More power, more economy: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys 4x4 vs. Jeep door

This week: Wrangler 4xe

Price: $56,380. But this Wrangler edition starts at $47,995 and offers most of the $15,000 worth of options of last week’s standard. The hardtop and headliner added more than $3,000; the Cold Weather Package and Safety Group added $995 each; the Advanced Safety Group added $795; and a couple hundred here and there for a few trinkets.

Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend says, “This plug-in Wrangler is fast, heavy, and a little bit complicated.”

Marketer’s pitch: “The future looks bright.”

Reality: Both A and B.

What’s new: Here’s a welcomed twist on a fun but thirsty vehicle: a plug-in hybrid.

These systems have been hit-or-miss both in performance and fuel economy. Now, after last week’s look at the four-cylinder, we’ll see how the 4xe stacks up.

» READ MORE: Jeep offers two economical ways to Wrangle

Up to speed: Performance is a win.

The 2.0-liter turbo four is mated to two electric motors tied to a 400-volt, 17-kwh battery pack. This combination generates a whopping 375 horsepower, 470 lb.-ft. of torque, and Jeep says it delivers up to 21 miles of all-electric range (my gauge showed 25 in all tests). It gets to 60 mph in six seconds, a tick faster than the V-6.

Shifty: The 4xe gets the eight-speed shiftable automatic transmission, so that’s a fun nod to the old days.

On the road: We went deeper into the nebulous handling last week, so no need to cover this same old ground. Just note that having two whole weeks to practice this spring, I learned to have fun flying over country-road peaks and dips, and even zig around turns with some gusto.

Driver’s Seat: The cockpit in the 4xe is no different from the setup in a regular Wrangler. In fact, there’s little to tip you off to the idea that there’s anything different about this. (The tachometer dips to zero when running fully electric — a worrisome experience until you adjust.)

I’ve become a Wrangler fan over the years and really covet a Gladiator — removable doors and a practical bed — what could be better? Now, throw the 4xe the Gladiator’s way, OK, Jeep? (The company says the hybrid will expand throughout the lineup; a Renegade and Compass — they still make that? — are available in Europe.)

Friends and stuff: Sturgis Kid 4.0 found the rear seat roomy enough on a long trip to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, but comfort was not a key feature. The seat bottom runs short from front to back, and the seat back sits up straight, and it’s overall thin and uncomfortable, a Jeep tradition since 1942.

“It needs a step,” complained Sturgis Kid 1.0 upon alighting at one stop. “Ow!” exclaimed Sturgis Kid 4.0 when his back nailed the giant door catch while climbing in the narrow back door. And that was just in one location. Wrangler owners need to be a tougher breed indeed.

Friends also include the other Wrangler drivers who give you the two-finger salute from the steering wheel as they pass. As the old Bob Dylan-Sam Shepard tune that no one’s ever heard of goes, “Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content.” (Maybe that’s why I have strong bonds with other Bob Dylan fans who still listen to his ’80s “masterpieces.”)

Cargo space is 72.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded and 31.7 behind the rear seat.

When stowing stuff, the rear seat sits at a rather awkward angle when folded, making for puzzlement when trash picking a neighbor’s porch glider. But the five-foot swing slid right in. Eight-foot boards also fit, although they intruded right to the footwell.

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Play some tunes: The Alpine Premium Sound System (part of the $4,190 Sun and Sound Package in last week’s model; standard in this week’s) provides super clear sound reproduction, an A, should you want to play Dylan’s aforementioned “Brownsville Girl” or any other ridiculously overwrought 11-minute song. (Because won’t the neighbors think that’s a cool tune blasting from your sound system?)

Controls are simple, with large dials for volume and tuning and everything else in the touchscreen. The 8.4-inch touchscreen is big and easy to operate.

Ruh-roh: Jeep appears to have kinks to work out with the hybrid system. I experienced a few moments of minor hesitation on many trips, usually when cold while slowing to about 5-10 mph. But on Day 6, the power train nearly stalled out entirely when flooring it onto a two-line highway, and then later at a stoplight came a long moment of hesitation and then a burst of power.

A check by Jeep’s engineering department revealed no obvious problems, so 2021 buyers should keep this in mind, and consider themselves beta testers. Another Jeep tradition since 1942.

Fuel economy: The whirring from the engine compartment may strike the Jeep aficionado as strange, but they’ll like it at the Wawa. It’s nice to not have to end a Wrangler review with “mutter mutter 15 mpg mutter mutter.” Not only did I have the fun of a Wrangler for a week, but I can report 30 mpg in a week of a lot of just-unplugged driving. Drivers using their 4xes for longer trips will probably use more fuel.

Where it’s built: Toledo, Ohio.

How it’s built: The 4xe gets no special Consumer Reports category, so it’s stuck with the same 2 out of 5 predicted reliability. That’s probably generous, on both counts.