Road Test Review: Is The 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4Xe's Plug Worth The Extra Cash?
Plug-in hybrids have slotted in to SUV showrooms as a stepping stone between the traditional gas and hybrid machinery, and full EVs. When properly executed, they give drivers the chance to sample a decent dose of electric-only driving without leaving behind the security of internal combustion (and the thousands of fueling stations that support trouble-free long-distance travel).
Off-road fans in particular may have been tempted by one of the most popular PHEVs on the market, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, which combines a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and not one, but two electric motors to generate big torque while delivering roughly 25 miles of battery cruising. After its recent redesign, that very same drivetrain has become available for the more family-friendly Jeep Grand Cherokee, which gets its own 4xe badge.
Jeep has made two power moves to help further cement the 4xe’s status as the new king of the Grand Cherokee line-up. The first is killing the Hemi engine option, making the plug-in hybrid is now the mightiest mid-size sport-utility in its showroom. The second? Making the tough-as-nails Trailhawk trim exclusively available under the 4xe banner.
Are these decisions persuasive enough to convince longtime loyalists to transfer their V8 flag and pony up the substantial extra cost associated with purchasing this plug-in SUV? The answer depends entirely on how much you’re willing to spend to save—and whether you can handle the significant personality shift that comes with cutting the Grand Cherokee’s cylinder count in half.
Beefier Than The Hemi
If you’re dead-set on having a Hemi, you should know that Jeep let a few 5.7L models escape the assembly line early on in the 2023 model year’s production. With a little luck, you’ll be able to find one lingering on the lot, where you can sample its satisfying snarl and its 357 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque.
Of course, if you’re looking to win a drag race with any other Grand Cherokee built in the last 12 months or so, the 4xe (which comes with standard four-wheel drive) is a much better bet. Boasting 375 hp and a generous 470 lb-ft of twist, the plug-in hybrid beats the departed V8 to 60 mph by 0.3 seconds, and it tags 100 mph in the quarter mile with a sub-14 second run (which is substantially quicker than the Hemi). Not only that, but it’s rated at 23-mpg in combined driving, a number I was able to beat by a full mile per gallon over the course of nearly a thousand miles behind the wheel, putting it slightly ahead of the base V6 edition and giving it a considerable 5-mpg advantage over the V8.
None of that frugality takes into account the Grand Cherokee 4xe’s EV-only operation, either. Throw that into the mix and you’re looking at the same 25 miles of battery life found in the Wrangler 4xe, with about 2 hours of charge time on a Level 2 plug to top up once it’s been drained.
Not So Smooth Operator
As impressive as all of the above sounds, real world driving reveals some “gotchas” that can’t be found on the spec sheet. Yes, the Grand Cherokee 4xe is quick with the pedal down, and it does return impressive fuel economy for its size and performance capability even when operating as a traditional hybrid with the battery depleted.
Unfortunately, the drivetrain itself leaves something to be desired in terms of managing which motor’s doing what during regular driving. I was served with a regular procession of bangs, whirrings, and clonks as the electric and gas-fired ends of the Jeep’s motivational squad struggled to divide up their respective duties. That’s on top of the thrashy nature of the turbo four, a 2.0L unit that’s much smoother when not battery-assisted. I always got where I was going, but I was frequently surprised by how coarse the course was to get there.
For those who are weighing the benefits of the 4xe because they are laser-focused on the Trailhawk, this might not be a big deal. After all, off-roading is going to introduce its own share of bumps and bruises to the backside that will likely mask most of the right-foot roughness. The drive to the trail, however, is likely to be revealing, and if you’re seeking out the hybrid model in any of the luxury-focused trims such as the Overland, the Summit, or the Summit Reserve, you’ll likely be more sensitive to these surprise sensations (which are much more noticeable in the Grand Cherokee versus the tougher–riding Wrangler).
Spend Big To Save Big
That sensitivity is likely to be heightened by the additional cost associated with selecting the plug-in hybrid at buying time. The 4xe, which becomes available towards the middle of the Grand Cherokee’s trim ladder, starts at around $60,000. This not only a $17,000 jump over the base four-wheel drive Laredo V6, but it’s also a substantial $10,000 push past a comparably-equipped gas-only model.
This trend continues as you move through the order sheet, with the Trailhawk 4xe checking in at nearly $66,000 and the top-tier Summit Reserve blanching with a more-than-$78,000 price tag. Even the Overland trim I drove wore enough optional gear to crest $69k. When putting that much money down, it’s reasonable to expect a hybrid system that feels more polished than what the 4xe has to offer, no matter how much the Grand Cherokee’s strong off-road capabilities, very comfortable (and useful) interior, and solid handling help to balance things out.
It’s also enough cash to make you reconsider the value proposition of a PHEV setup that tops out at 25 miles of EV operation. If you happen to have a charger at home, and can get most of your commuting accomplished within that window, then the Grand Cherokee 4xe’s 17-kWh will serve as effective garlic against the vampiric drain of your local gas station (while still giving you a long-distance cushion for occasional road trips). If you don’t have access to a reliable plug, however, the expensive character of the 4xe becomes more difficult to justify—and just might have you pining for the memory of Hemis gone by.
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