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The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe.Courtesy of manufacturer

Jeep’s first-ever plug-in hybrid (PHVE) Wrangler will go on sale in early 2021 with off-road performance that edges out its gas-powered equivalent, company officials say.

The Wrangler will deliver up to 40 kilometres of near-silent all-electrified range and will look pretty much exactly like its gas-powered equivalents. Blue badging, a small “4xe” insignia on the back and a cowl-mounted charging port provide the only visual cues. Where it will stand out, however, is in its rock-crawling ability, says Mike Wiacek, Jeep’s chief engineer for the 4xe project.

“Off-road, the hardware, software and calibrations provide a more controlled and precise driving experience for climbing up or crawling over obstacles,” Wiacek said in a media briefing before the Sept. 3 unveiling.

Internal combustion engines – both gasoline and diesel – must rev to generate the torque needed for climbing, but electric motors deliver maximum torque right from dead stop.

“Without a torque converter, there’s no need to build engine RPM to get the tires to move,” Wiacek said.

The hood graphic on the Rubicon 4xe includes a Surf Blue accent.Courtesy of manufacturer

Jeep has kept the same eight-speed automatic transmission found in other Wranglers but eliminated the torque converter. It is replaced with a high-voltage motor/generator unit – known as a P2 hybrid – which enables the vehicle to be driven in all-electric mode, with gasoline-assist or on gasoline alone.

The 4xe will come with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, said Mickey Bly, Jeep’s head of global propulsion systems. The front of the engine will have a belted starter/generator that will be used to deliver additional torque through the crankshaft. “It even eliminates the need for an old-fashioned mechanical starter,” Bly said.

The combined gas/electric power unit will produce a combined 375 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque. Towing is rated at 1,588 kilograms and payload at 580 kg.

Wiacek said the Wrangler will achieve an “incredible” 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.0 seconds yet deliver the equivalent of 50 mpg (4.7 L/100 km) in normal daily driving. In the fuel-saving “2WD high” gear range, the 4xe will be able to travel up to 644 kilometres with a full charge and a full tank of gas.

The Wrangler 4xe is nearly visually identical to its purely gas-powered brethren.Courtesy of manufacturer

Its 400-volt lithium ion battery, made by Samsung, is rated at 17 kWh and comes with a dedicated heating and cooling unit to keep it at optimum performance, regardless of outside temperature. It is expected to last for “the life of the vehicle” – although Jeep didn’t specify how long that is. The battery can be charged in about 12-13 hours with standard household electrical current or about two hours with a high-voltage Level 2 charger. The Wrangler is not equipped for the fastest Level 3 (DC fast charger) system.

The battery adds about 200 kg to the Jeep’s weight, compared to the 2.6-litre V6 model, bringing total weight to roughly 2,300 kg. The vehicle also comes with a “maximum regen” button, which optimizes the regenerative braking system to charge the battery. With max regen on, taking the foot off the throttle will feel like stepping on the brakes.

Wiacek said the high-voltage system has been engineered to withstand the 30-inch (76 cm) water fording line that is standard in Wranglers. The high-voltage battery is stored under a “flip-and-fold” rear seat, allowing cargo space to be uncompromised by the batteries. The undercarriage was altered to protect the electronics from underwater strikes and water submersion.

The 17-kWh battery pack is mounted beneath the second-row seat.Courtesy of manufacturer

“All of this had to be integrated without affecting the vehicle dynamics,” Wiacek said. “Off-road capability and on-performance were our top priorities.”

The 4xe will come with 20-inch wheels standard and 17-inch wheels on the Rubicon. The Rubicon’s 27-cm ground clearance is equal to the non-e model, but the Sahara 4xe’s is slightly less at 26 cm. All 4xe variations have the same rugged Dana 44 solid axle, front and rear, found on other Wranglers.

The hybrid Wrangler comes at an important time for Jeep, which is facing renewed competition in the segment. Jeep has had the off-road SUV segment pretty much to itself since Ford withdrew the Bronco SUV in 1996 after a 30-year run.

Now, Ford has announced its retro Tonka-like Bronco will hit Canada in spring 2021, priced from $40,499 for the base two-door model to $61,994 for the top-trim four-door. Jeep has not yet announced pricing for the Wrangler 4xe.

The 4xe also comes with a 'maximum regen' button, which optimizes the regenerative braking system to charge the battery.Courtesy of manufacturer

The Wrangler 4xe joins the Wrangler and compact Renegade and Compass 4xe models (currently only sold in Europe), and is part of FCA’s commitment to have 30 models with electrified powertrains by 2022, said Christian Meunier, global head of Jeep. FCA brought its first hybrid vehicle, the Chrysler Pacifica, to market in 2017.

Production of the Wrangler 4xe at FCA’s Toledo Assembly Plant will begin in December, with deliveries to dealerships expected early in 2021.

Tech specs

  • Base price/As tested: Not announced
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbo 4, with hybrid electric
  • Transmission/drive: Eight-speed, P2 hybrid transfer case, 4WD
  • Fuel economy: 4.7 L/100 km (claimed)
  • Alternatives: Ford Bronco

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