DETROIT - Jeep just sucker punched Ford's heavily promoted new Bronco off-roader. Fiat Chrysler's revelation of the Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid included impressive promises of electric power for greater capability and silent off-roading that doesn't disturb the wilderness - a technology the Bronco can't match, despite offering other innovations.
Jeep, king of the off-road brands, is pulling out all the stops to break the upcoming Ford Bronco's momentum, with Wrangler 4xe sales beginning early next year, probably months ahead of the Bronco.
"4xe," by the way, is said "four by E," as 4x4 is "four by four." It'll become a common badge as Jeep electrifies its whole model line over the next few years.
The Wrangler 4xe is the first off-road-centric SUV to claim electric power will make it more capable off-road. That's a big ask, since fossil-fuel powered Wranglers already seem to defy the laws of physics regularly.
As if that weren't enough, it's an open secret Jeep is preparing a Wrangler powered by FCA's iconic Hemi V8, a one-two punch to counter the newer Bronco's promises.
Ford created a media firestorm and threw maximum shade Wrangler's way when the Bronco SUV debuted last month. It's all just talk till the rubber hits the rocks, but since then Ford videos regularly portray Bronco features like torquey EcoBoost engines and a disconnecting front stabilizer bar as potential Wrangler beaters.
Silent off-road operation
"Electrify this," Jeep retorts, unveiling 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque from the Wrangler 4xe - 65 hp and 70 pound-feet more than the top Bronco's 3.0L V6 engine. The 4xe has a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, electric motor built into its eight-speed automatic transmission and a 17-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery.
Jeep owners can use pure EV mode - when the gasoline engine is shut off - either for a promised 25 miles of emission-free driving on the highway or in the wilderness, where the electric motor's instant torque and near-silent electric operation should transform off-roading from noisy intrusion to quiet communion with nature.