Our Rides: The Electrified Symbol of Liberation

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All photos by Randy Stern

The words “icon” and “legendary” seem to be a bit overused by the marketing folks. My colleagues in the automotive media tend to overuse those terms equally. 

No shade or tea, those terms do fit with some vehicles. 

In some circles – our LGBTQ ones, to be specific – we add other terms to describe some vehicles that have framed our history. Terms, such as “liberation” and “freedom” come to mind. 

If you add of those terms together, you get the Jeep Wrangler. 

If we dial back the clock to, say, the mid-1970s, the predecessors to the Jeep Wrangler were the instruments of LGBTQ liberation and freedom. They trumpeted our want of equality attracting LGBTQ men and women through this symbol of masculinity. You saw one down the street of any given gayborhood in North America, and you knew they were loud and proud.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe

Today’s successor to the instrument of LGBTQ liberation and freedom still attracts us today. We like the iconic and legendary design that goes back over eight decades. The simple front fender design and the hood that is easily accessible by unleashing two t-bars. The body shape – whether it is in a two- or four-door configuration – is recognizable and often imitated. 

Recently, there had been a few twists thrown into the JL-generation Wrangler. First, Jeep introduced a pickup truck based off of it, called the Gladiator. Then, they expanded the engine choices to include a diesel and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. 

Then, we have the 4xe – pronounced “four-by-E.”

The 4xe introduces electrification to the iconic Wrangler through a combination of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, a J1772 plug-in receptacle ahead of the driver’s door, and a battery pack sitting underneath the rear seats. The 4xe driveline was designed to give Wrangler drivers a way to utilize both battery and gasoline energy while they tackle the rough trails at Spider Lake, as well as get through the deep unplowed snow when visiting family in South Dakota. 

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe

There was some feedback on the 4xe. There are many who believe that a plug-in hybrid Wrangler was better off doing mall crawling or nightclub duty. While it has a true four-wheel drive system, no one believed that it could go anywhere into the wild. 

Sorry, folks, I am about to prove you wrong. 

Back in October of 2021, I attended a media confab with my fellow automotive scribes at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Part of our confab was to drive various vehicles on and off the famous road course. One of our experiences was to do a very technical off-road course that was already muddy and sloppy due to some precipitation overnight. It would be the test of various off-road capable vehicles – including the Jeep Wrangler 4xe. 

I jumped in a Wrangler 4xe in the Sahara trim, which gives you a good four-wheel drive system, but not all-terrain tires. The testing crew set the Sahara 4xe into Electric mode, which will not enable the gasoline engine until there is no battery juice left. 

Still, the Wrangler Sahara 4xe did a great job managing the sloppy conditions of our off-road course. It was able to tackle 40-to-45-degree inclines and descents with ease. This Jeep had enough driving assist features, such as hill descent control, to make it all look easy. 

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe at Road America

One message was whispered in my ear after I stepped out the Wrangler 4xe: “Wait until you drive the Rubicon!”

Three months later, a Wrangler Rubicon 4xe arrived. 

It came on a very cold week in the Twin Cities, which means that the deep snow I was hoping for would be iced up and not so great for traction. Even with all-terrain tires and the electronic sway bar disconnect, finding winter fun was put on hold. 

Another thing that was put on hold was trying to recharge the Wrangler 4xe that week. It seemed that a lot of the public charging stations were not working properly to give it more juice. 

These are just a couple of setbacks for what I was able to glean from the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe. It still looks iconic and recognizable from afar. It still has a great four-wheel drive system designed to get you out of trouble and put down traction when necessary. 

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe

Even without a drop of lithium-ion in the battery pack, the turbocharged gasoline engine does a great job motivating the Wrangler. Some may miss the Pentastar V6 that is standard on regular models, but this driveline works well. 

The JL-generation did some important drivability enhancements that will make things livable. In four-wheel drive, the front axle no longer bucks when you are making a tight maneuver. The steering does feel loose, however. Still, I appreciate how much better this newest Wrangler is to drive. 

It is not perfect, mind you. The “loose” steering does challenge in-lane stability. The ride is fine, but it not for everyone. Neither are parts of the cabin. A Jeep Wrangler may not be for everyone’s taste, but it does instill a sense of adventure when you get behind the wheel – and do your Jeep Wave at the next Wrangler driver on the road. 

To get a Wrangler with the 4xe plug-in driveline, you have a choice of three trim levels: Sahara, Rubicon, and High Altitude. They are only available in the four-door Unlimited body style. Pricing for the 4xe Wrangler starts at $53,795. Our blue Rubicon tester was stickered at $69,545. If these prices seem a bit out of your budget, a Wrangler Sport two-door with the Pentastar V6 engine is priced at $29,995.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe at a charging station

The bottom line is that you have to respect the Wrangler for what it continues to stand for – an icon and legend that continues to attract LGBTQ owners. 

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