The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4Xe carries an icon in the future

With the Wrangler 4Xe, Jeep has done something simple and made it complicated without sacrificing capability or features.

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe plug-in hybrid makes it as efficient as possible in rolling brick around the city, making the Wrangler the Wrangler.

With a TCC rating of 5.2 out of 10, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler lineup lags behind its cross-town rival, the Ford Bronco. But the Wrangler may not have any direct competitors with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, and it could be one of the Wrangler’s biggest competitive advances in the off-road segment.

I recently spent a week driving the kids around town, plugging in the grocery store, and road tripping to northern Minnesota to find out where the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe hits and misses.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

Hit: Unobtrusive, Powerful Powertrain

The 4xe is easily the most complex Wrangler ever. The 4xe is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-4 paired with a 17.3-kwh battery pack, a motor generator, and an electric motor for a combined output of 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. It would be easy to expect this powertrain to be hot, with an 8-speed automatic transmission and a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a 2-speed transfer case, but it’s nothing. The power is readily available and does its work in the background. Run it in hybrid mode and the system will default to electric mode if the battery pack has enough juice and no one is calling for full power. When the battery pack runs out of juice, the 4xe runs like a typical hybrid. It’s smooth, it’s smooth, and it’s all in the background.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

Miss: Weak Electric Motor

The 134-hp electric motor sandwiched in an 8-speed automatic transmission isn’t powerful enough for all situations. Even in electric-only mode with enough juice in the battery pack, the Turbo-4 will turn on if the accelerator is placed on the floor. This will not happen with the Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

Hit: Actual, usable range

The 2021 Wrangler 4xe has an EPA-rated 22-mile electric range and 49 MPGe in hybrid mode, though fuel economy drops to 20 mpg combined in gas-only mode. There was an indicated electric range of 24 miles every time I unplugged the 4xe with the state of 100% charge, and that’s exactly what I saw in real-world driving, regardless of the situation. Whether on city or suburban roads or running downhill at 65 to 70 mph, and the mileage on the odometer is read on some highway trips before defaulting to hybrid mode. Over the course of a week and 111 miles of running around town, the 4xe’s trip computer said it averaged 44.6 mpg with 90.9 miles of electric-only driving and 20.4 miles requiring a gas engine. I plugged in a 4xe whenever I was at home and once at the grocery store, which had a ChargePoint Level 2 charging station.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

Miss: Efficiency is Relative

The 4xe is a plug-in hybrid, but it’s still a rolling brick with laughable aerodynamics. Calling it efficient is a stretch. The same powertrain in the vehicle that sits lower, has better aerodynamics, and much less capacity will enable a greater electric driving range. The noted 44.6 mpg average is based on a formula calculated by Trip Computer. My average was 22.2 mpg once the juice ran out on the highway, which is fine, but a turbodiesel Wrangler’s EPA rating is 29 mpg highway and 22 city. While an electric range of 22-24 miles is very useful day to day, an electric range of 40 to 50 miles would be perfect for ensuring that people with no charging stations at work can stay away from electric-only driving during daily commutes Huh. The Wrangler’s battery pack is mounted under the rear seat so as not to compromise the Wrangler’s capabilities, and there’s no more room to put the battery while the gas powertrain remains on.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

Hit: Location Is Everything

Most plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles have a charging port on the front fender or in the rear quarter panel, behind the front wheel, instead of the gas engine’s fuel filler. The Wrangler breaks with that mold and places the charging port at the base of the driver-side A-pillar. It’s a smart location that keeps the port away from anything that could damage it while off-roading.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

Hit and Miss: Living With the Wrangler, Even If It’s PHEV

The plug-in hybrid powertrain is going to open up the Wrangler to a whole new buyer base, but everyone comes armed with the knowledge that the Wrangler makes day-to-day life a more visceral and difficult experience.

Like any other Wrangler, the 4xe’s doors and roof lock shut by unscrewing a few bolts and undoing a few harnesses, and the windshield can fold down. It took less than an hour to remove the four doors and the hardtop. It could have gone fast without my 5-year-old assistant, but we made memories. Removing the doors and top makes for a fun adventure, whether off-road or on.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

But the Wrangler, despite its full potential, is still a crude vehicle. Upright Windshield is the destroyer of all insects on the highway. My daughter asked if it was raining as soon as it got dark. “No, it’s the sound of insects hitting the windshield,” said my wife. With the aerodynamics of a brick, with the ability to remove doors and tops, the wind noise is atrocious. Around town it’s fine, but on the interstate we have to constantly tell our kids to speak aloud. Driving back to the cities through a typhoon it felt like we were driving through a tornado amid strong wind and heavy rain. It’s a body-on-frame SUV, and it won’t ride or handle like a Grand Cherokee or the RAV4. The recirculating ball steering system is old school technology and involves a child trying to walk in a straight line.

But all these things can be forgiven if one is willing to bear them for this icon’s off-road capability and relatable lifestyle.

For those who want a Wrangler for weekend adventures and less work during the week, the 4xe just makes sense. There is nothing that can compete directly at all levels.

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2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE

Base Price: $49,490, including destination
Price as test: $56,380
EPA fuel economy: 49 MPGe, 22 mile electric range, 20 mpg
Hit: Plug-in hybrid powertrain, no compromise to the Wrangler lifestyle, efficient, great charging port location for the Wrangler
miss: Efficiency is relative, can use more electric range, weaker electric motor, still loud and crude

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