The Jeep Wrangler is a no-holds-barred off-road machine that aims to go around, over, or through whatever’s in front of it, regardless of terrain. The plug-in hybrid variant? Same deal.
With EPA ratings of 22 miles of electric driving range and 20 mpg combined on gasoline after you run through a charge, the 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe makes plugging in worthwhile.
I’ve gone off-roading with the 4xe’s powertrain in a Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe, but what’s it like to live with in the Wrangler in the real paved world on a day-to-day basis in the winter? A snowy week in Minnesota with the plug-in off-roader proved that the 4xe’s efficiency tech comes at no expense of capability.
Electric mode unavailable
The four-door plug-in Jeep pulled into my driveway with a fully charged 17.3-kwh battery pack. The gauge cluster indicated 24 miles of electric driving range and the powertrain was in e-Save mode, which preserves the battery’s charge for electric driving later running the Jeep solely off the 2.0-liter turbo-4, with 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque on its own.
It was blizzarding, with white-out conditions. Naturally I pulled the stubby four-wheel-drive selector into 4Hi (there’s also 4Lo with 4.0:1 crawl ratio) and pushed the Electric mode button to try and run the Jeep solely on electricity. An error popped up on the driver information screen essentially saying, “I can’t do that, Dave.”
Despite the battery pack having a full charge, the Jeep knew it couldn’t run in all-electric mode in the current conditions without compromising one of the vehicle’s systems.
The 25-degree white-out conditions called for the climate control system to work hard, with the front defroster on blast, the rear defroster on, the climate control set to 70 to keep the rest of the glass warm, and both the heated steering wheel and seat warmers on to warm me after standing outside shooting photos. The battery pack simply didn’t have enough power for all the auxiliary systems plus propulsion given the situation, according to the error presented to me.
Once the blizzard subsided we were just left with about seven inches of white fluffy stuff on the ground, and the plug-in Jeep really came into its own with its 33-inch BFGoodrich K02 All-Terrain tires. It seemed unstoppable.
With the vehicle systems not set on blast the 4xe had zero issues driving around town on electricity alone, even in four-wheel drive. I ran through a full charge multiple times during my winter week with the Wrangler in just my day-to-day driving shuffling kids to activities and running errands. The box on wheels seemed to average about 20 miles before the electricity ran out and the gas engine would fire, despite ambient temps hovering in the single digits and teens at night and low to mid-20s during the days.
Over the course of 310 miles of mixed driving the Wrangler’s plug-in powertrain used the gasoline engine for 218 miles, with real-world mileage when driving the 4xe only as a hybrid somewhere south of 20 mpg.
Electric with a moderately light foot
As with the Grand Cherokee 4xe, if the accelerator is put to the floor, the 134 hp and 198 lb-ft of torque electric motor that’s sandwiched in the 8-speed automatic transmission will be hastily joined by the gasoline engine, even if the 4xe’s in Electric-only mode. Total system output is 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque.
The week with the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe was our first experience with Jeep’s plug-in powertrain in cold weather. The transitions from electric to hybrid mode are noticeably rougher and more pronounced in the cold than in warmer temperatures we’ve experienced before in the Wrangler 4xe. While running on electric power the delivery is smooth and easy to modulate, and in hybrid mode the systems mesh well together outside of an occasional lumpy 1-2 or 2-3 upshift in the cold. But it’s the power handoff when the gas engine kicks in from being asleep that always seems to be especially gruff in the chilly weather.
Protecting the plug
Most PHEVs put the charging port on the front lower fender by the wheel well or on either side of the rear quarter panels mimicking a fuel filler door. The Wrangler goes down its own path with a charge port at the base of the driver-side A-pillar. The port’s tucked up and away from anything that might cause it damage while off-roading.
On 240-volt AC, as will be provided by the solar-powered chargers Jeep plans to build new off-road trails, it says a full charge will take 2 to 3 hours. On a 120-volt outlet it will need about 12 to 13 hours. These estimates jibed with my real-world experience.
Jeep slots the 17.3-kwh battery pack under the rear seats, which means the Wrangler’s packaging is essentially the same as a gas-powered model. For real change we’ll have to wait for Jeep to put an electric Wrangler into production based off the Magneto concept.
Good, but not perfect
The Wrangler’s trademark foibles are here despite the plug-in powertrain. Its steering is still vague and sloppy, its ride can be choppy over broken pavement, and it’s loud. The last part is what happens when a vehicle is the shape of a brick and both the roof and doors can come off.
What launched as a $49,490 proposition has turned even more expensive over the last year. A 2023 Jeep Wrangler 4xe now costs $56,530, which includes a ridiculous $1,795 destination charge that was $200 less just months ago. My Rubicon tester cost $69,385, but now lists for $71,975. That’s expensive, but capability doesn’t come cheap.
For reference sake, a comparably equipped gas-only four-door Rubicon cost $63,535, which is $8,440 less than a comparably equipped 4xe. That’s a lot of gas, though the Wrangler 4xe does currently qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit. Surely the price difference isn’t a coincidence.
A larger battery delivering 50 miles of electric driving and a more powerful electric motor would really cement the Jeep Wrangler 4xe’s place as the efficiency king of the doors-off adventure-ready world. But since there’s no Ford Bronco with a plug, the Wrangler is your plug-in hybrid off-road king, for now.
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