Test Drive: Jeep Wrangler 4xe in the Texas Hill Country

jeep wrangler JL 4xe plug in hybrid

Testing the Jeep Wrangler 4xe in the Texas Hill Country

I just returned from the beautiful Texas Hill Country, outside Austin, Texas, where I had the opportunity to jump in the driver’s seat of Jeep’s new Wrangler 4xe Rubicon. Driving this innovative (but charmingly familiar) vehicle on hundreds of miles of pavement as well as a proper technical 4×4 course allowed me to develop some opinions around the future of Jeep’s hybrid ambitions.

The 4xe or four-by-e, as the Jeep team refers to it, is their new hybrid powertrain. But perhaps even more impressive than the technology itself, or the engineering team’s successful adaption of it to the tried and true Wrangler platform is the fact that Jeep has managed to maintain the soul of the Wrangler (despite its new heart – full credit to Jeep for that analogy).

 

Soul of a Legacy

There are few vehicles still in production today that match the rich history or die-hard core user group of the Jeep Wrangler. I mean, does your vehicle even have a signature handwave? I think it’s fair to say that Jeep’s goal of electrifying the JL without taking anything away from the driving experience was a lofty one.

But after piloting a 4xe Rubicon over hundreds of miles of pavement and through a wet and rocky test course in the Hill Country outside Austin, Texas, I can honestly say that the soul of the Wrangler is 100% intact. And while many a hybrid has sent shivers (of disgust) down the spine of car enthusiasts, I can assure you, the hybrid drivetrain in this JL has not softened the vehicle one bit.

rubicon on pavement

Photo courtesy Jeep: Miles flying by on the pavement

In fact, the turbo-charged four-cylinder powerplant in this new Wrangler variant generates an impressive 375 horsepower and 470 foot-pounds of torque, delivering 0-60mph in six seconds. Yes, this Jeep sporty, and the immediately available torque (thanks, electric motor) is no joke. This Wrangler is just as capable on steep climbs, deep water crossings, and descents. Oh, and it can do it all nearly silently (more on this below).

 

Jeep 4xe Vehicle Specs

Powertrain – Let’s start with the star of this show, the new powerplant. It’s a 2-liter 4-cylinder turbo I-4 engine. By itself, this engine produces 270 horsepower (5,250 rpm) and 295 pound-feet of torque (at 3,000 rpm). But with the addition of the 2 electric motors that have been incorporated into the new 4xe drivetrain, those numbers climb to 375 and 470, respectively. The 4xe has an 8-speed automatic transmission with overdrive and electronic manual shifting mode.

jeep 4xe chassis

Photo by Matt Swartz: The new 4xe powertrain

Range – Fuel tank capacity is 17.2 gallons and the integrated lithium-ion NMC battery which powers the electric motors is rated at 400-volts and 17.3 kilowatt-hours. The battery system is located just under the rear seats and has dedicated heating and cooling circuits to optimize performance.

When driving in pure electric mode, the 4xe is capable of covering 21 miles. When driving in hybrid mode, the total range is an estimated 370 miles with a 49 MPGE-rating.

Photo by Matt Swartz: The lithium-ion NMC vehicle batteries are located inside this blue housing

Transfer Case – Depending on which trim you select, you’ll have the SELEC-TRAC transfer case (4xe and Sahara 4xe) with a 2.72:1 low end, or the ROCK-TRAC transfer case (Rubicon 4xe) with a 4:1 low end.

Axels – The 4xe rides on solid 3rd generation Dana 44 front and rear axles with either open (4xe and Sahara 4xe) with available Trac-Lock anti-spin or Tru-Lok electronic locking (Rubicon 4xe) differentials. Axle ratios are 3.73 for the 4xe and Sahara 4xe or 4.10 for the Rubicon 4xe.

Suspension

Suspension construction is as follows: solid axle, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar with the Rubicon 4xe maintaining the much-loved electronic swaybar disconnect system.

Shocks

4xe: Gas-charged twin-tube shock absorbers with full displacement Multi-tuned Valve (MTV) technology

Sahara 4xe: High-pressure gas-charged monotube shock absorbers with MTV technology

Rubicon 4xe: High-press gas-charged monotube shock absorbers with MTV technology and hydraulic rebound stop

Jeep 4xe rubicon rear end

Photo by Matt Swartz: Rear end

Curb Weight – The addition of the new electrical components and lithium-ion batteries has added approximately 700 pounds to the 4xe which weighs in at a beefy 5000 pounds (4xe); 5100 pounds (Sahara 4xe); or 5222 pounds (Rubicon 4xe). Note that suspension has been tuned to account for this additional weight.

 

Jeep 4xe Driving Impressions

Let me start by giving you a brief background of my driving experience, if for nothing else than to help you better understand my critique. I’ve driven a large variety of vehicles, including compacts, sedans, SUVs, trucks (pickup, and large fully-loaded 25-foot box trucks), and hybrids in a variety of categories. I’ve got experience with both manual and automatic transmissions. I’ve done some off-road driving in Colorado on easy, moderate, and hard trails, but I don’t have any rock-crawling experience. With Jeep brand vehicles specifically, I’ve driven a variety of Wrangler models from the TJ, JK, and JL ranges.

As far as my hands-on test is concerned, I met up with the Jeep crew in Austin Texas where I requested the 4xe Rubicon. Having recently tested a conventional rubicon (article here), I felt that this would be the best way to compare apples to apples in terms of performance and driving experience.

Photo by Matt Swartz: Testing the non-electric Rubicon in Arizona

My drive started out with approximately one hour of city driving in downtown Austin. For this portion of my test, I had the Jeep in pure electric mode with “Max Regen” regenerative braking engaged. Driving in Max Regen felt akin to keeping the vehicle in lower gear, providing significant engine-braking sensation whenever my foot left the accelerator pedal. This took some getting used to although I appreciated the simplified driving experience of using one pedal for the majority of my speed modulation. Max Regen also has the added benefit of lengthening pure electric driving time by recapturing kinetic energy which is fed back into the battery bank.

Photo by Matt Swartz: Did you ever think you’d be able to park a Wrangler in one of these spots?

In Max Regen mode the brake lights on the 4xe will illuminate when you release the accelerator. It provides that much slowing power. However, despite the significant impact Max Regen has on your speed, the Jeep team was quick to point out that it’s not intended to replace the use of the brakes and consequently, they would not consider the experience “one-pedal driving”. Fair enough.

As I approached the end of the city driving course, I watched the battery capacity gauge closely to see what the sensation would be like when the vehicle switched from pure electric driving to hybrid mode. In some other hybrid vehicles, I’ve been surprised by how rough the transition can be when the internal combustion engine engages, but in the 4xe, I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth the switchover was. Other than the tachometer reading and the sound of the gas engine, there was no shudder, bump, or otherwise notable sensation.

Getting outside of the city, I had the chance to bring the 4xe up to highway speeds of 70+ miles per hour. I absolutely loved the power and acceleration from 0-60, and although I didn’t time it (I was in the vehicle by myself), I can assure you that it feels very quick (for a Jeep). It’s important to note that to achieve the maximum published 0-60 speed of 6-seconds, the vehicle will engage both the electric motors and internal combustion engine, even if you are driving it in pure electric mode.

At speed, the Jeep felt like…a Jeep. But that’s to be expected with the 33-inch BFG K02 tires. The suspension had that familiar bouncy feel that is common in Wranglers and the steering was a little twitchy (again, common in Wranglers on the pavement in my experience).

The Alpine stereo sounded great, and the adaptive cruise control was responsive to other vehicles in front of me. The heated steering wheel and seats are also a nice touch that I’m sure I’d appreciate more in a colder climate.

Eventually, I departed from the pavement, heading down wildflower-lined dirt roads through pastures full of cattle. I stopped to shoot some quick video only to discover that I was apparently standing on top of a stinging ant nest. This resulted in some painful and animated gesturing, running, and jumping across the field back towards the JL.

texas hill country residents

Photo by Matt Swartz: Texas Hill Country wildflowers

Venturing further into the countryside, rocky hills and domes came into view. I had arrived in the Texas Hill Country. I’d heard about this beautiful landscape before, but as this was my first time seeing it in person, it was that much more spectacular. It rained on and off throughout the day but the dark, moody sky really made the lime green of new leaves stand out like neon.

Jeep 4xe in the Texas hill country

Photo by Matt Swartz: Pausing en-route to admire the scenery

Arriving at the off-road test course, I was immediately awestruck by the huge solar array and level two off-grid Jeep charging station that dominated the parking area. While the conventional level-one charger takes 12 hours to replenish the vehicle’s lithium batteries, level-two charging (240 volts) will recharge from 0% to 100% in just two hours. The Jeep crew informed me that they intend to install approximately 60 level-two chargers at the various Jeep Badge of Honor Trails (a mix of both grid-tied and off-grid chargers).

Jeep 4xe level 2 off-grid solar charging station

Photo by Matt Swartz: A solar-powered level two charging station

A brief lunch gave me a chance to refuel and hydrate myself before we aired down our tires to do what we all had been waiting for: test these new hybrid vehicles to see if they were still worthy of the Wrangler name.

We drove down a short section of graded dirt before our JT escort veered onto what appeared to be a fairly new 4×4 trail. Following, we lined up, engaging 4-low, disconnected our sway bars, and engaging our rear lockers. Almost immediately, we were guided into what appeared to be a small stream but turned out to be surprisingly deep. I’m happy to report that I was not electrocuted and the water didn’t result in any electrical issues with the vehicle. With water splashing against the bottom of my door, I bumbled through the creek until climbing out the other side of the creek and coming to a stop at the base of the first major rock obstacle.

4xe water crossing

Photo courtesy Jeep: Fording deep water, like a champ

Climbing over a short ledge

A quick and steep descent

With a spotter guiding me forwards, I easily climbed up and over a short rock ledge before dropping down a steep slabby face. Following this brief bit of excitement, the trail mellowed out for a hundred yards or so before leading me to the base of a steep rocky face with significant bumps that almost resembled a mogul run at a ski hill. My palms were beginning to sweat a little bit, mostly because the obstacle in front of me was more technical and steeper than anything I had attempted before. But instead of getting psyched out, I put my faith in my spotters, engaged my front locker, put the 4xe in pure electric mode. I inched forward.

For me, this was the most profound moment of my test drive. I was absolutely astounded by the lack of engine noise as I climbed up the rock, not experiencing any lack of power or capability (except of course my own lack of rock-crawling experience).

Instead of the noise of the internal combustion engine which I am so accustomed to hearing, I could clearly hear my spotter giving me direction, the sound of wind in the hereby trees, and the gritty sound of the damp BFGs clawing at the rock. The only thing that broke the silence was the vehicle’s armor bouncing off of the uneven rock as I climbed the face, clumsily turning the wheel in my best attempt to follow my spotter’s hand signals.

jeep wrangler JL 4xe plug in hybrid

Photo by Matt Swartz: Climbing steep, uneven rock with relative ease

After the steep climb, a steep descent immediately followed, and while this part of the obstacle wasn’t as uneven, it was steeper (I heard one of the spotters say that they thought it approached 35+ degrees). Knowing better than to tense up and stomp on the brakes, I let the vehicle roll down, which it did with a surprising degree of control and minimal slippage of the tires. This obstacle reminded me that the addition of the lithium battery bank which sits under the rear seats of the vehicle has moved the center of gravity lower and slightly aft.

4xe steep descent

Photo courtesy Jeep: Steep descent

A few other obstacles of decreasing significance eventually led us back to the dirt road where we regrouped before finishing up our off-road testing and retracing our steps back to the city.

 

Closing Thoughts

It’s hard to grasp the love and reverence that some people hold for the Wrangler platform unless you’ve had the opportunity to drive one. Ultimately, it’s about much more than just the vehicle. Loving the Wrangler is loving the outdoors, the trail, the comradery of navigating challenging obstacles, and the fun of driving on dirt roads with the top down and the wind in your hair.

And the good news is that with the Wrangler 4xe, none of that changes. Sure, there are little differences, like the electric blue accents, the new charging port by the driver’s door, and the lithium battery underneath the rear passenger seats. But despite these details, the experience remains authentically Jeep.

I’d even say that some things are better, like the 49 MPGE fuel economy and 0-60 time of 6 seconds. Or the fact that you can go wheeling for hours in pure electric mode, soaking in the sounds of nature without the roar of an internal combustion engine (although it’s always there if you need it). There’s even the reduced greenhouse gas emissions that come with driving a hybrid.

While I may not be a die-hard Jeep enthusiast, in my short experience driving this new vehicle I’d say that Jeep knocked it out of the park. It was both fun and capable, and for me, the 4xe drivetrain has more than proven itself. I hope to see this hybrid technology come to the rest of Jeep’s vehicle lineup in the future but the good news is that the Wrangler 4xe is already here. If you want to experience one for yourself, all you have to do is find a dealership and set up a test drive.

 

Learn more about the new 4xe platform on Jeep’s website.

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When he's not publishing campervan content or gear reviews on ExPo, Matt Swartz is honing his paragliding skills, hiking a 14er, or exploring the backroads of Colorado. His love of travel has seen him bike across the United States, as well as explore more exotic destinations like the Amazon basin and Patagonia. Matt spent three years living in a 1964 RV with his partner, Amanda. He's worked as an Interpretive Ranger and Wildland Firefighter and his photography and writing has been published in Rova Magazine, the Leatherman blog, 'Hit The Road' by Gestalten Publishing, and Forbes.