Jeep introduced its 4xe hybrid powertrain last year in the Wrangler, and although Jeep won’t divulge Wrangler 4xe sales numbers, it claims the model was the bestselling plug-in hybrid in 2021. That would mean it beat out PHEVs including the Toyota RAV4 Prime (27,000 units) and Prius Prime (25,000), and that better than 13 percent of the more than 204,000 Wranglers sold last year were PHEVs. Given that reception, applying the 4xe treatment to the brand’s bestseller, the Grand Cherokee, must have seemed like a no-brainer. For Grand Cherokee buyers, however, the decision to step up to the plug-in hybrid is not so obvious.
The Grand Cherokee 4xe, which is exclusive to the two-row version, uses the same plug-in-hybrid powertrain as the Wrangler. A 270-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine with 295 pound-feet of torque is assisted by a belt-driven 44-hp motor and another 134-hp electric motor that replaces the eight-speed automatic transmission’s torque converter. The combined output is 375 horsepower with 470 lb-ft of torque. Those figures are higher than the 357 horsepower and 390 lb-ft from the 5.7-liter V-8, but only for as long as the 14.0-kWh lithium-ion battery (C/D-estimated usable capacity) has enough juice to contribute.
In the Wrangler, we noted this powertrain’s rocky transitions between gas and electric propulsion, although they were somewhat lost amid the Wrangler’s general cacophony and numb, vague chassis. In the vastly more polished Grand Cherokee, the powertrain’s hesitation and its abrupt transitions stand out. Flatten the accelerator and there’s a pronounced delay before any actual movement. We also were unable to replenish noticeable EV range while in Hybrid mode, but were able to recharge some of the battery while driving in eSave, a mode that uses power from the gas engine only.
We found the gas engine—which isn’t fully defeatable in any of the three drivetrain modes—always eager to take over. Naturally, full throttle fires up the engine, but gentler driving can too. During our drive in Austin, Texas, our speed dropped from roughly 33 to 26 mph while we were climbing a grade in Electric mode, and the four-cylinder awoke, interrupting an otherwise silent drive. The punchy turbo four-cylinder has enough torque to get things moving despite Jeep’s claim that the Grand Cherokee 4xe weighs roughly 500 pounds more than V-8 models.
This Grand Cherokee claims 26 miles of EV range. If your commute is roughly 10 miles each way, you never floor the accelerator, you pack your own sandwich for lunch, and you plug the Grand Cherokee 4xe into a Level 2 charger overnight, you could theoretically operate the 4xe like an EV. But the most likely application for the 4xe’s battery-powered driving capability would be to quietly motor to the bathrooms at the other end of a campsite or to make for a silent escape from the parents’ house on a school night.
Driving in Hybrid mode makes the most sense in nearly every application, and reaping this powertrain’s fuel-saving benefits will require vigilant at-home charging. (Jeep says replenishing the battery using a 240-volt source takes two to three hours.) The EPA combined rating is 56 MPGe, which is slightly better than the Wrangler’s 49 MPGe (although the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe we tested with this powertrain returned just 16 MPGe). After the battery is depleted, the Grand Cherokee 4xe gets an EPA-estimated 23 mpg combined, which is just 1 mpg more than all-wheel-drive V-6 models.
Competing plug-in-hybrid SUVs such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento are better at being PHEVs, with their higher fuel-economy ratings and greater EV range. The Santa Fe, for instance, returns 76 MPGe or 33 mpg and is good for 31 miles of electric range. For the Sorento, those figures are 79 MPGe, 34 mpg, and 32 miles. The beefier Grand Cherokee 4xe, though, is a better SUV, with an impressive 6000-pound towing capacity that among PHEVs is second only to the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid’s 7716-pound limit. And its off-road advantage over more fuel-efficient crossovers is as righteous as Moab’s Hells Gate.
The Grand Cherokee 4xe starts at $57,660, roughly $15,500 more than the base four-wheel-drive V-6 Laredo, and it includes additional standard equipment. The 4xe comes with 18-inch wheels, a 10.1-inch touchscreen with navigation, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, and a dual-pane sunroof. The 4xe powertrain is also available in Trailhawk, Overland, Summit, and Summit Reserve grades, and the upcharge over the four-wheel-drive versions of those trims ranges from $8250 to $9915—which can be largely offset by the 4xe’s $7500 federal tax credit. In Summit Reserve form, the Grand Cherokee 4xe tops out at $76,490.
At those lofty prices, and given the Grand Cherokee’s overall refinement, the plug-in hybrid’s rough edges begin to grate. And with its limited EV capabilities and relatively modest fuel-economy improvement over a V-6 or V-8 model, the Grand Cherokee 4xe doesn’t seem to offer enough reward for the extra cost and effort.