Plug-in hybrid smooths Wrangler power, boosts mpg …
Jeeps come in all sizes these days and with multiple powerplant choices, the latest of which provided the grunt for the tested 4-door Wrangler Rubicon.
Here the power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with plug-in hybrid system using a couple electric motors to help boost gas mileage and smooth out acceleration. Jeep calls the hybrid a 4-by-E, emphasizing its legendary 4-wheeling system. I’ve tested 4xe (Jeep’s alphanumeric abbreviation) previously and found it quite effective and efficient.
It extends gas mileage and it’s easy to plug in, even to an old-school 110/120 garage outlet. A charge overnight nets 20 to 25 miles of electric range. If you have a 240-outlet it takes less than 3 hours for a full charge.
The white (only color that doesn’t cost $495 extra) Rubicon arrived just prior to our Christmas meat locker chill down and a full charge was closer to 20 miles, but still, that helps make around-town driving more efficient. Sadly I was limited by the cold on how much charging I could do with another car in the garage. So I mostly ran on gas, leaving me with disappointing mpg, but then again it was below zero for several days, always a hamper on mpg.
What I like about the 4xe is that it runs on hybrid power, a blend of gas and electric, by default. Or press a button on the left dash for all electric, or to Save Electric. One imagines that when playing off-road one might use electric power to smooth acceleration AND avoid emissions in the wilderness, keeping it cleaner for other outdoors lovers.
In addition, running on Save-E allows the engine and brakes to help regenerate some electric power to the batteries. So, for instance, driving around town I went from 10% power to 25%, giving me a couple more miles of electric range that I could kick in when wanted.
Aside from the 4xe system this Wrangler is all Jeep, meaning it’s mostly utilitarian inside, yet not Spartan. There’s a 4WD shift lever to engage for better traction in snow, which was needed and proved helpful, or into low-range settings for mudding and splashing about. One can argue how many folks sinking nearly $70 grand into a Jeep will do that, but by golly one certainly can. In fact, it’ll ford 30 inches of water, if asked.
The little turbo I4 here sounds like it’s working pretty hard and can get rather groany, but power seems fine and definitely smoother when the battery power is helping give it an electric assist from a stop. There’s a lot of road noise too thank to its big off-road tires and the canvass roof overhead.
Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe review by Mark Savage and Paul Daniel – YouTube
I’d certainly prefer a solid top in winter, but this tester featured Jeep’s amazing Sky One-Touch power top that folds the canvas middle section of the roof back to let in the great outdoors when temps and monsoons allow. This unique feature doesn’t come cheap, a $4,145 option, but includes a rear window defroster and wiper, plus removable rear quarter windows.
Note that the doors are still removable on the Wrangler, but with this special roof the windshield will no longer fold down, a minor point to most of us.
Cool too that Jeep adds four auxiliary buttons below its center stack-mounted info screen and power window controls. That way one can add light bars and other accessories that can easily be programmed to work with a switch.
When off-roading one also can increase suspension travel by disconnecting the sway bar with a button on the stack.
For those of us keeping our SUVs between the highway’s white lines, the Rubicon 4xe is simple to control. The steering is extremely light (good for off-roading), but sufficiently vague to require some extra care when navigating quick turns and corners. The first inch of steering wheel input doesn’t really affect steering direction much.
Ride is generally pretty good, better and quieter than the Bronco I tested last year. But it’s Jeepy due to its two solid axles, so there is some bounce. Yet that is what many of its buyers claim to want as it provides a more exhilarating daily driving experience. Older drivers may prefer to add a cushion to the seats.
Speaking of which, the provided seats are plenty comfy and supportive, at least in front, for daily driving. There’s room for three adults in the rear seat too, although it helps if they are all on speaking terms. Headroom is generous, and limitless if the roof is retracted. Also, cargo room behind the second row seat is ample and the tested Jeep included all-weather floor and cargo mats for $170.
The Rubicon was not without its comfort perks either as heated front seats and a heated steering wheel were part of a $1,195 winter package that also added remote start, a Wisconsin and northern tier favorite. Seats were leather too and the dash was trimmed in a soft material, all black but trimmed in bright blue, the color most car makers use to signify electric battery-aided models. The leather adds $1,995 to the price tag.
While the info screen is modest at 8.4 inches it’s easy to read and use thanks to the UConnect system and large volume and tuning knobs. I had no problem adjusting the screen and its functions, plus it’s not overwhelming like the mega-screens in some SUVs.
Happy news too for off-roaders, there are grab handles all over the place, on A-pillars, dash, etc. Of course for us vertically challenged folks you’ll need one or more of those to enter the high-riding Wrangler as it has no running boards. Yet regular Jeep entry will help build upper body strength.
I couldn’t find a wireless charger here, but there are plenty of power plugs available. Note too that sun visors are a cheap hard plastic.
Pricing seems to put this in the luxury category when I always envision Wranglers, whether two- or four-door, primarily for serious off-roaders who will cake their wheels in mud.
A base Willys 4xe Sahara model starts at $57,500 including delivery and the upscale High Altitude lists at $63,235. Naturally off-roading is possible with any Wrangler, but the base for the Rubicon 4xe is $60,190 with delivery. The many options on the test SUV pushed this to $69,385, which might stir inhibitions about bouncing it off trees, bushes and rocks.
If not, well, more power to ya! But remember to plug-in every chance you get.
FAST STATS: 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe
Hits: Off-road capability, plug-in hybrid, Jeepy looks. Room for five, good storage, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, sway bar disconnect for off-roading and good ground clearance. Light handling, plentiful grab handles, 4 auxiliary buttons, power folding top.
Misses: Pricey, vague steering, bumpy ride, tire noise, noisy engine, no running boards, no wireless charger, low mpg when only using gas.
Made in: Toledo, Ohio
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, plug-in hybrid, 375 hp/470 torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 5,318 lbs.*
Wheelbase: 118.4 in.
Length: 188.4 in.
Cargo: 27.7-67.4 cu.ft.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 49 electric-gas/20 gas only
Electric range: 25 miles
MPG: 16.7 (tested, prefers premium)
Base Price: $60,190 (includes delivery)
Leather seats, wrapped panel bezels, $1,995
Preferred pkg. 29V (Cold weather group, heated front seats, remote-start, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel), $1,195
Trailer tow/heavy-duty electrical group, $995
All-weather mats, $170
Sky One-Touch power top (removable rear quarter windows, rear window defroster, rear wiper/washer, storage bag), $4,145
Integrated off-road camera, $695
Test vehicle: $69,385
Sources: Jeep, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage
*=Car and Driver stats