2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Plug-In Hybrid Owner Likes & Dislikes
Last month, as many of my fellow carseat aficionados headed off to Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the annual Kids in Motion (KIM) conference, I was back at home in Arizona getting my youngest son, Aiden, settled into the dorms for his first year of college. As my kids have grown and matured, my needs as an automotive consumer have also changed. Minivans long since abandoned, I’ve had my moments drooling at the thought of buying a brand new Tesla. But after 25 years in the parenting game, I also craved the pure joy and unabashed impracticality of every carseat technician’s worst nightmare—the Jeep Wrangler.
When Chrysler caught the electric bug and the Jeep Wrangler 4xe was born, I was paying attention. Clearly, I’m not alone in my obsession—an increase in the cost of materials and high demand has resulted in two MSRP increases since its release earlier this year. Worse yet, the current vehicle shortage has dealers selling the 4xe at premiums of over $5000 in some markets. At just 24 miles to a charge, this plug-in hybrid will likely never be a direct competitor to Musk’s S3XY fleet, but I also highly doubt you’ll ever see a Tesla doing any hardcore off-roading. With just the Sahara, Rubicon, and High Altitude trims available as of yet, I opted for the Sahara due to it being a reasonable compromise between a hearty off-roader and a comfortable pavement dweller. So far, I’ve found myself both disappointed and yet pleasantly surprised with my new ride.
- Handling. It actually handles like my Acura MDX, which does not have nearly the ground clearance or height. Only twice have I felt myself a little uncomfortable—heading around a sharp bumpy corner and while turning on a steep sandy incline. For the latter, I felt like the Jeep was going to flip, although I realized quite quickly that this was my own anxiety and inexperience with off-roading.
- “Fuel” Cost. Because most little trips in the car are close to home, the vast majority of your outings can be on pure electric. The Wrangler 4xe allows you to manually select hybrid, electric, or gas-only, thus any trip that’s going to be under 21 miles can likely be completed on electric only. With an estimated 21mpg at $3 a gallon and an off-peak kWh under 9 cents with 17 kWh needed to fill the 4xe’s battery storage, most of my trips around town are going to cost me half as much. When I plugged into a Blink charger in California at more than 6x the cost of power at home, I very quickly decided that I choose my pocketbook over the environment, thankyouverymuch.
- Re-gen Mode. The Wrangler has a button for re-gen mode—this allows you to put power back into the battery when you’re coasting. While this is all kinds of cool, I have to say that the absolute best part about this feature is that when you let off on the gas, you don’t actually have to brake. I can honestly say that I don’t anticipate needing a brake job, like, ever. Jeep really did go the extra mile here. When you’re slowing to a stop in re-gen mode, the vehicle does automatically engage the brake light as a courtesy to those behind you.
- Torque. Although this is no Tesla, it still has that electric vehicle get up and go. In fact, YouTuber Brandon Haneline stripped his 4xe down and took it out to the track. Not surprisingly, his 8.8 second 1/8th mile turned a few heads. But all that power comes at a cost. On the top end the 4xe can’t seem to sustain pure-electric mode much above 80mph for more than a minute or two; I’m not sure if this is a limitation of the vehicle or in part due to the >100 degree temperatures we’ve been experiencing.
- Parking. Charging stations are typically located at or near the entrances to most businesses—often right near parking spaces for persons with disabilities and mobility issues. When arriving at the parking garage next to my son’s dorm on move-in day, we were disappointed by the lack of parking…until we spotted a couple of ChargePoint chargers moments from the door to his new building. The combined electric and parking (0.02/min) charge resulted in a $1.04 bill for 6.4 kW and 50 minutes of parking. At less than twice my home rate, this was still cheaper than gas and we got the added convenience of premium parking.
- Is that a JET ENGINE in my garage? Anyone who owns this vehicle and lives in a hot climate will understand this. I’m disappointed that what should be a peaceful ride in my electric vehicle sounds something akin to what you would hear on your local airport runway. Not only is the Wrangler’s fan extremely loud, it runs to cool the vehicle down when it’s not even in use. In fact, the other day I was asleep in my bedroom and awoken to the sound of a runway down in my garage. Earlier this week, I had to turn the car off just to order at a drive-thru. Out of everything, the sheer volume of the vehicle fan is the biggest detractor—and interestingly, this is really endemic to the complete Wrangler lineup.
- It’s like threading a needle…in the dark. The biggest annoyance with this vehicle is Jeep’s massive oversight in regards to the charging port. At night, when you open the charging port and go to attach the charger, it’s pitch black. I’ve actually found myself so frustrated by this that I’ve used my phone flashlight to illuminate the area. So while Jeep saved pennies by not putting an LED in the charging compartment, I’m losing years of my life to the frustration their frugality has caused.
- Range Anxiety. The plug-in hybrids were supposed to eliminate range anxiety among consumers. At around 21-24 miles to a charge and with a scaled-down 17.2 gallon fuel tank, the 4xe has significantly less range than its 22.5 gallon siblings. Yet it’s the feeling I get when I have 3 or 4 miles left on battery and I’m still 5 or 6 miles from home that I’m talking about here. The 4xe—and really, all of the plug-in hybrids entering the market today—bring new meaning to the term range anxiety.
- Lane Keeping Assist. While the 4xe does have adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist is notably absent from the list of features. This is another massive oversight, and I’ve had this feature on my daily driver since its purchase in 2018. If Musk can create cars that practically drive themselves, c’mon, Jeep.
- Hello, 1980s. Even with the release of the Wrangler JLs in MY2018, the Wrangler retained its spartan roots. The Jeep really feels like I’m driving some weird futuristic box on wheels—even at an MSRP on the high side of the mid-$50k range, I have manually adjusting seats, for example. The <sarcasm> pièce de résistance </sarcasm> is a key fob that looks like I should be storing it in my fringed leather purse. Musk, if you’re reading this, I’ve got a little key envy.
- Lonely Left Foot. There’s absolutely no option for stick. None, zip, zilch, nada.
- Bike Rack Clearance. Last week, I threw my old Thule Revolver bike rack on the back of the Jeep to get my son’s bike over to campus. I was pleasantly surprised with the fit—it cleared the spare by a centimeter (that’s just under half an inch, if you’re wondering). When I went to flip the rack up so it doesn’t become a parking lot hazard, only then did I realize that there isn’t enough room to flip the rack closed without scratching up the spare wheel. So, for now, I’m clotheslining people in parking lots. Sorry. I picture a spare-mount rack in my future.
- Trunk Access. It’s a bit of an Olympic event to rotate the bike rack out in order to gain trunk access, so when I encountered the need to retrieve my Level 1 charger from the trunk, naturally I climbed through the interior of the vehicle. At 5’9” and howevermanypounds, I’m not exactly fun-sized. With a little gymnastics and and some rudimentary yoga moves, I managed to reach the pull-tab on the trunk compartment, only to find out that it doesn’t quite clear the back door and you can’t actually open it up without the rear door being open. Foiled by the bike rack yet again.
- BYOC KISS. After realizing Blink wanted to charge me almost $10 for a full charge at a California hotel, I discovered a bank of electric vehicle outlets nearby. Not only does the hotel pride itself on being solar-powered, they provide these outlets for free. Only after getting settled and plugging my new ride in did I realize that I had no way to secure a rather expensive charger. With some confidence that the vast majority of the criminal public has no idea what these chargers are worth or that they’re not locked, I left the Jeep overnight to charge. After a few minutes with my old friend Google, I learned that the age-old adage “keep it simple, stupid” applies here. The most obvious solution is to just drive up on to the cable; unless our thieves can lift over 5000lbs, your cable should be secure. Mostexpensivelockever.
- Rear Seats. The 4xe had to store its power bank somewhere, and that somewhere ended up being under the rear seats. If you want to do any car camping, you’ll have to level off a platform in the rear in order to compensate for the lack of lay-flat seats back there. Yet it’s a minor inconvenience.
- The App. Let’s talk about the uConnect app. Kudos to Jeep for the attempt…but the app is really very lacking. The app either takes over a minute or two to refresh vehicle stats or simply doesn’t work. The app splits up vehicle info, vehicle remote, and location. I really like that you can lock, unlock, and turn on the horn and lights from the app; unfortunately, you can’t use the app in lieu of your keys because you don’t have full functionality if the key is left in the vehicle. Furthermore, I’m not sure I would want to trust my ability to get into my car to this app–I have a realistic fear of being stranded.
- Safety. Although its newer small overlap test results leave a bit to be desired, overall, the standard Wrangler performs well in most IIHS safety ratings and NHTSA frontal collision ratings; not surprisingly, NHTSA rates the Wrangler with a higher than average rollover risk (26.70%). One caveat here would be that we don’t yet have any crash test ratings specific to the 4xe, and rumor has it that it does sit about 1″ higher than your non-electric JL Unlimited fleet, so this may impact crash test ratings somewhat. Considering my safety geek roots, safety was a priority, but I think the Wrangler strikes a nice balance between safety, functionality, and fun.
No review model or other compensation was provided. All opinions are those of the author.