2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe: A hybrid that falls short

YEE-HAH. Eighty years after the original Willys Jeep set the template, the Jeep’s Wrangler sells compact SUV series as if there is no tomorrow, accounting for three consecutive quarters of record sales in the United States, including 118,666 units in the first six months of 2021.

Unfortunately, prices are rising as if there were none yesterday. Our test vehicle, a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, Jeep’s first plug-in hybrid car in the US, arrived last week with what I considered a rather staggering price for window stickers of $ 65,890. I may have peed a little there in the driveway.

But as it turns out, it’s the old price. Since our car was built, it has been revised upwards by $ 3,360 to $ 69,250. That’s $ 9,905 more than the non-hybrid Rubicon with the same engine. The difference even exceeds the crazy generous $ 7,500 federal tax deduction for PHEVs. That should help cool sales.

To those who have swallowed the Jeep pill, I’m not here to say your wishes. I mean, practically and objectively, there are few inferior machines for average daily commuting and commuting. But no matter what, you are you. For 2021, the Wrangler has five powertrains in the United States, including a V8, a V6, a diesel V6, an inline-4 and PHEV. I would be comfortable recommending the I4 version.

RUFFED AND READY The plug-in version of the Jeeps Wrangler SUV retains the powerful running equipment of conventional models, including a manually engaged low-speed transfer case, Dana 44 solid axles and electric locking differentials. The maximum system torque is 470 lb-ft.


Photo:

Stellaris

As for PHEV, the shameless greenwashing is unable to remove skepticism from the lowest speed bump. The EPA-estimated fuel economy of 49 mpg-e (miles per petrol-gallon equivalent, including electricity) sounds good; but this is only the case for the first 22 miles of operation and only if the battery is fully charged and only if you drive as if you are leading a funeral procession. When the battery disappears, the average mileage drops to 20 mpg and this is unfortunately where most consumers will find it.

As I said in a previous column, I am not against PHEVs per se, only the poor systems that complicate the driving experience in the pursuit of legal credits and buyer incentives. Or those where the technology is largely devoted to increasing performance. A bit of both here. The 4xe’s maximum system output of 375 hp and 470 pound-feet makes it the second-largest Wrangler after the Rubicon 392 (470 hp).

I’ve heard of some luminous creatures claiming to plug in their short-range PHEVs at home or at work, thereby displacing gasoline-powered miles. Namaste. However, the study shows that the lower a PHEV’s fully electric range, the less likely it is that average consumers will be bothered by charging. Like most PHEVs, the 4xe does not handle supercharging.

As expected, the 4xe is a crawling, climbing, climbing beast, with knotty off-road rubber in four corners, solid axles and a front heeling rod that helps the front wheels articulate over obstacles. My concern off-road – and off-lease – is less about the undercarriage than the parts count. This machine has all the complications of an exotic PHEV like a Ferrari SF90 Stradale placed on top of Jeep’s most Byzantine multimodal four-wheel drive, including a manually engaged low-speed transfer case.

It runs like a piece of futuristic farm equipment. 4xe weighs 700 pounds more than its only gas equivalent, of which I estimate 50 pounds is control code.

Crowded under the bonnet is a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 with stop / start and light e-boosting thanks to a belt-driven starter / generator. The turbocharger and the electric air conditioning pump are mounted high in the engine compartment to prevent water penetration. It’s a bunch of baked snakes in there.

SWITCH HITTER The Wrangler 4xe operates in one of three selectable driving modes: Hybrid (mixed gas-electric mode), electric and eSave, which depend on the gas engine to conserve battery charge for later.


Photo:

Stellaris

Inside the transmission housing, a dual-clutch “binary” mechanism connects and disconnects the engine output to a high-voltage traction motor (134 hp / 181 lb-ft) embedded inside. At the stern of the e-engine, another dual clutch goes together with the eight-speed automatic transmission. By the way, we still have not left the transmission house.

From there, the torques for the Rock-Trac NV241 two-speed gearbox with a 4: 1 low gear ratio flow, and then south and north using bomb-proof drive shafts for Dana 44 solid shafts with push-button-activated, algorithmically controlled locking differentials.

Now for the electric: Under the rear seat is a liquid-cooled / heated 17.3-kWh, 400-volt battery pack. The battery control circuit includes a heating unit and a cooling machine that is tapped into the air conditioner’s coolant. Below the package is the module that combines a battery charger and power inverter. All the electricity is sealed, says Jeep, giving the 4xe the capacity to wade water up to 30 inches deep. I brake for trout.

Speaking of which: the braking system is electrohydraulic, mixing friction braking with hybrid regenerative braking, just like the steering system. So did hydraulics. Coordination of all these different systems must have required more integration than Brown v. Board of Education.

The 4xe has an ideal and beautiful application: the possibility of almost silent operation on paths in open country or in wildlife and bird sanctuaries. There is actually a drive-mode button that takes the battery offline so the owner can save electrons until he or she reaches the park or trailhead. But the 4xe does not get far in EV mode, not with the full-aggro 4×4 system activated. When the terrain or driver demands more than the electric can deliver, the engine swirls to life. There go the mating spoonbills.

Jeep is not entirely wrong here. If the goal of off-road vehicle technology is to maintain perfect traction on all four tire sites with the highest degree of control, electric propulsion is inherently superior to internal combustion. Above all, 4xe makes me long for the smoother, shorter road: a fully electric Wrangler, with no need for turbos, clutch packs and gear sets. Two high-torque motors, a battery and an inverter and a handful of moving parts. It just seems more robust.

Alas, Jeep does not offer an EV Wrangler, and will not do so for a while, although e-adventure seems to be a growing market segment (Rivian, Tesla Cybertruck). Stellantis’ strategy for fleet “electrification” for the 2020s is based on the sale of PHEV pickups and SUVs and a lot of leading from behind, which is the case here.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe

The BOTTOM LINE PHEV version of the Jeeps Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon weighs about 700 pounds more than the conventional Rubicon with the inline-4 engine and costs $ 9,905 more. Eligible buyers can claim a $ 7,500 federal tax deduction for PHEVs.


Photo:

Stellaris

Base price: $ 54,925

Price, as tested: $ 69,250 (including $ 1,495 destination; before discounts)

Engine / driveline: turbocharged 2.0-liter DOHC inline four with direct injection and belt drive starter / generator (39 hp / 44 lb-ft); eight-speed automatic transmission with integrated traction motor (134 hp / 181 lb-ft); 17.3 kWh battery pack; full-time four-wheel drive with two-speed gearbox; electric lock differential front and rear.

Maximum power / torque of the system: 375 hp at 5,250 rpm / 470 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm.

Length / width / height / wheelbase: 188.4 / 73.8 / 73.5 / 118.4 inches

Ready weight: 5,222 lbs

EPA-estimated combined fuel economy: 49 mpg-e / 20 mpg (gas-electric mode / gas only)

Load capacity: 27.7 / 67.4 cubic feet (rear seat backrest up / folded)

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