This Rugged Off-Road Hybrid Is Jeep’s Bridge to the Future
(Bloomberg) -- The Jeep Wrangler 4XE Unlimited Rubicon is like the proverbial middle child in a family of stars.
Between the new, top-of-the-line Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, which has a brawny V8 engine, and the excitingly futuristic Jeep Magneto, which is an electric car still in the concept phase, it can be easy to overlook the hybrid model that sits between them.
But to skip the slick, first-ever plug-in Jeep in a jump from V8 grunt to all-electric finesse would be to miss out on the benefits of the environmentally friendly—or at least, friendlier—vehicle we have now.
The new 4XE hybrid from Jeep is a ruggedly handsome off-roader with a fair price and a capability that lives up to its respected heritage. As any friendly Buddhist might tell you, embracing the now is a powerful thing—and for this Jeep hybrid, the maxim certainly applies.
Bridging the Gap
With 375 horsepower between its inline-four turbocharged engine and lithium-ion batteries, the 4XE the most powerful option in the Jeep lineup with the exception of that 470-hp Rubicon 392. (Both models boast 470 pound-feet of torque.) It offers an eight-speed automatic transmission with an interactive manual control and the standard Wrangler 4x4 modes that enable every Jeep to excel off-road and on it: 2WD High; 4WD Auto; 4WD High; Neutral; 4WD Low.
During my weeklong loan in Los Angeles, I took a 4XE painted in striking “Billet Silver Metallic” to run errands in Beverly Hills, through the gritty streets of the downtown Arts District, and even off-road on some hilly trails to look at the view outside (inexplicably, I know) Pasadena.
I had recently reviewed the 392 and knew what the interior would be like: some round vents, minimal buttons across the center console, in brown or black (in my case, black); double shifters; seating for five; and 67.4 cubic feet of total rear cargo room in a hoarder’s paradise.
I had also recently driven the Magneto concept in the desert near Moab, Utah, so I had a handle on what an all-electric Jeep might feel like, too: surprisingly agile and powerful to a point that inspires confidence as you climb up sunbaked boulders, though a lot quieter than its internal-combustion engine cousin.
What I learned from my test is how the 4XE splits the difference between the two. With a pure-electric range of 21 miles, it started off with a faint whir, knobby tires gripping the road in that wobbly, crawly Jeep way. When it kicked in, the engine gurgled, as all Jeeps do. I loved the commanding ride height (10.8 inches of clearance), the practical, no-nonsense dashboard controls, the rough-and-ready feel of the steering wheel in my hands, the strong, grinding surge forward as I pressed the gas pedal.
The 4XE offers three “E Selec” settings activated by buttons to the left of the steering wheel. After the self-explanatory “Electric” mode, the default “Hybrid” mode prioritizes battery power over gasoline until the battery is drained to a certain level, then switches to gasoline, and “eSave” mode uses the gas engine while saving battery energy for later. Both the four-wheel drive and the regenerative brakes help recover battery charge; a one-pedal driving option allows maximum regeneration. (It’ll feel so abrupt when you leave off the gas that you often won’t need to brake much).
Along with sundry chore destinations, I drove the 4XE in the LA “river,” which I put in quotes because it is a cement flood-plain channel built in 1928 by the Army Corp of Engineers to catch water runoff from the surrounding hills. The water in the L.A. river is less than a foot deep, but it’s nice to know the 4XE can ford up to 30 inches of water—and all of its high-voltage components are sealed to be waterproof.
Through city, highway, and off-road driving, the 4XE gets the equivalent of 49 mpg in all-electric mode, which dips down to 20 mpg in conventional gasoline-powered driving. Twenty miles per gallon is not admirable, especially for a vehicle marketed as environmentally sensitive, but it does beat everything else, efficiency-wise, in the Jeep lineup—except the 25 mpg Wrangler Diesel. (For reference, the 392 Rubicon gets just 14 mpg.)
Hinting at Hybrid
The 4XE contains just enough clues inside and out to mark its difference from a “regular” Rubicon and earn you the praise you deserve for opting to go hybrid. (Isn’t that half the reason for getting it—so others will know about your enviro-virtue?) It has special electric-blue accents running over the body in the form of front and rear tow hooks, exterior badges and across the hood decals. In the cabin, electric blue stitching on the seats and trim is exclusive to the hybrid model.
I’d splurge on the extensive extras list Jeep offers, since the $51,695 base model can feel bare: such things as the Cold Weather package with heated seats and remote start ($995) and leather-trimmed bucket seats ($1,695) go far to make this hybrid feel special. I’d also buy the simple-to-use Level II Jeep-branded charger, which will fully charge the Wrangler 4XE battery in 2 hours vs. the 12 hours required if you’re using the included Level I standard charging cable. Total driving range under optimal conditions is 370 miles.
The final price of the 4XE I drove was $65,890, which included the $4,095 one-touch power-opening top. For a hybrid middle child that bridges the gap between the old Jeep and the Jeep of the future, it would be money well spent.
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