Mountain Wheels: The electric Wrangler, full-sized Bronco and new Nissan Z are rides of the future

Brandon Girmus, senior brand manager with Jeep, and Kelley Enright, Midwest region communications manager with Stellantis, show off the new Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in electric hybrid and the three-row Grand Cherokee L.
Photo by Andy Stonehouse / Mountain Wheels

As many of you have found, reentering the world of people after 18 months of COVID-19 isolation can be a big deal. It’s been a very sharp learning curve for me, as I attended my first two in-person auto events in that long last week, getting a chance to see a variety of vehicles that will be coming and will likely receive full-length reviews in the fall.

Our Rocky Mountain Automotive Press group held its first Rocky Mountain Driving Experience in a full two years, followed by a visit to the Pikes Peak International Raceway to get to see the second national debut of the new Nissan Z, the highly-anticipated, 400-horsepower incarnation of the brand’s long-running sports car line.

Rocky Mountain Driving Experience brought out a few of the heavyweights Colorado drivers have been anticipating, and the results were all pretty positive. I got my first look and a short drive with the new full-sized Ford Bronco, appearing as a first edition model (not unlike the smaller Bronco Sport I drove this summer), and it is indeed quite the vehicle. Size alone makes it feel more like an old 1980s Bronco, parked on optional 35-inch, off-road tires, with a stance and presence that certainly gives Jeep a run for its money.

A 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine gives the vehicle 300 horsepower, and I could very much feel that with the 10-speed automatic transmission. (You might have heard about the seven-speed manual transmission option. I, too, will be interested to see that in action.)

With old-fashioned, non-framed door glass, a removable top and tons of grab handles, Bronco looks like it is going to be a lot of fun to drive. They’re also remarkably hard to get for purchase, owing to production delays, so it was interesting to see one in real life.

Jeep has anticipated Bronco’s return and had two interesting models on display, the Wrangler 4xe plug-in electric hybrid and the new, three-row version of the Grand Cherokee L. The Wrangler has become the best-selling plug-in electric in America as it injects the popular off-roader with a hybrid setup that allows about 21 miles of entirely electric range. The battery and electric motor matched to the vehicle’s 2.0-liter turbo engine means an impressive 375 horsepower — getting close to the very expensive Hemi version’s output — and a screaming 470 pound-feet of torque.

That large latter number got me deliriously sideways for a bit as I played around on the road in a full-blown Rubicon version of the Wrangler, complete with full-sized, off-road tires. Despite its electrical underpinnings, it will still do all the trademark Rubicon stuff, with a full-time 4×4 system and locking differentials. The big difference is the power, plus a slightly ungainly charging port mounted very high on the left side of the hood (good for charging when you’re in 3 feet of water or something like that). It was priced at $61,265 in that build.

The very grand Grand Cherokee L three-row is quite the deal, as it looks like a traditional Grand Cherokee with half of another vehicle added — and substantially more presence than a regular Grand Cherokee or the related Dodge Durango. In a way, it kind of looks like a slightly less-tall Range Rover, though unlike its very, very expensive new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer counterparts, you can get into three-row territory for as little as $38,635.

And like the 4xe, it will still do all of the standard Jeep stuff, just with room for up to seven. There’s also a more comfortable six-passenger layout, both with 39.4 inches of second-row legroom. The interior is also pretty spectacular on the higher models, with pillowy leather, a very large articulated navigation and entertainment screen, and even massage seats.

Other brands and models that I checked out and hope to profile soon include the 2021 Honda Ridgeline, the truck that now looks more like a truck but still rides as comfortably as a car, plus the entirely new Nissan Pathfinder and Frontier pickup. We will also get around to Hyundai’s Tucson hybrid and a few Genesis models from the brand’s luxury division, including the GV70.

Meanwhile, we got a quick glimpse of the 2023 Nissan Z, which will begin to appear next year. It’s a heavily morphed and modernized version of even the recent 370Z model, now equipped with a 400-horsepower, twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 and a six-speed manual transmission. The biggest visual changes are a much broader, flatter rear view with almost Mustang-styled lighting. It, too, will be an exciting first drive.

Andy Stonehouse