Jeep is steering its famous off-roaders towards electrification
Taking an electrified Jeep off-road makes for a quiet experience. Here's what the automaker is working on.
Jeep established its roots back in the 1940s, and the brand quickly established itself as a 4×4 expert. Rugged and utilitarian, Jeep has been an icon of off-roading ever since. For its next act, the automaker is getting electrified. Jim Morrison, senior vice president and head of the Jeep brand in North America, says it has established its line in the sand.
“We’ve said we will be the greenest SUV brand and by 2025 all of our vehicles will be electrified,” Morrison says. “We expect half our sales to be electrified by 2030.”
Jeep’s plan includes four all-electric SUVs in North America and in Europe by 2025. The automaker debuted sneak peeks of two of those vehicles—the Jeep Recon EV and Wagoneer EV (code name Wagoneer S)—via its YouTube channel back in September of last year.
Remember, electrified in an automotive context is different from fully electric: Electrified refers to using motors to enhance and support gas-powered models for better efficiency and fewer emissions, while fully electric is a pure EV, with no internal combustion engine whatsoever. Jeep will offer both types, at least for now. Stellantis, Jeep’s parent company, has ranked at the bottom of the EPA’s 2022 rankings [PDF] for fuel efficiency and carbon emissions between 2016 and 2021; Stellantis includes brands like Chrysler, Alfa Romeo, and Dodge. Each of these brands is finally getting a hybrid version—Dodge unveiled the hybrid Hornet in March and Alfa Romeo is about to launch its first electrified model, the Tonale—so improvement is on the table.
The electrified plans are well on its way: the Wrangler 4xe, Jeep’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle, made its debut for model year 2021 and the Grand Cherokee was offered as a PHEV for 2022. Since then, both have registered impressive sales, with the Wrangler 4xe taking the crown as America’s best-selling PHEV for 2022. How will the electrification of Jeep affect its off-roading credibility?
Here’s how it’s working in the real world.
The Jeep Magneto concept
At its 57th Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah this March, the brand showed off its newest batch of concepts intended to inspire Jeep owners to enhance and accessorize, and to entice non-Jeep owners to dream. (The Easter Jeep Safari is typically a nine-day event with day-long 4×4 trail rides throughout—basically, it’s like summer camp for off-roaders.) One of those was the Magneto 3.0 concept, a fully-electric variant of the popular Wrangler SUV. The Magneto name sounds like a superhero badge, and it’s definitely a way for the automaker to see how far it can go.
“Magneto has been our test bed and pushed the extremes for 4×4 capability and electrification,” Morrison tells PopSci. “Over these years, we have been learning more and more about how electrification is accepted by our customers. Magneto 3.0 is exponentially better than 1.0; we learned that instant torque is cool with 1.0, then we learned you can modify it with 2.0, adding 40-inch tires and Dana 60 axles. This year, we took it up to 900 hp with Magneto 3.0, and it’s an absolute beast off road.”
The automaker says the third time’s the charm with this version, as it expands upon the improbable combination of a six-speed manual transmission with a battery-electric powertrain. I got behind the wheel of Magneto 2.0 in Moab last year with Morrison in the passenger seat, and was impressed by the concept’s rock crawling ability; it held up to the capability everyone expects of a Jeep.
The sounds of (off-roading) silence
Driving a Magneto and a 4xe, what I noticed most of all was the quiet. In the Magneto, of course, the vehicle is nearly silent, but it’s just a concept at this point and not available to the masses. Details on the upcoming Jeep Recon EV are slim so far, and we’ll be waiting to see what features and range it will include.
Unlike an all-electric Jeep, the Wrangler 4xe or Grand Cherokee 4xe are available now. The vehicles default to the hybrid system, and operating it in E-Save mode on the asphalt conserves the electric capacity for the trails. In the Wrangler 4xe or Grand Cherokee 4xe (those two models boast 21 all-electric miles for the Wrangler 4xe and 26 all-electric miles in the Grand Cherokee), drivers can run nearly the entire Rubicon Trail in California if they want to.
Off-roading competitor and owner of Barlow Adventures in Arizona, Nena Barlow, has led Jeep tours at the Easter Jeep Safari and tested all three versions of the Magneto on the trails. She’s also a six-time Rebelle Rally competitor, and won the last two years in a Wrangler 4xe. Barlow also cited silence as a key benefit to driving an electrified off-roader, not just for the reduction in noise pollution but for the driving advantages, being more in tune with her vehicle.
“The power with electric motors is just amazing in terms of the torque, the control, and the quiet,” says Barlow. “Even in the 4xe, being able to run obstacles in electric mode has spoiled me. I kind of get irritated by engine noise now; I want to hear what my tires are doing.”
When tackling challenging terrain, it’s a huge advantage to be able to hear your tires. Drivers can hear if they’re slipping off a rock and evaluate how well the rubber is connecting to the road. There’s a crunching sound on loose terrain, and a different noise when you’re at that threshold of losing adhesion, Barlow says.
Morrison’s daily driver is a 4xe, and he says the wildlife near his home pay him no mind. “You’re just driving around and suddenly you’re face to face with a deer,” he says. “It’s fun to go off road and connect with nature.”
Does an electrified Jeep provide enough power?
Some have asked Barlow why she would choose the Wrangler 4xe and not the beastly 6.4-liter V8-carrying Wrangler Rubicon 392 for the Rebelle Rally. The 4xe has the same amount of torque (470 pound-feet) but less horsepower (270 hp versus 470 hp) than the 392, but the 4xe gets twice the range out of one tank of gas.
Those worried about scraping up the battery pack needn’t fret, because the bellies are well protected. In fact, Barlow has been renting out Wrangler 4xe models to tourists for the past couple of years, and she says if renters can’t find a weak spot, no one can.
What you’ll notice while off-roading in an electrified Jeep is the pure power to take on big hills with no hesitation. In electric mode, the vehicle pushes forward smoothly and without lag, holding on an ascent without much effort. The bigger challenge may be the charging infrastructure, which Jeep is addressing with solar-powered charging stations at its Badge of Honor trailheads.
“I believe the 4xe is the future,” Barlow says. “It has all the power and great range, and that’s the way we need to be going.”
Correction on April 25, 2023: This article has been updated to clarify Jeep’s plans for all-electric vehicles, including the Recon EV and Wagoneer EV.