When one thinks of Italy, it is of piazzas, Vespas, or, if you’re of a certain age — and a fan of Dean Martin — amore. Or it might be of vino beyond compare, a café americano so strong it can burnish silverware, and gelato so exquisitely delicious that one has to wonder what it is we do to ice cream that makes it taste so sickeningly-sweet in comparison.

If you’re an auto buff, well, then, it’s Ferraris. At least that’s what you might dream about. Unless, of course, you’re a Lamborghini fan. Or, again, if you are of a certain age, you might long for a little FiatCinquecento, the early one, so small you’d swear you could bring one home as carry-on. Whatever your phantasm, lineage, or association with the Bel Paese, the one auto brand I suspect y’all don’t associate with the peninsula is—


Yes, Jeep. Far too American, I hear you say. Too square and blocky, not a flowing fender or swooping roofline to be found. Consume way too much gas for a country where high-test is knocking on CDN$3.00 a litre. That’s just about 14 bucks for good ol’ Canadian-Imperial-gallon folks, not the kind of pricing one normally associates with promoting the sales of bluff-bodied SUVs which weigh, on their best days, well over two tonnes. Nope, Italy would not, at first blush, seem to be Jeep territory.

2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Limited Rubicon
2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Limited RubiconPhoto by Nadine Filion

And yet, Jeep Italia says it sells almost 75,000 Wranglers, Renegades, Avengers, Compasses, Grand Cherokees, and Gladiators a year. In 2023, for instance, that total was split into 29,477 Renegades, 21,966 Compasses, and 22,260 Avengers.

Some 394 were Wranglers, a healthy percentage of which were 4xes; the preference for plug-ins is made all the more incredible when you consider that a 4xe Wrangler in Italy starts at 85,500 euros; and the Rubicon version an even €88,000 flat. At current exchange ratios, that works out to CDN$126,365 and CDN$131,200, respectively. In Canada, I’ll remind you, Wrangler 4xes start at $59,995; while the Rubicon version I tested would be $75,720 back home.

A goodly portion of those — save the ones used by whatever the Italian version of enviroweenie virtue-signallers are called — are, I suspect, in Northern Italy. Certainly, when it comes to regular Wranglers — both old and new, two- and four-door — the closer you get to the Alps, the more plentiful they become.

Certainly, my landlords are doing their part. Father Amalio owns a 2011 four-door diesel-powered Rubicon; while son Michele has had a 1997 Wrangler two-door since new. Even mom Silvana is a convert, though hers is a little Renegade faux-by-faux.

They’re hardly alone. Here in the skiing paradise that is Bormio, pretty much every household has some sort of serious sport-brute. The blend includes the occasional Land Rover — and even rarer Toyota Land Cruiser – mixed in with a plethora of Wranglers of all years, colours, and states of repair.

The reason is simple. Bormio, like so many small cittàs in northern Italy, is half way up a mountain (in this case, half way up the tallest pass in Italy, the Stelvio). And, despite being a ski resort that would shame Aspen for its facilities and luxurious appointments, it remains, at heart, an agricultural community, more than a few of its residents needing (as opposed to we Canadian big-city dilettantes, wanting) the off-road abilities that only a Wrangler can deliver.

For others, like Amalio, Michele, and Silvana, it’s the cottage — called refugios here because they were, in fact, refuges for stranded travellers crossing snow-covered passes in winter — high in the hills that are inaccessible to anything lacking multiple locking differentials and seriously knobby Goodrichs. So, of course, the first thing I did when I arrived in Bormio for my latest Italian car-testing sojourn was get both father and son into our Wrangler 4xe Limited Rubicon tester.

The first thing I discovered is that Italian cottage roads — at least Italian cottage roads in the Alps — are way more, well, let’s call them “thrilling” than anything in Canada. Think fishing-camp-remote, only straight up a 9,000-foot mountain. You know, the kind of seclusion that often requires an ATV to get to. In fact, the family’s refugio winter “beater” is a four-seat Cat, the only way to get there once the snow falls ‘cause even Ski-Doos have a problem with the glacier-like ice and the steepness of the hill.

No problem in the Wrangler in a muddy spring with Amalio at the wheel, though. In fact, he fairly loved the new 4xe. The added low-end grunt that the 134-horsepower electric motor brings to the table really caught his attention. As did the new model’s tighter turning circle (because the slopes are so steep, Italian mountain trails have some seriously tight switchbacks). Many were the tight turns that he could make without the reverse-and-try-again two-pointers his 2011 required.

The steering is also lighter. In fact, his 2011 has a prominent steering-wheel knob — well-worn, by the way — specifically to give the 70-year-old former parachuting instructor a little more leverage for when the going gets heavy. More familiar was the suspension articulation. We never got any Rubicon-level — I’m referring to the trail this time, not the SUV — live-axle deflection, but there was enough to impress Amalio.

2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Limited Rubicon
2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Limited RubiconPhoto by Nadine Filion

What was different, however, is the 2024 4xe’s ride. In fact, the patriarch loved the quiet comportment of the hybrid powertrain. Even after the 17.0-kilowatt-hour battery has run down — and the 270-hp 2.0-litre Turbo four awoken — it’s a whole bunch quieter than his CRD-diesel-powered 2011. Smoother riding, too, a “much better highway machine,” he says. Or, at least, that’s what Michele translated from what seemed a five-minute speech more akin to the Gettysburg address than pithy four-word synopsis.

Amalio summed it all up at the end of his drive saying when it came time to trade in the 2011, he’d take a serious look at the 4xe. And what’s perhaps most interesting is that his decision will have nothing to do with its reduced emissions — here in northern Italy, electric vehicles might be even less popular than they are in Alberta — but simply because it drives so much better, both on- and off-road.

2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Limited Rubicon engine
2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Limited RubiconPhoto by Nadine Filion

As for Michele, the first thing he had to acclimatize to was the transmission. As in, even though he’ll never see 40 again, he had never driven an automatic. Hell, if his confusion as to what he was supposed to do with his left foot and right hand was any indication, it’s possible he’d never even been in the passenger seat of one. Amalio and I took turns coaching him through what “D” and “R” stood for.

The other thing taking some getting used to was the difference between his ‘97 Wrangler’s forcefulness with the brakes and the 4xe’s. I almost went through the windscreen at the first stop sign, and it was lucky that some pretty annoying cabin-chimes reminded Amalio he needed to cinch up his seat belt, even if he was sitting in the back (and allow me to postulate here that it’s possible that, in all of the history of traffic policing, a “a failure to buckle up” ticket has never been issued in northern Italy).

Michele wasn’t as enamoured of the silence of the 4xe’s electric operation. Young chronologically, but an old soul when it comes to Jeep powertrains, he missed his old — but plainly well-cared-for — gas-powered ‘97. What he did appreciate is that the 4xe averaged a fairly frugal 10.0 L/100 km in pure hybrid mode — more like 8 L/100 km when it was plugged in regularly — an incredible feat considering that those numbers included scaling mountain passes, a lot of secondary roads, and some fairly high-speed highway work. At 2.00 euro per litre (CDN$3.00) its frugality was, well, let’s say noticed by both father and son.

And finally, since I’m the only one getting paid for their opinion on this electrified Italian Wrangler, I’ll add my two cents worth. First, off the 4xe does indeed steer more quickly than any Wrangler before it. The steering ratio seems quicker and, well, there’s a lot more boost reducing the effort to turn the wheel. That pays huge dividends anywhere you need to turn the big Jeep on a dime, whether it be high in the mountains or down below in the tight piazzas of Bormio.

That said, that same quick steering — and the huge-sidewalled knobbies that fare so well off-road — does wander a bit on the autostrada. A BMW — like the X5 xDrive50e PHEV I drove immediately after the 4xe — it is not, stability at speed not nearly as confidence-inspiring as its traction while crawling. Still, considering its basic underpinnings — the ladder frame, live axles front and rear, and the aforementioned ginormous LT 255/75R17 BF Goodrichs — it’s still much improved over Jeep of yore.

Ditto the interior with its Uconnect 5.0, one of the better infotainment systems in the business. The seats, while hardly 22-way adjustable, are more than passably comfortable. The downside is that with electrification comes even more buttonry, and some of them are pretty well hidden.  Like the “Hybrid,” “Electric,” and “Battery Save” buttons on the left console. Accessing them requires the muscle memory of a concert pianist, at least if you’re driving in a straight line, because they’re hidden by the steering wheel spokes.

None of which changes the fact that, for the Wrangler faithful, the 4xe remains an enticing proposition. Especially in Italy. Of those 394 Wranglers that Jeep Italia sold last year, all but four were plug-ins.

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