May 17, 2022

Our rides: the electrified symbol of liberation

All photos by Randy Stern

The words “icon” and “legendary” seem to be a little overused by the marketing folks. My colleagues in the automotive media tend to misuse these terms as well.

No shade or tea, these terms fit some vehicles.

In some circles – our LGBTQ circles, to be precise – we add other terms to describe certain vehicles that have shaped our history. Terms such as ‘liberation’ and ‘freedom’ come to mind.

If you add these terms together, you get the Jeep Wrangler.

If we go back in time to the mid-1970s, for example, the Jeep Wrangler’s predecessors were instruments of LGBTQ liberation and freedom. They trumpeted our lack of equality by appealing to LGBTQ men and women through this symbol of masculinity. You’ve seen one on the street of any gay neighborhood 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 beckons us today. We love the iconic, legendary design that dates back over eight decades. The simple design of the front fender and the easily accessible bonnet by releasing two T-bars. The silhouette, whether in two-door or four-door configuration, is recognizable and often imitated.

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

Next we have the 4xe – pronounced “four by E”.

The 4xe introduces electrification of the iconic Wrangler through a combination of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, a J1772 plug-in socket in front of the driver’s door and a battery located under the seats back. The 4xe drivetrain was designed to give Wrangler riders a way to use both battery and gas power when tackling Spider Lake’s rugged trails, as well as powering through snow deep unplowed when they visit family in South Dakota.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe

There have been feedback on the 4xe. Many people think that a plug-in hybrid Wrangler would be better off driving around malls or nightclubs. Although it has a true four-wheel-drive system, no one believed it could go anywhere in the wild.

Sorry, folks, I’m about to prove you wrong.

In October 2021, I attended a press conference with my fellow automotive scribes at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Part of our confab was driving various vehicles on and off the famous road course. One of our experiences was doing a very technical off-road course that was already muddy and sloppy due to some rainfall overnight. This would be testing various off-road vehicles, including the Jeep Wrangler 4xe.

I hopped in a Wrangler 4xe in the Sahara trim, which gives you a good four-wheel-drive system, but no all-terrain tires. The test team put the Sahara 4xe into electric mode, which won’t activate the gas engine until it runs out of battery juice.

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

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4xe at Road America

A message was whispered in my ear after I exited 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 meant the deep snow I was hoping for would be icy and not so good for traction. Even with off-road tires and electronic stabilizer bar disconnect, finding winter fun was put on hold.

Another thing that was put on hold was trying to reload the Wrangler 4xe that week. It seemed like a lot of public charging stations weren’t working properly to give him more juice.

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

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe

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

The JL Generation has made some significant handling improvements that will make things livable. In four-wheel drive, the front end no longer squeaks when performing a tight maneuver. The steering feels loose, however. Still, I appreciate how much better this new Wrangler is to drive.

It’s not perfect, mind you. “Loose” steering challenges stability in the lane. The ride is fine, but it’s not for everyone. Neither did the parts of the cabin. A Jeep Wrangler might not be to everyone’s taste, but it instills a sense of adventure when you get behind the wheel – and make your Jeep Wave the next Wrangler driver down the road.

To get a Wrangler with the 4xe plug-in drivetrain, there are three trim levels to choose from: 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 stuck at $69,545. If those prices seem a little out of your budget, a two-door Wrangler Sport 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 represent – an icon and a legend that continues to appeal to LGBTQ owners.