A TORQUE EXCLUSIVE
by Matt Konkle
HOLLY, Mich. — Jim Morrison looked energized and enthusiastic as he climbed out of his 2024 Jeep Rubicon Wrangler 4xe — fresh off one of Holly Oaks Off-Road Parks’ numerous trails during a recent weekend.
The vehicle itself was flecked with plenty of mud specks from the trip, but Morrison, Jeep’s Head of Brand for North America, was more interested now in the constant stream of people flowing amoeba-like throughout the Jeep display area.
First, they surrounded the numerous 2024 Wrangler models the company brought along for the Detroit 4Fest event. Then they migrated over to other vehicles in the brand’s arsenal like Gladiator, Compass and Grand Cherokee. Next, it was pictures and selfies with three of the most popular 2023 Easter Jeep Safaro concept vehicles in Sideburn, Cherokee 4xe and the powerful Scrambler.
Finally, the process began all over again with a new group of show attendees.
Morrison watched the whole dance with a smile because for him, as well as Jeep itself, these types of events are an ideal spot for people to enjoy their vehicles, as well as a perfect chance for the company to interact with its passionate customer base.
”We love connecting with our customers and this is a great way to do it — seeing what they are talking about and what they want to see next,” Morrison says. “(This event) is only a half hour from our headquarters right over here in Auburn Hills which is really cool, an hour from downtown Detroit where we build Jeeps, and of course Toledo (Ohio) where Wrangler and Gladiator are built, so lots of history here.
”It’s also a great way for everybody to showcase their latest wares, but most importantly, see how their Jeeps are working off-road, what they want to do to it next, what mods they want to make, and what is out there for them. You know, you come out and there is not two Wranglers or Gladiators you are going to see that are alike, which is really special. And the best thing about Jeep and the off-roading world, is we are going to keep taking it to the next level.”
And that next level looks to be electrification.
Former Jeep CEO Christian Meunier laid out a roadmap late last year where the brand expects to see 50 percent of its North American sales from battery-electric vehicles (BEV) by 2030. So far, it has released an all-electric Jeep Avenger in Europe, while it plans to roll out the fully-electrified Jeep Recon to North American dealerships early next year.
Additionally, the Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid has dominated sales charts the past two years — taking honors as the highest-selling PHEV in 2021-22. In fact, that vehicle also accounts now for over than 40 percent of all Wranglers sold in the United States.
”The whole world is talking about electrification,” Morrison says. “What is really neat for us at Jeep, (electrification) is a natural evolution of 4×4. In fact, you’ve heard me say before that 4xe is the new 4×4. And really, what that means is that it is the next generation for us.
”What we really like about electrification is its instant torque. That 4xe I’m driving behind me – 470 pound-feet of torque. That thing is unstoppable. I’ve taken that thing up 60-degree grades, and it is something you can’t do even with gas engines because you have to worry about oil flow and all that kind of stuff — when does the turbo kick in, the pressure build-up? Instant torque is amazing for electrification.”
The 4xe Wrangler offers 375 horsepower as well as that powerful 470 lb-ft of torque, and lets drivers choose an all-electric mode that gets slightly over 20 miles before shifting to a 2.0L inline four-cylinder engine. Regenerative braking, where brake energy is returned to the vehicle’s battery, also helps add to that all-electric mileage. Jeep has rated the overall fuel economy average at a lofty 49 MPGe with an estimated range of around 345 miles.
Range anxiety can be an issue for those looking at hybrid and fully electric vehicles, especially with some uncertainty about whether certain charging stations work with the Wrangler, but the 4xe’s robust range should ease some of that worry.
”I think the best piece of that, is once you drive it, you’ll love it.” Morrison says. “I told you that I’m driving this 4xe right now. That’s what I picked to drive. I could drive a 392 if I wanted to, but the (4xe) is just so fun to drive because of all that torque and quiet. Take the doors off and top off and drive around in complete quiet. It’s just fun.
”But the nice thing is that we’ve got a gas backup, so if you run out of electric on the trail – hey, it has happened to me – the two-liter kicks in and you drive home with the two-liter. So you don’t have to worry about range anxiety.”
Plus, Morrison says, Jeep is always working on its electrification infrastructure.
”You know, we’re going to have more charging stations and there might even be ways to charge your Jeep from another Jeep out on the trails in the future, too,” he says. “Lots of nice things coming, but don’t worry. We won’t let our customers down.”
While the Wrangler 4xe is the brand’s first foray into an electrified production vehicle, the Recon will be North America’s first all-electric Jeep when it reaches dealerships early in 2024. Not much is known overall about its specifications, but it is expected to debut with Stellantis’ STLA Large platform — meaning it will share frame characteristics with the Dodge Ram.
During its announcement last year, the vehicle also sported a retractable powertop and removable rear side glass windows, a Selec-Terrain traction system, lockable axles, tow hook recovery points and aggressive off-road tires.
Jeep said it definitely expects the Recon to conquer the iconic Rubicon trail and fully arrive with Trail Rated capability.
”We are designing it to go down the Rubicon trail, and actually leave the hotel on a full charge, and get back to the hotel before you run out of charge, which is really important,” Morrison says.
So where does all this leave Wrangler? Does an electrification push mean an all-electric Wrangler is imminent? After all, the brand has taken a BEV Wrangler concept to Moab, Utah for EJS the past three years — steadily improving its performance abilities each time to where it now boasts 900 lb-ft of torque and 650 horsepower.
According to Morrison, the answer is a firm ‘not yet’. But, ultimately, electrification will find its way into Jeep’s nameplate vehicle.
”We haven’t said anything about an all-electric Wrangler, but the nice thing is we are going to have the Recon next year, and this time next year (at Detroit) maybe we’ll go for a rip in one,” he says. “The nice thing is Wrangler is going to be there too, it is always going to be at the top of the hill. Don’t worry, we’ll electrify that one eventually, as well.”
Still, even with a fully ingrained electrification strategy, Jeep will continue to offer internal combustion engines for those who prefer that type of powerplant. Currently, Jeep has a 3.6L Pentastar, 2.0L turbocharged inline four-cylinder and powerful 6.4L V8 for the Wrangler lineup.
”The nice thing with Jeep is that we have a lot of choice,” Morrison says. “You want the best V8, we’ve got it with the 392. But at the end of the day, I don’t know how fast the transition is going to go from gas to electric.
”We are going to electrify a range, and then our customers are going to choose whether they want gas, or plug-in hybrid, or do they want all electric? It is going to be up to our customers.”
What also may be up to customers is whether Jeep decides to make a gasoline or electrified two-door Gladiator. This question always seems to come up by the many attendees during events, and Morrison didn’t rule it out.
”The four-door (truck) is definitely here to stay,” he says. “We experimented a little bit with the Scrambler (concept) this year out at Easter Jeep and that was a fun way to say ‘hey, do you want to have a little more box on your 2-door, or a little bit longer?’
”So, we’ll keep experimenting with that space because obviously the market is four-door 4x4s, and that is where we have the Gladiator firmly placed, but we know there is a fringe market (for a two-door). We just don’t know how big it is yet”