A year ago, I experienced the Jeep Magneto concept car in Moab, Utah. As stunning as it is bizarre, the Magneto was our first glimpse of what an all-electric Wrangler could look like when it hits the market. But with rudimentary battery technology and limited power output, Jeep said it’s far from finished, even as a concept.
I’m thrilled to be back among the stunning red rocks of Moab with a much more advanced (and exciting) electric vehicle: the Jeep Wrangler Magneto 2.0. With a lot more power and off-road upgrades galore, the Magneto 2.0 brings us closer to the ultimate Wrangler EV we all hope to see on those same trails in the future.
I took the updated Magneto concept on a short drive and spoke with Jeep North America brand manager Jim Morrison about the company’s EV efforts. To see the full interview and driving footage, watch the video embedded above.
Even more magneto
It would be rude to tease the potency improvement and not do it right away. Well above the 285 horsepower of the first concept, the Magneto 2.0 develops 625 horsepower and 825 lb-ft from a single custom-built, front-mounted electric motor. This time there’s a 70-kilowatt-hour battery, made up of four different cells that are spread out for better weight distribution, operating on an 800-volt architecture.
Taking all that juice is a six-speed manual transmission sourced from a Charger Hellcat with a first gear dropped from 5.13 to 3.36. Jeep installed the Wangler Rubicon’s Rock-Trac transfer case to give the Magneto optimal four-wheel torque, along with solid Dana front and rear axles and massive King coil-over shocks.
The Magneto 2.0’s wheelbase is 12 inches longer than the standard two-door JL, and it rides on 40-inch rubber. Even without the monstrous eclectic torque on offer, this is already an extremely capable Jeep on hardware alone. But as I soon learned, the electricity running through him only serves to enhance his abilities.
Low and slow, over the rocks we go
With Jim Morrison, Jeep boss and off-road enthusiast, seated next to me, I kicked the car into first gear and set off down the rock-covered trail. While Jeep has confirmed that the Magneto is indeed capable of lighting up its rather large tires, today’s experience would be all about low-end torque and negotiating tricky rock formations.
With no doors or roof, the Magento cabin is exposed to everything around it, giving you lots of RC car noise coming from the front axle. Speed up more and the noise gets louder. This is one feature, among many others, that I don’t expect to make a production version of.
On that note, neither does the six-speed manual transmission, which is an admittedly odd addition to an EV anyway. The clutch only works to move the shift knob between gears, otherwise it’s not much use. And with so much torque available, you can also start the Magneto in any gear to get it off the line. While the manual is a fun experience in a prototype car, the likely replacement will be a one- or two-speed automatic when this car goes on sale.
What will tie into production, however, is the Magneto’s raw appetite for off-roading. Morrison admitted that a set of 40-inch tires is probably out of the question, but any electric Wrangler should solidify over the roughest terrain, just like the plug-in 4xe. That means things like the solid axles and transfer case are almost sure bets for the future. With rivals like the R1T and Hummer EV in space now, Jeep is acutely aware that it needs a Wrangler to take them on — and go even further — off-road.
Without pulling the Magneto out of low range, it was impossible to feel the full potential of the powertrain. The obvious conclusion was how refined the electric torque is when crawling at low speeds. After driving a V8-powered Wrangler a few minutes before the Magneto, the difference in smoothness between the two was day and night.
I felt the same way about Magneto’s brake regenerative system. While it had obvious uses on public roads, in the desert its primary role was to slow the Jeep downhill. Gas-powered SUVs have had hill descent control for years, but the Magento’s brake regen worked better than any I’ve tested. And with the added benefit of recovering autonomy in the wild, it’s a real win-win scenario.
The time is coming
It’s no secret that an electric Wrangler is coming that will be quite radically different from the two versions of the Magneto concept that I’ve driven. Some may view this concept car as a dumb powertrain swap with a few hardware upgrades, but the Magneto is a veritable mobile laboratory for Jeep engineers. They walk through Moab, just like me, noting what works and what doesn’t.
So much about the Magneto still doesn’t make sense as an electric car. A manual transmission, battery cells stacked under the hood, monster truck tires…the list goes on. But the real job of this concept is to evangelize electric off-roading to the Jeep masses and underscore that this is the future of the brand. If they end up building something with even half the charm of Magneto, it will be a happy future.