet engine whoosh that is very noticeable in the cabin. Taking full advantage of the 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, 0-60 times were around 6.2 seconds with the transmission smoothly going through the gears and a seamless transition between gasoline and electric power.

The electro-hydraulic steering was light, which resulted in the front end wandering when on the highway at 70 mph. It was correctable, but tiring, as it meant paying full attention and never relaxing. The BF Goodrich KO2 all-terrain 285/55 tires, mounted on 17-inch painted and polished aluminum wheels, were slightly louder on the freeway than a normal street tire. However, when we pulled-up to the ranger at the off-road park, and he looked at our tires, he said we would be fine as those would take us anywhere in the park we wanted to go. A reassuring thought.

Cornering on pavement was predictable, with body roll and drifting through turns remedied by not pushing things above the recommended speed limit. What the Wrangler has going for it is a tight turning radius, which rivaled some of the smallest cars we have tested. The value of this trait will show its benefits when going off-road and needing to negotiate tight spaces and avoid obstructions.

The Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, with 10.8-inches of ground clearance, is engineered to be the most capable off-road plug-in hybrid vehicle. Utilizing lightweight, high-strength aluminum doors, hinges, hood, fenders and windshield frame, as well as a magnesium swing gate, the Wrangler weighs-in at a reasonable 5,222 pounds. Off-road traction was ably managed by the shift-on-the-fly Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case, electric front and rear locking differentials, a disconnectable front sway bar, hill-ascent and descent control with selectable speed control. And don’t forget the ranger-approved tires. For a more detailed explanation of the Wrangler’s off-road capabilities, it is best to let Jeep do it here.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
Ranger-approved!

Iconic Design

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe does just fine at getting admiring looks. Ours, painted in Spring Gray with Electric Blue hood accents surrounding the functional vents, made head nods of approval a common sight. The Unlimited Rubicon 4xe trim included front and rear steel bumpers, multiple skid plates, along with the trademarked seven-slot grille and the round, LED reflector headlights. Jeep says it is “the most recognized vehicle in the world,” a claim we will not dispute.

Driving Experience: Interior

The Rubicon 4xe interior is nicely appointed, considering at some point it will be exposed to the elements. The seating position is high, giving a commanding feel of the road. With the power retractable soft top and sides in place, the interior noise level is high at freeway speeds, but not oppressive. Open the roof and remove the sides, and the noise you hear is where the fun level begins.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
Still pretty basic

The manual adjustments on the front seats, trimmed in the optional leather, were easy to position for good visibility, save for the tailgate-mounted full-size spare that blocks rear vision. Tip: learn to use and trust the mirrors and the rear view camera. The Electric Blue top stitching and “Rubicon” embroidered head rests are a nice touch, while the leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio, telephone and cruise control buttons or toggles. Convenient features on the rear of the steering wheel are the volume (right side) and channel selection (left) buttons. It is such a natural place for them it is a wonder all other manufacturers don’t go to this placement.

Everything for the driver is laid-out in logical, easy-to-read locations on the square dash that has large round air vents. The 8.4-inch color touch screen is the command center for the easy-to-use Uconnect operating system, which includes navigation. The all-weather subwoofer and a 552-watt amplifier powered an Alpine audio system that includes AM/FM/CD/MP3 HD radio, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Voice command, with Bluetooth, for handsfree phone and streaming audio are operated by the steering wheel controls. A very nice feature is the 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. The more cars we see this in, the more we like it.

The highly optioned Wrangler Rubicon 4xe had convenience features such as a tilt and telescopic steering column, all-weather floor mats, Trailer Tow package, the Lighting Group with LED head, daytime running, fog and tail lights; power door locks, heated power exterior mirrors, automatic dual zone climate control, remote/proximity keyless entry, push button start, 12V power outlets (front and rear), AUX ports and multiple cup holders. Missing–common on SUVs in this price range–was wireless charging, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. When I trekked into the mountains, early one morning in late December to chase some snow, those last two would have been welcome (if you live in a snowy area, you might want to opt for the $995 Cold Weather package, which includes heated seats, steering wheel and a remote start system).

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
The Wrangler 4xe has some new tricks.

Safety and Convenience

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was equipped with the Jeep Advanced Active Safety package. Additional safety features include adaptive cruise control, a rear backup camera with rear park assist, forward-facing off-road camera, full speed forward collision warning, blind spot and cross path detection, electronic stability control and roll mitigation, four-wheel ABS, a tire pressure monitoring system, anti-theft engine immobilizer and a Corning Gorilla Glass windshield.

Pricing and Warranties

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
Going where no Jeep has done before

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe comes in three models–the Sahara, Rubicon and High Altitude, with base prices ranging from $52,820 to $58,640, which includes the $1,595 destination charge. Clean Fleet Report’s 2021 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe, with optional packages adding $12,395, and the $1,595 destination charge, came to $68,915.

(Ed. note: The 4xe is $5-10,000 more than a comparable non-electrified Wrangler, but it is also eligible for a variety of federal and local tax incentives.)

The 2021 Wrangler 4xe comes with these warranties:

  • Basic – Three years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
  • Hybrid System – 10 years/100,000 miles
  • High Voltage Battery – 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Maintenance – Three years for three, no-cost oil changes and tire rotations
  • Corrosion Perforation – Three years/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe Plug-in Hybrid

This isn’t the first run at electrification from Jeep, as the 2019 Wrangler had an optional 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder eTorque engine – a mild hybrid where the alternator was replaced with a motor generator that works with a 48-volt battery pack. But the 4xe being able to drive silently on pure electricity was a treat, and the impressive oomph from the electric motors was fun.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
Have you got what it needs?

The question is: Do you do enough off-road driving to own a Jeep Rubicon 4xe? As the king of off-roading, a Jeep is aspirational for many people imagining themselves not being held back by sand, mud or snow. This is exactly what the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe does very, very well. But compared to its competitors that are more comfortable and practical, the interior cargo area is smaller. While the rear seat can fit three adults, two would be a better idea, and the fuel economy is so-so unless you never forget to plug it in.

However…

Clean Fleet Report reviews cars, crossovers, SUVs, trucks and minivans of all types; getting to know them by putting them through everyday driving as their designers planned.  We never ask a vehicle to do more than what it is meant to do, which brings us to the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe. This thing is so good off-road that if getting down-and-dirty was what we spent our time doing, we would look no further.

We had it in the winter so we kept it buttoned-up, which did not do it justice. When the top and sides come off in the summer, and free styling in the open air and sunshine is the drill, that’s when living at the beach in Southern California gets much more special. Wranglers in some state of au naturel are a common sight cruising Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu to San Diego, demonstrating owners are just fine counterbalancing day-to-day practicality easily with the fun and joy that only a top-less Jeep Wrangler can bring.

The bottom line is to make sure you have a need for this rugged vehicle. The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe is far more at home crunching rocks and slogging through mud than rolling through the nicely paved parking lot at your local mall. If you do, then get in, hang on and giddy-up!

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Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Jeep.

More Jeep Options (hint: there are no Jeep-level PHEV off-roader options)

Road Test: 2021 Jeep Gladiator Sport EcoDiesel

Flash Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator

Road Test: 2019 Jeep Wrangler

Road Test: 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Cherokee

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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