Whatever is easy and powerful becomes normative.
That’s true when it comes to smartphones, social media, and even cars. One really obvious example is the flashlight on your phone. You probably use it because it’s so easy to find, and yet the light is bright enough to help you find your keys in the morning. With social media apps, it’s easy to share photos with friends, which is why Facebook grew in domination.
Sometimes, easy just means lame. I own a MacBook and there’s a Touch Bar that’s supposed to make it easy to adjust settings, but I rarely use it. There are easier ways to accomplish the same goals, such as key commands or just using the mouse.
As I was testing the 2023 Jeep Wrangler 4XE Rubicon for a week, I realized how a small side panel just to the lower left of the steering wheel is more like the iPhone flashlight than the MacBook Touch Bar. It’s both easy and powerful, allowing you to switch between three driving modes that could make a big impact on how you drive this hybrid off-roader.
The three buttons have distinct purposes. The Hybrid mode is the one you will likely use most. It means the electric motor is providing assistance but the gas engine is activated. In my tests, this means when you first start the Wrangler, it will likely idle in electric mode. It was winter during my test, so as soon as I cranked up the heat the engine started.
E-Drive means you will be in all-electric mode. The Wrangler 4XE is a plug-in and can go about 50 miles on a charge in all-electric mode (for a total of about 370 of total range). I have to say, it is a strange experience driving this rugged off-road vehicle with a near-silent engine. I expect to hear some chugging and exhaust, especially climbing up a side road in snow. For an off-road purist, you might prefer the loud roar of an engine, but I was actually pleased with how smooth the Wrangler 4XE drives; in a way, it’s a more pure “outdoor” experience because you can hear everything around you, including the crunching of snow and the wind blowing.
Other vehicles have similar options to switch between hybrid and all-electric mode, but the E-Save mode is also handy and new (to me, at least). Basically, it means you can save any electric power you have and rely more on the gas-powered engine.
Having such easy access with this panel just to your left as you drive, with bright blue gleaming lights on the buttons that are hard to miss, means you might use the powerful setting more. I know I tried it more, thinking it was a good way to test out the electric mode. For me, range anxiety is a real thing since there isn’t even a charging station in the town where I live. I liked knowing I could go all-electric after charging the vehicle, saving gas on short drives. I also like being able to save the electric charger for later using the E-Save mode.
I see this as an innovation that could make its way into all cars eventually, especially since we all know the industry is moving more and more into hybrids and electrics. Gas-powered cars might be a relic of another time someday. Having a panel like this that makes it easy to make the most of the electric power could change how most of us drive.