At the wheel of the Jeep Magneto, an electric concept with a manual transmission

The Magneto 2.0 is a modified Jeep Wrangler with an EV powertrain.
Enlarge / The Magneto 2.0 is a modified Jeep Wrangler with an EV powertrain.

Jim Resnick

MOAB, Utah—First things first: This cliff-climbing, battery-electric Jeep concept vehicle isn’t intended for production, despite the hopes of many Jeep fans gathered in Moab, Utah, for the Jeep Easter Safari this year. The Magneto is an open-book or life-size laboratory in the spirit of Jeep and the future of the brand.

The company has already begun to embrace the future of battery-electric drive, and in fact, the Wrangler 4xe is America’s best-selling plug-in hybrid. In fact, Jeep introduced its first iteration of the Magneto last year, but with a single transmission rated at just 285 hp (213 kW). Jeep has quickly awakened to a variety of uses and iterations of battery-electric power as five of the seven concept vehicles it recently showed to the press and public use electric propulsion. And the zenith of it all is the Magneto 2.0. And we drove it.

The Magneto started life as a regular Wrangler, but Jeep lengthened the wheelbase by 12 inches (305 mm) and fitted huge 40-inch-tall tires mounted on 20-inch wheels. Huge differentials backed by heavily beefed-up suspension members live below, while a retro bikini top and early-’60s SoCal custom paint scheme keep the visuals fun.

The Magneto starts from a button, like any electric vehicle. From the passenger seat, Jim Morrison, senior vice president of Jeep and head of Jeep for North America, suggests using both the brake and the clutch when starting, just in case. A large cue-ball manual shifter sits between the seats, right next to the familiar transfer case selector for 2WD operation and low-end and high-end 4WD operation. Since the manual transmission is redundant, you select a gear appropriate to the road ahead – or the lack thereof – and leave idle by rocking into the throttle as it would be normal in a conventional BEV. With a slight EV rumble and plenty of steering angle, the slight wheelspin and chirp of the tires at the business end of the locked hubs was a combination of two distinct sounds rarely, if ever, heard before.

Yes, that's a six-speed manual you see in front of you.
Enlarge / Yes, that’s a six-speed manual you see in front of you.

Jeep

For off-road, traction and speed control are best in the lower gears, and that’s where the heart of this powertrain combination lies. For a purely road-going BEV, a manual gearbox behind an electric motor would, for all intents and purposes, be a bit silly. Not much next to this equation. But in the off-road environment where crawling is crucial, whether over rocks, mud or anywhere else that requires extremely fine, rheostat-like control of power and throttle, speed reduction and rhythm control are paramount, whatever the type of propulsion. . It is also a way to provide much greater control on downhill grades with poor traction. In fact, Jeep programmed engine regeneration to the extent that it needed a cracked throttle to descend even extremely steep hills. It’s an elegantly engineered solution to the whole issue of hill descent control when applied to ICE-powered off-roaders using throttle and brake intervention.

The Magneto takes the steps, inclines and obstacles out of Jeep’s controlled off-road course setup in the Moab desert with just one problem. The transfer case disengaged twice, interrupting the power delivery twice, which was not the fault of the electric powertrain, or even the manual transmission.

Looking at the basic specs of the Magneto, there’s an axial flux electric motor (hold capacitor) that spins up to 5250 rpm. Four lithium-ion batteries generating a total of 70kWh (operating at 800V) are placed in the middle and rear of the vehicle to distribute the weight as evenly as possible within the overall truck package. Additionally, an inverter borrowed from hybrid racing cars converts direct current to alternating current for the new motor. A peak of 600 A for up to 10 seconds can produce 850 lb-ft of torque (1,152 Nm) and post a 0-60 sprint on the tarmac in just 2.0 seconds.

Although the Magneto will never see production, it opens up two completely new ideas in off-roading. First, the manual transmission as a multiplier behind an electric motor. Second – and an even bigger reveal – the potential silence of electric off-roading.

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