Home Reviews 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4XE: When Worlds Collide

2021 Jeep Wrangler 4XE: When Worlds Collide

Jeep with sunset and mountains behind

The Jeep Wrangler has been a staple in the automotive world for decades. The Wrangler name dates back to 1987, but the roots and iconic shape go back to the Willy’s Jeep in the early days of WWII. If you had told John Willys (fun fact, it’s pronounced “Willis”) that we would electrify the Jeep someday, he would be shocked, pun intended. I was equally shocked, and intrigued, at the idea of a PHEV Wrangler, so let me share my thoughts and feelings.

Out of Spec Score: 69/100

Styling: 7.5/10

Jeep parked on roadside

The Jeep Wrangler styling, for better or for worse, has essentially become the entirety of the brand identity. There are many people surprised to find things like the Grand Cherokee as part of the brand, but the expansion has been good for them. The Wrangler is an iconic shape, and I highly respect its determination to stay the course. Especially in the late 90s when circular headlights returned to the front fascia. They have retained the look to this day, which does make it hard for the general public to tell a 2002 from a 2020. 

LED lights are all around, 33” off-road tires wrap 17” machined wheels. Lagoon blue tow hooks adorn the front steel bumper, a call-out to its “environmentalism” as a PHEV. The charging port just in front of the driver’s door is another giveaway to being a 4XE. I have always liked the Wrangler styling, and it is fun to explain how such a rugged-looking vehicle can actually operate in silence. The long wheelbase lends itself to incredible approach and departure angles, with the tall 11” stance helping with breakover. It’s the normal aggressive Wrangler Rubicon styling, and though I wouldn’t specify Firecracker Red for myself, I’m happy to give it a 7.5 out of 10. 

Interior 7/10

Jeep interior

The tow hooks on the outside may be lagoon blue, but the interior accent stitching on the inside is surf blue. Don’t ask me the difference. I’m not one to typically like blue and red together, but the blue seems to be their emphasis on denoting its electrification. The black leather package helped the overall quality appearance of the interior, but it’s mostly rugged black plastic. The plastic pieces that must be removed every time doors are put on or taken off do not age well. Front seats are comfortable, for both off-road and highway use.

Rubicon seats showing blue stitching

The back seats don’t have ample room, but the level roof line and openness of the soft top do help taller individuals. There are a few soft touch points, but it’s built to be tough. On one hand, it’s an easy-to-clean interior, beneficial for trails and the like. But it’s not exactly the nicest place to be either, granting 7 out of 10.

Performance 7.5/10

Shift knobs for gear selection and four wheel drive

Impressively, the 4XE shares the same torque as the new V8-powered 392, coming in at 470 lb-ft. That, along with 375hp, makes it plenty powerful on paper, second only to the incoming V8 flagship. However, the performance is overall a mixed bag. The driving modes are Hybrid, Electric, or E-Save, along with a second shifter which sets the 4WD system anywhere from 2H (RWD high) to 4L (4WD low). Electric mode uses the full 8-speed transmission, a very different feel than most EV direct-drive integrations, and it can also take advantage of the full range of 4WD options. 

The challenge with the complexity of the drivetrain is how it handles hybrid driving. The switch between EV and ICE modes is very clunky, to say the least. It’s almost alarming how it will jolt itself into place to shift especially in low speed driving around town. That being said, hybrid mode is how you achieve full power and it really is a quick, fun experience. 

Jeep Wrangler engine bay highlighting 2.0 Liter engine

This Rubicon was featured with Tru-Lok® electronic locking differentials, electronic front sway bar disconnect, 33-inch all-terrain tires, winch-capable steel bumpers. Off-road performance was as expected being a Wrangler Rubicon, as the PHEV component does not affect it in any way. If anything, being on a trail in electric mode actually enhanced the excursion. You can listen to the birds, wind, and most importantly, other loud oncoming off-road vehicles on one-way stretches of trail. City driving was also fine in electric mode, just a bit slow on acceleration. If you try to floor it, it will simply override your electrified choice and kick you into high-power hybrid mode. All in all 7.5 out of 10 for some solid performance. 

Practicality 7/10

Jeep stuffed full of camping supplies to the roof, back hatch open

Fundamentally, it’s still a Jeep Wrangler, which does impress me. The batteries are kept entirely under the rear seats, not impending on any preexisting storage space. The rear cargo comes to 31.7 cubic feet, extended to an impressive 72.4 cubic feet when rear seats are lowered. Its boxy nature helps to maximize interior space, and even the rear cargo with seats up allowed me to camp with 3 people, 2 dogs, tents, chairs, table, cooler… what felt like everything but the kitchen sink. 

Fuel economy on the other hand is a tricky subject. It is advertised at 49 MPGe, but that’s assuming optimal use of charging and battery. Once depleted, the 4XE becomes a standard turbo inline-4 with the added weight of electrical components and battery. This brings the fuel economy down to 20 or even less, which is not ideal for road trips. Around town, it can sure be practical, but bigger commutes do not lend a helping hand. 7 out of 10. 

Comfort 6/10

Dog in front seat of Jeep

Again, it is a Jeep Wrangler. Comfort level isn’t optimal, and cabin noise is definitely a consideration, especially when equipped with the Sunrider Soft Top like this one. That being said, the front seats were upgraded to the heated leather option, which I would highly recommend. They were fine, though not ventilated, and the rear seats still were nothing to be proud of. 

To really nit-pick, I found the lack of a faux pedal on the left side of the driver foot well to be bizarre, and that foot never knew what to do. It’s not exactly uncomfortable, but I would probably not select it for a long drive on the highway. An insulated hard top and more street-friendly tires would help, but in my case, 6 out of 10.

Tech 7/10

Electric readout on screen showing power figures

I’d be remiss to solely discuss the infotainment like I often do. It is a decent 8.4” Uconnect system, easy to operate, with no menu feeling too deep. The upgraded Alpine sound system was definitely impressive, exceeding my expectations for that of a Jeep. Every 4XE fortunately includes the premium audio and bigger display, but it would be a no-brainer for me to add to any Jeep. The UI was snappy and simple, but no Wireless CarPlay or Qi charging option was a disappointment.

Another facet of the tech is the actual equipment features for modern off-roading. As mentioned up with performance, the electronically locking differentials and away bar disconnects were easily done with the flip of buttons by the gear selectors. It’s essentially a cockpit experience giving you all the configuration needed for some fun on the trails. 7 out of 10 for overall technology. 

Connected Services 7/10

Apple CarPlay displayed on screen

Connectivity is not the focus here, but there are some to speak up. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are staples found in nearly every modern car now, including this. But again, no Wireless CarPlay to be found. Sirius XM exists, along with the Mopar Owner’s Companion App. If you’re a Uconnect subscriber, you can even lock and unlock your Jeep, remote start it, and locate it remotely. Uconnect services cost $14.99/month plus any potential 3G or 4G hotspot, which will cost far more. All in, a respectable 7 out of 10 for connected services. 

Active Safety 6/10

Driver assist screen in front of driver

Technically, Wranglers are quite safe, especially in a rollover given their impressive factory roll-cage. But technologically, the safety is fairly minimal. This was optioned with the safety features of blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control. But without the add-on features, it’s more bare-bones. The roll-cage is safe, the high sight-lines are safe, but in focusing on the active component…minimalist is a good description. 6 out of 10. 

Value 6/10

Jeep on off-road trail

Priced as tested, my 4XE came in just over $61,000 and you can expect the electrification to add $10,700 to the price of a comparable standard turbo 4-cylinder. There is a niche type of buyer where this vehicle is ideal, someone who has very short commutes, looks for constant ways and locations to charge, and possibly loves the electrified off-road life. Otherwise, it’s a hefty premium with even worse gas mileage than the non PHEV i4 variant. The power is nice, but it puts it down in a relatively clunky fashion.

The build quality is nothing to write home about, and I just kept wishing for finer fit-and-finish. $40K would have been my mark and this missed it by a lot. But I do have to remember the potential of someone with a genuinely short commute that could take advantage of the tax credit and didn’t want to settle for a Prius Prime. Props to them, 6 out of 10 for this.

Editors Influence 8/10

2021 Jeep Wrangler in front of 1997 Jeep Wrangler

Yes, the editors influence is the highest score on this list, perhaps a first of its kind. Despite all its quirks and qualms, I found myself wondering if I could be in the niche market it aims for. It definitely turned me onto the “Jeep culture”, especially in driving with no doors or roof, blink-182 blaring through the Alpine system, and throwing all my cares to the wind. Taking it on a trail was enlightening to say the least, and EV efficiency seems on point and really highlighted the trail itself and sounds of nature. 

I don’t know if I could justify the price, and the incoming Bronco certainly holds its own, but just because this gets an 8 doesn’t mean the Bronco won’t match it. You could place money on the fact I will love both. I am one who is willing to sacrifice quality for customizability, and the number of options with accessories, even roof types, really gets me excited. 8 out of 10 for my personal taste and opinion.

Jeep emerging from canyon
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I love the trajectory of transportation. It's always fascinating to see the emergence of technology within vehicles, and how they compete. I have a tremendous appreciation for EVs and old British all-mechanical roadsters alike. My personal daily driver is a NC Miata, but hoping to add an EV to the mix soon.