2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe Off-Road Review: Silent Strength

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe off-roading review highlights:

  • The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe is a four-door plug-in-hybrid Wrangler with all the Rubicon trim’s off-road hardware
  • I recently took one of these PHEV SUVs off-roading on a special course in the woods on Road America’s grounds
  • In Electric Mode, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is more than capable of breezing through an off-road trail in sweet silence

It’s far from the most civilized SUV, but there are few better tools for exploring nature than a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. And few off-road SUVs offer as many experience-changing powertrains. If the V6-powered model is too sedate, for example, you can get the raucous V8-powered Rubicon 392. But if both of those seem too loud and wasteful, don’t worry. As I recently discovered, with the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, you can tour the wild without terrorizing the wildlife.   

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe combines plug-in hybrid range with serious off-road hardware

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe
Engine and motor arrangement2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with ‘eTorque’ 48-volt motor/generator and AC electric motor
Horsepower (combined)375 hp
Torque (combined)470 lb-ft
TransmissionEight-speed automatic
Battery capacity14.0 kWh
Electric-only range21 miles
Curb weight5222 lbs
0-60 mph time5.5 seconds
Price$55,225 (base)
$69,545 (as tested)

Because not everyone speaks Jeep, here’s what the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe’s name means. The ‘Unlimited’ part means it’s a four-door Wrangler, while ‘Rubicon’ means it’s the most off-road-capable version. However, it’s the ‘4xe’ part that’s arguably the most important, as that makes this Jeep Wrangler a plug-in hybrid. And that means, like any other PHEV, that it can run in electric-only mode, even when it’s in 4WD Lo.

The downside of running in Electric Mode is that you take the 2.0-liter engine and its motor/generator out of the equation. As a result, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe only makes 134 hp and 181 lb-ft, which isn’t a lot for a 2.5-ton SUV. It also doesn’t help that its PHEV hardware makes this one of the heaviest Wranglers. But as I’ll soon explain, out on the trail, none of that matters.

And speaking of the trail, as noted earlier, this is a plug-in hybrid 2021 Wrangler Rubicon. That means it has 10.8” of ground clearance, a 30” wading depth, Dana 44 axles, dual electronically-locking differentials, and an electronically-disconnecting sway bar. Also, multiple skid plates and chunky off-road tires. But if that’s not enough, Jeep offers Performance Parts for the 2021 Wrangler 4xe—and my tester had a few.

It’s not a luxury hybrid SUV, but the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe does make rugged feel a bit more refined

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As the Wrangler’s tires and ground clearance make getting a minor yoga stretch, I’m glad my tester didn’t have the 2.0” lift kit. It did, though, have steel front and rear bumpers, as well as a Gorilla Glass windshield. Furthermore, if I was a dedicated off-roader, I’d appreciate the Integrated Off-Road Camera as well as the Trailer-Tow and Heavy-Duty Electrical Group package. The latter adds a 700-amp battery, Class II hitch, 7- and 4-pin wiring harness, and auxiliary switches. And yes, even in Electric Mode, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe can tow a loaded trailer, Car and Driver says.

Compared to other hybrid SUVs in its price bracket, the 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe might seem a bit crude. It still has recirculating-ball steering, for example, as well as solid axles and a plastic-heavy interior. However, none of those plastics nor any of the switchgear feels cheap: it’s all solid and chunky, which makes it easy to use if you’re wearing gloves. And even with the optional leather-trimmed seats, the Wrangler’s interior is waterproof. So, yes, you could literally wash it down with a hose.

Furthermore, those leather seats are comfortable and supportive, which is helpful in the city or the forest. Also, while the high hood blocks your forward sightlines, overall, the Wrangler has excellent visibility. Sitting up high behind the wheel, I almost felt like I was taking a small, leather-lined bus into the woods. That, combined with its excellent—for a Wrangler—fuel economy, likely explains why the 4xe is a popular daily-driver choice.

But as I said, I wasn’t headed into town. I was about to get muddy…well, muddier.

The Wrangler 4xe crawls over rocks, conquers hills, and flings mud sky-high without disturbing the forest

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Although the 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 4xe only has an EPA-estimated 21-mile EV range, Jeep says it can handle several hours of trail duty on battery power alone. And as a Boy Scout trained in Leave No Trace, being able to off-road silently was massively appealing to me. So, when I lined up to tackle the harder of the two off-road courses laid out in Road America’s woods, I was ready to put the Wrangler through its PHEV paces.

On paved roads, the Jeep’s slow steering, solid axles, and tall height make it a bit uncoordinated. But as I roamed through a course that looked straight out of a Jurassic Park scene, they all made sense. Of course, you don’t want sharp, fast steering when you’re crawling over mud-covered rocks. No duh, you need locking differentials and a two-speed transfer case for tackling steep, slippery hills. And that electronically-disconnecting sway bar was worth every penny on the lumpy, rolling moguls that peppered the course.

Yet the most incredible part of the experience was how serenely the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe tackled everything. The loudest noises were the occasional rock scrape and the squelching of mud. Oh, and don’t worry, even in Electric Mode, the Wrangler 4xe has more than enough torque to throw mud around. But if you do need some extra oomph, say, if you’re sending it over a hill, the engine smoothly steps in. How smoothly? I didn’t notice it was in Hybrid Mode until a few minutes later when I glanced at the digital display.

Admittedly, this off-road course wasn’t exactly the Rubicon Trail. Still, the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe came through without breaking a sweat or anyone’s eardrums. Who says Jeeps are crude?

Is a 2021 or 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe worth buying?

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Though the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe I drove was a 2021 model, the 2022 model is mechanically identical. So, everything that I said about the 2021 4xe also applies to the 2022 one. However, it’s worth noting that the 2022 Wrangler 4xe is more expensive; the Rubicon trim starts at $57,495.

Assuming you can find one without excessive dealer markups, is the 4xe version worth it? If you want the simplest off-roading experience, arguably not, as there are cheaper trims. Also, keep in mind that a V6-powered Rubicon is roughly $13,000 cheaper than the 4xe. However, if your Jeep is also a commuter SUV, the PHEV powertrain does save you some fuel, provided you plug it in. Plus, it’s hard to put a price on peace and quiet, which is what I go into the woods for.

But whether it’s worth the asking price or not, it’s clear that the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe deserves its Trail-Rated badge. And it doesn’t have to shout about it, either.

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