The first Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrids are rolling into U.S. dealerships this month and the Stellantis off-road brand is anticipating a “substantial” number of customers will opt for the high-tech option.
Only the second PHEV model offered by Stellantis, the Wrangler 4xe will be followed by a growing line-up of electrified vehicles, company officials promise, including a plug-in version of the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee coming later this year. The question is whether buyers will show any interest in the technology considering the past lackluster sales of other plug-in products.
“We’ve made the commitment to be the greenest SUV brand,” Jeep brand boss Jim Morrison said during a media drive this week. But the Wrangler 4xe, he stressed, “has to be a true Jeep” in terms of its off-road capabilities.
A “true Jeep”
Among other things, that means the ability to tow 3,500 pounds, ford water up to 30 inches deep and climb or descend some of the steepest grades any SUV can manage, with a 40-degree breakover angle.
Two Trail-Rated versions are available, the Wrangler Sahara 4xe and Rubicon 4xe. Both rely on the same basic drivetrain layout, though the Rubicon plug-in retains the more robust off-road features, starting with greater ground clearance and beefier tires.
In fact, there’s relatively little difference between the 4xe models and conventionally powered Wranglers. Visually, one would have to look for the unique badging and subtle details like the blue tow hooks unique to the plug-in SUVs to determine which one is which.
Plenty more power
The drivetrain is unique to the 4xe line, Jeep engineers deciding not to share the PHEV system developed for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. It starts out with the same, 2.0-liter inline-4 offered in conventional Wrangler models since 2018. But two electric motors are added, one replacing the starter/alternator and a second fitted into the 8-speed automatic transmission — which gives up its normal torque convertor. The “P2” motor in the transmission does most of the work.
All told, the PHEV sees peak output jump to 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. By itself, the turbo-4 engine gives conventional Wrangler models 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The added muscle kicks out 0-60 launch times of 6 seconds. It also translates into a significant increase in the sort of low-speed grunt that can help off-roaders creep and climb their way across the roughest trails.
(TheDetroitBureau.com will post a complete review of the Jeep Wrangler 4xe when it comes off embargo April 26, 2021.)
As with the conventional Jeep models, motorists will have plenty of options when behind the wheel. There are numerous transmission modes, including full-time and part-time four-high, and four-low.
Multiple operating modes
Separately, there are three hybrid modes. One lets you drive solely on power drawn from the 17 kilowatt-hour battery. The 4xe Wranglers get an EPA estimated 21 miles range per charge. There’s a conventional hybrid mode that blends power from both the gas engine and electric motors. A third, “e-Save” mode puts a priority on recapturing energy normally lost during braking and coasting to build up the battery pack’s charge. You can use that to save battery power for later, such as when driving out on the trail.
The high torque generated by electric motors is particularly useful on rugged trails. But there’s another advantage to going electric, said Dan Fry, powertrain integration chief. You can shut off the gas engine and listen to nature, especially if your Jeep has a soft or removable top. About all you’ll hear besides the chirp of birds is the crunch of your tires and a modest hum from the motors.
With the Wrangler 4xe you can increase brake regeneration to capture even more power lost when slowing down. The added advantage is this also acts like downshifting several gears. In many situations you can “one-pedal” drive, lifting off the throttle to slow down without having to tap the brakes.
In reality, an owner will have to plug in to fully recharge the battery. Regeneration will, even on a long trip, add only a few miles of extra range. Using a standard 120-volt outlet will take about 12.5 hours on a fully drained pack, a 240-volt circuit cutting that to as little as 2.5 hours, depending upon the available amperage.
Calculating the payoff(s)
The payoff from the 4xe system can be measured in a variety of different ways. For one thing, there’s the financial side – though that’s a bit challenging to make.
Not all of those 17 kilowatt-hours are available for fully electric driving. While Fry wouldn’t release specific details, insiders suggest it’s more like 13 kWh. At a national average of around 11 cents a kilowatt-hour, that would mean a typical U.S. driver spends around $1.45 to get those 21 miles. That’s at least $1 less than what you’d spend using gasoline, considering the regular Wrangler’s fuel economy with the 2.0-liter engine.
Even if you saved that much every day of the week, whether commuting or playing, You’d save between $400 and $500 annually. Considering the premium for the 4xe models is around $8,000, it would be difficult to come close to recovering that added cost after a full decade of driving. But buyers will qualify for federal tax credits of up to $7,500.
As a result, buying a 4xe model “can be net zero” from a cost standpoint, said Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst with IHS Markit.
Jeep officials optimistic about demand
Then there are the other advantages: the sense of making a traditionally fuel-hungry Wrangler a bit less thirsty, as well as the added power and performance.
And that, said Brinley, could make the difference for Jeep considering that, when it comes to other PHEVs now on the market, “sales have been going nowhere.” According to PwC, U.S. plug-in sales fell 19% in 2020. However, a new report from Cox Automotive and Kelley Blue Book suggests that overall hybrid sales rose 106% in the first quarter of 2021 in the U.S. The report did not break out conventional hybrid and plug-in hybrid results.
For his part, Morrison said he is optimistic that the 4xe will, make up “a significant part of the Wrangler line-up” from a sales perspective. The Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4xe starts at $47,995. The Wrangler Rubicon 4xe pushes that to $51,695. Add to those numbers accessories and a delivery fee of $1,495.