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First Look

The new Jeep Wrangler 4xe is a... hybrid

What next? Guns that shoot vaccines instead of bullets?

Published: 03 Sep 2020

Have you ever played the oxymoron game? We love it; ever since we saw a VHS of George Carlin and his infamous ‘military intelligence’ bit, we’ve relished a good oxymoron. You know, like ‘civil war’, ‘jumbo shrimp’ and ‘affordable housing’. Want to hear another good one? Efficient Jeep Wrangler. Ah, the hilarity.

But it seems Jeep has decided to remove all the humour from that little phrase with this, the new hybrid Jeep Wrangler 4xe. And from what we can see, it’s not joking.

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So how does it all work? Well, we’ve a handy explainer for all the hybrid terminology we’re about to use, so let’s dive right in. It’s a plug-in hybrid with regenerative braking, running a 400V setup – half of the Porsche Taycan, which means slower charging, but, with a 17kWh lithium-ion battery to fill, it won’t be the end of the world. This battery is linked to two electric motor/generators – one that replaces the alternator on the front of the engine, and another in place of the torque converter. The engine-mounted motor takes care of start/stop duties as well, so there’s no 12V starter motor. But it’s the motor between the 2.0-litre turbo four and the eight-speed ZF auto that’s the real tech-head’s delight. As we said, it replaces the torque converter; instead, it uses a pair of clutches. The first either teams up the engine and battery power or allows the Wrangler to run on electricity/dino juice only. The second clutch works much like clutches have ever since we invented the things, except in this case, it’s with an automatic gearbox.

Thanks to this bevy of tech, you’ll apparently be able to get something in the order of 50mpg. Yep, 50mpg out of a Wrangler. You’ll also get a frankly astonishing 375bhp (so about an LS V8’s worth of power) and 470lb ft, or the amount needed to topple larger buildings. From a turbocharged two litre and some batteries. We remember driving the old V6 Wrangler, which had the unique combination of an engine and the acceleration of a car that did not, in fact, have an engine. How times change.

Jeep’s at pains to remind us that the Wrangler 4xe is “first and foremost a Jeep Wrangler”, which is very helpful, on the off chance that we thought it was a sentient rubber chicken with a burgeoning inferiority complex. But we do see what they’re getting at – Jeepers (the collective noun for Jeep fanatics) look on anything that might threaten the Wrangler’s off-road prowess the same way you might look at a barman who’s just filled your pint glass with skimmed milk.

If a Wrangler is anything less than an all-conquering off-roader with looks that echo every Jeep since the one that ferried Eisenhower around Normandy, you can bet your last freedom fry that Jeepers will be a bit miffed. So Jeep’s kept the looks the same – barring a few blue cosmetic accents – which they’ve done in a colour they call Electric Blue... on my knees, help me baby, tell me what can I do? Damnit Jeep, that’ll be stuck in our heads for ages now.

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Crucially, Jeep’s made sure to keep what you get in the regular Wrangler: solid Dana 44 axles, a two-speed transfer case, suspension with more articulation than Stephen Fry and the ability to drive through 30 inches of water without electrocuting a single trout. The 4xe shares the same spec and off-road bits that the exclusively combustion-powered Wranglers offer – there’s the base spec, Sahara and off-road supremo Rubicon, with diff locks, a front sway bar that disconnects for even more axle articulation and even deeper low-range transfer case. We’ve had a crack in the current Wrangler Rubicon and were entirely unable to get it stuck in any meaningful way, even halfway up a muddy mountain. So it stands to reason that the hybrid Rubicon won’t find things more difficult.

In fact, Jeep reckons that electricity’s low-down torque is actually better for slow-speed rock crawling and the like – instead of building up revs and torque to scale obstacles, you can access all the torque from a standstill, thanks to the EV drivetrain.

Ah damn, cross another oxymoron off the list, guys – superior electric off-roader. At least we’ll always have clean coal, criminal justice and honest politician, right?

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