2021 Jeep Wrangler 392 and 4xe Pros and Cons Review: Bucking Tradition
- A plug-in hybrid Wrangler? Now we’ve seen everything
- Electric propulsion in a Jeep is very satisfying
- 392 is a masterpiece
- Live front axle is good on trails, bad on roads
- Noisy at speed
- The 392’s fuel economy embodies last-century thinking
In 2018 we named the then brand-new Jeep JL Wrangler our 2019 SUV of the Year. If you watch the video we made about that decision, toward the end we say, “In the end, tradition won out.”
Now, three years later, Jeep is back with two significant new Wrangler variants, and they’re anything but traditional. In the green corner, the brand’s first ever plug-in hybrid vehicle in America, the EPA-rated 50-mpg-e Wrangler 4xe. And in the other corner, probably beating up the other SUVs and stealing their lunch money, is the 470-hp, howling-mad, and Hemi-packing 392, the first Wrangler to ever come from the factory sporting an honest-to-goodness V-8. Opinions were all over the place.
“Engine Note of the Year,” buyer’s guide director Zach Gale said about the 392. Editorial operations director Mike Floyd called it “the best Wrangler ever, no doubt.” As for myself, since I first drove the 392, I’ve described it as the SUV I’ve been dreaming about my whole life. I might buy one.
Not everyone on staff felt this way. “I don’t care how muscular, efficient, or off-road-capable the Wrangler is,” associate editor Alex Leanse said. “Its abysmal steering would stop me from ever buying one for anything but trail-specific use.” Gale, however, made a more salient point against one of our criteria, efficiency: “The issue, of course, is the 13/17 mpg fuel economy. Look, I love this SUV, but—as one example—our fire season starts earlier and burns more intensely in part because of global warming.”
Surely, then, the PHEV 4xe won us over? Well, we did all like driving the electrified Wrangler with the 2.0-liter turbo I-4 switched off. “It’s tough to beat an electric drivetrain for smooth, quiet driving in town,” technical director Frank Markus said. (A fully electric Wrangler is in the pipeline.) “This Jeep’s Uconnect system is my idea of how electrified vehicles should present information: lots of screens and options for charging or saving the battery pack.”
We also noted how the extra weight from the electric motor and battery pack helped the 4xe’s ride quality and livability. “The PHEV transformation makes this vehicle more appealing for on-road usage customers, who you can employ it as a daily driver,” guest judge Gordon Dickie said. We should point out the Wrangler 4xe is the best-selling PHEV in America.
Why no repeat victory for the new/improved Wranglers? Our key criteria. “I struggle to build a case against the criteria for this vehicle winning SUVOTY again,” Markus said. While no doubt hitting the balls out of the park in terms of engineering excellence and performance of intended function (no vehicle is better off-road), the Wranglers failed to meet the mark in terms of advancement in design and value, especially with the 392 starting at $75,690. Efficiency is a mixed bag, with all the 4xe’s gains countered by the 392’s dismal fuel consumption. We’re certain these new arrows in the Wrangler’s quiver make the lineup better than ever, but neither was enough for the Jeep to once again take home the Golden Calipers.
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