It’s not most women’s idea of vacation, but my teammate Emily Winslow and I competed in an arduous affair, commanding a 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe plug-in hybrid for the 2022 ultra-demanding, 1,600-mile Rebelle Rally. This setting could not have been more appropriate to gauge the 4xe’s chops. First announced in 2003, the Wrangler Rubicon is the most capable off-roader the auto manufacturer makes. What started as a pipe dream by a core group of Jeep engineers and off-road enthusiasts calling themselves the “lunatic fringe,” it became the 4×4 mainstay.
Fast forward to 2021, and Jeep released the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe PHEV. We took the latest iteration for this “test drive” in the Rally. Ours was bone stock, sporting only a set of Maxtrax vehicle recovery boards mounted to its full-size spare tire carrier. Jeep’s electrified 4xe is no stranger to unforgiving conditions, and it was up to us to see how it’d perform over the grueling eight-day competition. In short, pretty well.
→ Instant electrified power, packing 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque
→ Off-road capable, showcasing solid front and rear axles, 10.8 inches of ground clearance, electronic front and rear lockers, and a push-button sway bar disconnect
→ Twenty-two miles of all-electric range, offering occupants a unique and quiet off-roading experience
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- Base price: $54,595 ($69,185 actual rally vehicle)
- Powertrain: Gasoline/electric PHEV hybrid
- Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder PHEV
- Motor: 1 engine-mounted motor, 1 transmission-mounted motor
- Horsepower: 375 hp
- Torque: 470 lb-ft
- Battery size: 17.4 kWh
- Range: 49 mpge and 20 mpg (Jeep’s estimate)
- Wheelbase: 118.4 in.
- Towing: 3,500 lb
- Payload: 1,280 lb
- Curb weight: starts at 5,100 (dependent on trim level)
- Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive
Rebelle Rally is unique in the racing landscape, with only women allowed to compete—showcasing their respective driving and navigation talents. We, along with our 4xe, were one of 54 teams of two women who were tossed into the middle of nowhere with only a compass, road book, maps, and street smarts to find their way around. Smartphones and GPS-enabled navigation equipment were taken away, and center stack displays were covered up with cardboard and security tape.
What You Should Know
The 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe PHEV has the same great off-road capability as its gasoline-minded siblings, but it presents a unique perspective—all-electric quietness. Although the traditionally powered Rubicon only offers internal-combustion engine choices, the 4xe variation allows for gasoline-assisted hybrid and e-save modes, as well as an all-electric option.
Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, as well as engine and transmission-mounted motors and a 17.4-kWh battery pack, the Rubicon 4xe allows either full-automatic or manual options, giving drivers more control over the vehicle. Tip: The 4xe’s throttle is sensitive and takes smooth transitions for even, controlled driving.
The 4xe has an instant punch of power over Jeep’s standard gasoline or diesel derivatives, leaping into action whenever we needed it. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, coupled with its electric motors, creates an impressive 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, more than its gasoline- and diesel-equipped counterparts. It also matches the gusty Jeep 392 V8 in torque but falls short in the power department.
The four-door Rubicon 4xe is rated at 49 mpge using gas and electric power, with its all-gas assessment weighing in at 20 mpg combined. However, those numbers dropped with off-road usage, especially when shifting manually.
The 4xe’s 17.2-gallon fuel tank is the smallest vessel of the Rubicon line-up (the others hold 21.5 gallons while the 3.0-liter diesel tops 18.3 gallons). However, the 4xe makes it up with an impressive total range of 370 miles—including 22 miles of all-electric fun. We never worried about our total range, something other ralliers were concerned with.
How The Jeep 4xe Drives Off-Road
Piloting the Wrangler Rubicon 4xe was a rough-and-tumble experience. It’s not a luxury SUV offering the many bells and whistles that other 4x4s do. But it’s not meant to be. The 4xe marries exceptional off-road capability with just enough all-EV range to impress your friends with near-quiet adventures.
During our 1,600-mile off-road test drive, we quickly realized key components that helped us in certain situations. Driving the 4xe in e-save mode while using manual gearing used more fuel than running it in full auto and hybrid mode. To conserve gasoline, we left it in auto and hybrid mode unless we needed a boost of electric power in the sand dunes, using e-save mode before our arrival there. We also used the 4xe’s all-electric ability when navigating tricky terrain where low range was needed.
Our High Velocity-hued tester was steadfast with its factory-supplied BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tires successfully clawing their way to basecamp after each day of competition. The 4xe is driver-friendly, in that it allowed adequate visibility out of all areas, except for the rear window and factory-equipped back-up camera, which the recovery boards covered up.
Operating it was also easy, with driver controls easily within reach. Our confidence immediately increased after the first day of competition; our tester drove smaller than its size, its steering surprisingly light and evenly weighted. High-speed desert blasts gave way to surefooted miles with a composed and even ride. Crawling on rocks and off-camber terrain didn’t give us issues, either, as the 4xe carried us in a self-assured manner.
Note: Our 4xe had a few fuses rattle loose, causing dashboard warning lights to appear. I quickly inspected the fuse box and pushed each fuse back into place. I then checked for trouble codes using an OBD-II reader and cycled the 4xe on and off multiple times. This reset the vehicle and cleared the issue with no future problems.
Tough but Beautiful Terrain
Although I come from a world of diminutive two-door 4x4s, our four-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe tester didn’t feel lumbering or heavy. It effortlessly twisted through tight sage-lined trails and rutted cliff-side ridges; its 10.8 inches of ground clearance made quick work of taller trail hazards. This included small boulders and tough vegetation that sprouted in the middle of nowhere with recent rains.
Teams navigated through 1,600 miles of tough desert terrain and tent camped along the way. Soft sand dunes, jagged rocks, mud, and whip-lashing dirt lapped at our tires, trying to prevent us from finding 158 hidden checkpoints scattered from the north end of Lake Tahoe before reaching the finish line near the Mexican border. This competition is not for the faint of heart.
We navigated through new-to-us areas, which included Monitor Valley and Belmont, Nevada, a ghost town along former State Route 82 in Nye County. We traversed through demanding, rough trails of the Monte Cristo Range and recent washouts near Fish Lake, Nevada. The 4xe PHEV never once winced at the deteriorating conditions.
Cactus Flats offered thick clay, challenging tracks, and scenic beauty, with trashing bouts of rain. Low-range and its all-electric mode were used to get up steep, Joshua tree-lined areas, the Jeep methodically making its way up and over loose-packed locales.
Alabama Hills—a rounded rock-filled wonder near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Owens Valley, California—filled windshield with undulating peach-colored boulders the size of houses. The picturesque home of western movies and car commercials, this area is accented by Mt. Whitney and the snow-capped mountain range. Movie Flat Road offered packed dirt, although the tracks leading into remote camp areas can be difficult, with high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles highly recommended.
The 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe’s cockpit was comfortable and intuitive, sans the center-mounted window controls. Even after a week of competition, we found ourselves reaching for the door to lower the glass. Although there wasn’t a huge amount of storage up front (just the half-size glove box), heavy-duty mesh nettings affixed to each door held a surprisingly large number of necessities.
The driver’s seat adjustments allowed for a wide array of positions. Although I have a short torso, I could crank the seat high enough to comfortably see over the hood. However, after days of getting in and out of the Jeep in search of 158 checkpoints, skin resting on the seat’s rough cloth upholstery got irritated. A T-shirt laid flat on top of the seat base easily addressed this. It’s not an issue for everyday drivers, however, unless you’re using your Jeep’s seat for quick-paced calisthenics.
Although the 4xe rear bench seat doesn’t fold flat, we left it upright and found adequate cargo tie-down points to fully secure equipment within its 67.4 cubic feet of interior cargo space.
Our Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe ran like a top. It was one of seven electrified vehicles at the event, five finishing within the top 20 4×4 positions, including us and the other two Jeep 4xe teams, with Barlow and Petereit winning their second rally in one. Winslow found the 4xe less stressful than driving a crossover, never once worrying about the vehicle’s clearance or its ability to climb over challenging terrain.
Winslow and I are now the first duo to successfully finish the rally circuit using three different powerplants: internal combustion engines, an all-electric powertrain, and now a plug-in hybrid. We’re also one of a few duos who have rallied both 4×4 and crossover classes.
Other than those few fuses rattling loose and the aftermarket rally computer issue, our 4xe tester was rock solid. It didn’t have any mechanical hiccups and easily conquered all challenges we threw at it. It’s a sure-fire go-to 4×4.
Mercedes Lilienthal is an Oregon-based freelance photojournalist who regularly contributes to The New York Times and a wide array of automotive publications. She is also editor-at-large for TREAD Magazine and feature editor for Toyota Cruisers & Trucks. Mercedes writes about vehicular adventure travel, the auto industry and inspiring women within it. She and her husband own three customized right-hand-drive turbo-diesel Mitsubishi 4x4s: a Delica Space Gear van and two Gen 2 Pajero SUVs. They also own a modified 2022 Subaru Crosstrek daily driver.