Just hearing the name Jeep conjures images of off-road adventure, and the 2021 Wrangler is likely the vehicle most people think of in that scenario, but the modern-day Wrangler offers an array of creature comforts and a range of sophisticated powertrains that the American GI’s of WWII would have considered science fiction. Not only does today’s Wrangler have niceties such as air conditioning and power-operated windows, but it can also be luxed-up with leather upholstery, touchscreen infotainment with in-dash navigation, a Wi-Fi hot spot, and a power soft top. If the standard model’s two-door body style doesn’t provide enough room for you and your adventure-seeking pals, the Unlimited four-door models should solve that problem. Wranglers are the only vehicles with removable roofs and doors—a feature that will no longer be unique once until the Ford Bronco hits the market.
What’s New for 2021?
The big news for the 2021 Wrangler is the introduction of two new powertrains: The plug-in hybrid 4xe and the fire-breathing, 470-hp V-8 in the new Rubicon 392. The electrified setup pairs a turbocharged four-cylinder with an electric motor for a stout 375-hp combined output. In addition to the extra electric power, the 4xe powertrain is also set to deliver up to 25 miles of electric-only driving and a claimed zero-to-60-mph time of 6.0 seconds. The 4xe system will be available only on four-door Unlimited models, and the battery pack’s positioning under the rear seat allows the plug-in Wrangler to retain the same ground clearance and capability as nonhybrid models. The Rubicon 392 is the ultimate Wrangler and rides on 33-inch tires and comes with all of the Wrangler’s best off-road gear; Jeep says it’s capable of hitting 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. Elsewhere, an 80th Anniversary Edition joins the lineup as does a cheeky Islander model which comes with a beach-themed exterior appearance package and “Jeep Tiki” hood decal. The base Sport model can be had with a two-speed transfer case, the Rubicon trim receives an optional Rock-Track four-wheel-drive system, and a TrailCam exterior camera system is now available on models equipped with the larger 8.4-inch infotainment display.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The standard 285-hp 3.6-liter V-6 from the previous-generation Wrangler makes its way under the hood of the new JL and can be paired with a six-speed manual gearbox or a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine is optional and teams up with an electric motor to provide additional low-end power. In addition to the standard V-6 and optional four-cylinder hybrid, the Wrangler can also be equipped with a 3.6-liter V-6 with a similar hybrid-assist, a 3.0-liter diesel V-6; a new, 375-hp plug-in hybrid 4xe powertrain and a 6.4-liter V-8 are also available. Wranglers are born off-road ready, so part-time four-wheel drive is standard across the range and is controlled by a lever on the center console. In our testing, a base two-door Wrangler Sport with the V-6 and the six-speed manual transmission sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds; a well-equipped four-door model with the automatic transmission did the deed in 6.8 seconds. With the four-cylinder hybrid powertrain, the four-door Sahara was slightly quicker at 6.5 seconds to 60 mph. The Rubicon model—which carries additional weight in the form of heavier roading equipment—isn’t as quick. Performance at our test track shows that the Wrangler JL is much improved compared with the previous model, but it’s merely holding steady with its rivals in some metrics. Although its handling has improved, it’s still trucklike in comparison with today’s refined SUVs and pickups. The ride in the four-door is acceptably smooth over rough surfaces, but braking distances were inconsistent between our two test vehicles.