Jeep Wrangler 4xe Review: The Improbable King of Plug-In Hybrids

Why are Americans smitten with this particular PHEV? We got behind the wheel to find out.

July 11, 2024 6:04 am
The 2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon X driving on a rocky hill
The Wrangler you know, now with (some) all-electric power.

Among out-of-the-box off-roaders, there are few choices that better balance capability, price and trail-cred than the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Holding court as high priest of a cult that spans multiple decades, Jeep’s ever-popular SUV seemingly defies the winds of change, clinging to its solid axle, body-on-frame design with the same tenacity as it guards its doors-off, roofless body shape that shares DNA with its earliest WW2 ancestor.

That’s not to say that this Jeep has entirely sidestepped the benefits of modern technology. In fact, it might come as a surprise that the best-selling plug-in hybrid vehicle in all of America for 2023 was the Wrangler 4xe, which boasts an enormous battery tucked under its floorboards and a charge port on the driver’s side fender in addition to the usual quotient of go-anywhere gear.

It’s clear that Jeep fans are enamored with the idea of a plug-in Wrangler — and that the vehicle’s eligibility for federal rebates between $3,750 when purchasing or $7,500 when leasing has served to pull in thousands of drivers who might not have previously considered the SUV. That being said, not every genre mash-up is as successful as Cowboy Carter. Inviting electrons along for the ride is bound to alter any vehicle’s character, and when it comes to the Wrangler, personality goes a long way in perpetuating its turn at the top of the SUV charts. I sat in with the Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon X to get a feel for what is won, and what is lost, when opting for the greenest rock crawler on the market.

Vehicle2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe
Trim TestedRubicon X
4xe Starting Price$50,695
Price of Model Tested$78,9701
Vehicle TypePlug-in hybrid, five-seat SUV
Engine2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 400-volt battery pack and dual electric motors / 375 hp / 470 lb-ft of torque
Transmission8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy20/20/20 mpg city/highway/com.
Electric-Only Range21 miles

2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon X
The Wrangler 4xe starts just north of $50,000, but the Rubicon X trim tacks on another $20,000.

No Silent Running

There are two things about the 4xe that transform how the Wrangler feels behind the wheel, and they’re both inextricably linked to its battery pack.

Already a heavy vehicle (the four-door version of the standard Wrangler Rubicon weighs in at 4,500 pounds), the plug-in hybrid features an additional 700 pounds of electrification tucked under its rear seats, cargo floor and hood. The battery, which contributes just under half of that extra mass, is rated at 17.3-kWh. When tasked with motivating two tons of SUV, this translates into a modest 21 miles of advertised electric-only driving range.

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As long as you maintain right-foot discipline, and stick primarily to sub-highway speeds, warm summer weather makes it possible to not just meet but exceed Jeep’s estimate when it comes to EV cruising. Not by much — my range indicator and real-world experience saw five additional miles per charge, or a roughly 20% boost — but more than expected from such a bulky piece of machinery.

Forget enjoying anything approaching silent running with the Rubicon 4xe, however. Even with the roof buttoned up, the doors on and the windshield raised, the Wrangler’s knobby all-terrain tires and skyscraper aerodynamics dictate a driving experience bathed in white, brown and pink noise, creating a cacophonic rainbow of aural stimuli that will be familiar to aficionados. You’ll swear a window is down at all times, finding yourself reaching out to tug at the window switches should rain hit the windshield. Jeep should consider offering an optional semaphore system for communicating with rear-seat occupants.

Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon X 35-inch BFGoodrich tires
The Rubicon X gets a rubber upgrade: 35-inch BFGoodrich all-terrain tires.

Heavy Is the Head — And Everything Else, Too

While the mass of the 4xe’s battery pack ensures a modicum of electric-only driving, it also guarantees some of the most ponderous handling imaginable from a modern vehicle. If you thought the Wrangler’s neo-primitive suspension design was already an ill match for broken pavement, then the additional heft of its hybrid system only serves to crash, bang, boom that point home. In a word, the PHEV Wrangler is unwieldy, a vehicle that craves cautious cornering and smooth inputs via the wheel, brake and accelerator in order to avoid upsetting its tenuous grasp on asphalt etiquette. At times I wished that the Jeep came with a pair of leashes for its two front BFGoodrich tires, to reign in at least a little of their endless wandering.

Perhaps this won’t daunt the Jeep faithful, who’ve been inoculated against the Wrangler’s uncouth aspects through years of exposure. Still, those who primarily count on the SUV’s off-road acumen as its primary attractor may want to reconsider how 700 pounds of added bulk will affect the Wrangler’s ability to traverse certain types of terrain. Heavier vehicles sink quicker in soft sand or mud, have more difficulty scrambling up rocky surfaces and are generally less poised when it comes time for delicate maneuvers through tighter sections of trail.

Horsepower won’t be an issue when straying far from civilization, though, as the Wrangler 4xe’s drivetrain is good for 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque (made possible by its 2.0-liter, turbocharged gas engine and pair of electric motors). Electrical power, on the other hand, is much more of an issue, as the chances of finding a plug nestled into a copse of cedar or carved out of a rock face are practically zero. Emissions-free operation simply doesn’t last off-grid given the PHEV’s limited electric-only range, which means that the Wrangler is at its greenest when commuting through suburbia.

The Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid going off-road
The 4xe adds 700 pounds over the standard Rubicon.

Spend Big to Save (a Little) on Gas

It turns out that there’s a third aspect of the 4xe that will also play into any potential purchase decision, and that’s cost. The cheapest version of the 4xe (which comes exclusively in a four-door body style) starts around $51,000, but the Rubicon’s off-road regality doesn’t kick in until $61,000 and can soar to nearly $80,000 for the well-equipped Rubicon X that I drove (which combines maximum creature comforts with top-level all-terrain gear). That’s more than double a base Wrangler four-door, and about $10,000 more than an equivalent gas-only Rubicon.

While federal tax rebates take some of the sting from that surcharge, you might also be wondering if any extra savings could be made up at the fuel pump. That answer will vary with exactly how the 4xe is used. If religiously plugged in at home, short trips will remain entirely gas free. I was able to defer so much of the Wrangler’s mileage to the battery that it posted a healthy 31 mpg during 300 miles of driving. Once that drained, however, the extra weight of the hybrid drivetrain drags the Jeep’s efficiency into the doldrums, with an official 20 mpg rating awaiting those without regular access to electricity (for comparison, the gas-only Wrangler Rubicon X is rated at 16/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined).

The Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid SUV
You’re looking at the best-selling PHEV in the U.S. in 2023. Interested?

The Sum of Its Parts

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is perched awkwardly at the intersection of two classic consumer behaviors: the long-standing love of a rugged American icon, and the lure of getting a “deal,” thanks to its rebate qualification. This pair of pursuits, taken together, are powerful enough to blur the line between want and need to the degree required to park a handsome, if ill-mannered machine in front of a home that has no intention of running an extension cord under the garage door.

There are cheaper Wrangler models to buy, and there are certainly more comfortable plug-in SUVs out there, but none that have the tax credit and big-tire alchemy of the Rubicon 4xe working for them. If you, too, find its pull irresistible, then nothing outlined above will likely change your mind about a potential purchase. Even if you delegate your automotive purchasing decisions to your left brain, there’s a good chance you’ll fall under the thrall of its considerable charisma.

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