Review: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4Xe - PHEV For The Win
Jeep now offers a wide range of powertrain options for its Wrangler line. You can have a diesel, a V8, a V6, a 4-banger, or the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) we tested this week. If you follow my work at Torque News, you know I am pro-PHEV. So consider this a review from a person who appreciates the benefits of that type of modern electric vehicle based on testing them.
Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe - What Is It?
The 4Xe, as we will now call it to keep our hands from cramping, is Jeep’s PHEV version of its iconic Wrangler. It’s the first Jeep with a plug. There is a turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood coupled to an electric hybrid system that provides 470 lb-ft of torque. Jeep doesn’t have any other Wrangler with more torque. Get used to it. Electric vehicles walk all over liquid-fueled vehicles when it comes to torque.
Unlimited means four-door, and Rubicon roughly translates in English to “Best off-road vehicle in the world.” Rubicon is a trim that adds in the detachable sway bars, front and rear lockers, low range transfer case, and all that jazz. Jeep folks know what that means in terms of capability. Jeep is so serious that the 4Xe is going to be its alpha dog in the off-road pack it even offers a lift kit specifically designed for the PHEV.
Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe - What Makes It Special? Does It Actually Save Gas?
Why is this Wrangler special? Well, for one thing, there is a plug. You can plug in the 4Xe and charge it up. When you have it fully charged, you will get around 24 miles of all-electric operation. The official EPA number is 22 miles of EV range, but we charged it and depleted it three times, and 24, 24, and 26 were the EV range miles we observed in our testing. The range miles seemed to closely match the actual miles we traveled on EV propulsion.
After the all-electric range is depleted, the 4Xe does not turn into a traditional internal-combustion powertrain. Rather, it continues to operate a hybrid. The battery really never gets to zero, and regenerative braking continues to bump it back up so you have full torque when you start off. Our observed average fuel economy according to the information display was 22.1 MPG in combined highway, suburban, and rural driving.
Instead of thinking about how much fuel you “burn,” let’s talk about how many Benjamins you won’t. The 4Xe will cost you $1,750 in energy to run it for a year. That is the least expensive energy cost of any Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Jeeps can easily last 20 years. Over 20 years, this Jeep will save you serious money on energy. How much? $16,000 in savings compared to the Toyota 4Runner.
Is Charging The Wrangler 4Xe A Hassle?
Heck no, charging is not a hassle. You just plug it in when you are done driving. Since it’s a hybrid, you never HAVE to plug it in. You do it when it makes sense. Like when you park it for the evening, or if you are home and not using it during the day. If you want to go hunt down public chargers, have at it. It makes zero sense to this EV tester to do so.
If you charge it on the 115 V mobile charger it comes with, Jeep says it will take about 12 hours to charge from empty to full. In my garage, I have a NEMA 6-20R receptacle into which I plug an inexpensive Level 2 charger. I paid two hundred bucks for my setup. Since I have a relatively low capacity 20 amp breaker and wiring, I was able to put in about 6 miles of range for every hour it was plugged in. So, it took a little over 4 hours to fully charge the 4Xe during our mild spring testing week. In winter, charging would take a bit longer, but who cares? You will charge it while sleeping most of the time. Unlike a battery-electric vehicle, you are not a slave to charging. If your home panel can accommodate the added amperage load there are much more powerful EV charging setups you can buy that can cut the charge time down to just two hours or so.
Wrangler 4Xe - How Does It Drive?
Surprisingly, this Wrangler Rubicon 4Xe felt like the best-handling offroader we have ever tested. The batteries being low in the vehicle, under the rear seats specifically, must change the center of gravity for the better. It turned in really well, even on its cartoon tires.
Starting off silently and with great torque is a very satisfying way to drive. You learn to love it very quickly. If you have the need to go around with a fart-tube exhaust trying to impress or annoy your neighbors, have at it. There are a lot of vehicles that can help you do so. This Jeep is the strong silent type.
There are three drive modes in which you can operate the 4Xe. The electric torque is always there no matter which you choose, but the 2.0-liter turbo can be locked out using Electric mode. Drive the 4Xe in Hybrid mode and you have a Jeep that runs to sixty in the 6-second range. That feels very quick in a big SUV with an off-road package. Passing power is more than adequate.
Jeep is clever. You can select Hybrid mode and the vehicle will manage the power and use up the electric charge pretty quickly. Or you can tap Electric, and the vehicle will only use the electric drive until it runs out. It then switches back to Hybrid automatically. If you know you have a bit of side-road driving at the start and end of your trip, and a long highway stretch in between, you can use E-Save mode on the highway so you can have the electric power when you want it on the side roads or trail. Our one wish was that the three buttons to choose modes were in a place we could see from the normal driving position. They are hidden out of view down and to the left of the steering wheel.
To enable Jeep owners to charge when they get to a trail or off-road access point, Jeep has developed its own chargers shown in our top of page image. They look very cool and have a big solar panel up top. The idea is that you plug your Jeep in at the parking area for the park you plan to explore. It’s gonna get weird in coming years if we have twenty different brands of chargers lined up at trailheads. However, for now, it seems pretty unique to Jeep.
Wrangler 4Xe - What’s It Cost?
The Jeep Wrangler with the 4Xe package starts at just under $50K, including destination charges. Our Unlimited Rubikon test vehicle had a price of $ 62,660. Jeep includes three years of maintenance in the price of its new vehicles. The batteries in all electric vehicles are built to last the life of the vehicle. To help build confidence in the technology, Jeep has a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the 4Xe’s hybrid components and battery.
The Rubicon qualifies for a whopping $7,500 federal income tax benefit unless the current tax law changes. Many states also offer EV incentives. Combine the impressive fuel cost savings with these incentives, and the Wrangler 4Xe seems too good to pass up.
Wrangler 4Xe - Our Opinion
For this pro-PHEV vehicle tester, the 4Xe Wrangler is a slam dunk. It has amazing torque, great performance, and all the same running gear as any other Rubikon does. The silent operation seems perfectly fitting with an outdoor-oriented vehicle. Since the 4Xe is a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle, you never have any range anxiety like one might with a battery-only EV. We give the 4Xe two thumbs up and hope it finds its way into lots of driveways. It wouldn’t break our heart if many of those driveways were our neighbors’. Listening to obnoxious exhaust sounds is so two-thousand and late.
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. Following his engineering program, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin