The Jeep Magneto Concept Is the Electric Wrangler We Deserve
This Wrangler EV matches the stock V-6 model's performance—and it even has a manual transmission.
Pandemic be damned, it's just about time for this year's Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, and that means a gaggle of cool new concepts from Jeep. Of those such concepts to be shown at this year's gathering is the Wrangler-based Magneto concept is of particular interest—first, because it's electric, and second, because it has a manual transmission.
Even though most of the current crop of electric cars have their motors geared directly to the drive axle via single-speed drive, we're already starting to see some EVs with multi-speed transmissions, including the Porsche Taycan and Audi E-Tron GT. A second forward speed (or more) allows these EVs to operate over a broader speed range, minimizing needless motor spinning at higher speeds and adding an extra gut-punch to the low-end torque electrics are known for.
A Full Manual Transmission and Quicker Performance
The Jeep Wrangler Magneto takes a slightly different approach to the multi-speed EV concept. Designers installed a low-speed electric motor that is almost a swap-in substitute for the stock Wrangler's stalwart 3.6 liter V-6. With 285 hp and 273 lb-ft and maxing out at 6,000 rpm, the electric motor's stats shade the V-6's, which doles out 285 hp, 260 lb-ft, and tops out at 6,600 rpm.
Intriguingly, the electric motor connects to a six-speed manual transmission through a conventional pedal-operated clutch, and the powertrain is calibrated to respond much like the gasoline engine it replaces. With the flatter torque curve of the electric motor, Jeep says the Magneto concept can get to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.
Four lithium-ion battery packs, located in the cargo area, former fuel tank location, and under the hood, deliver a total of 70 kWh, while a pair of 12-volt batteries power accessories ranging from the stereo to the winch. All of the electrical equipment is housed in waterproof containers, allowing the Magneto to deliver the same 30-inch water-fording capability as a gas-powered Wrangler, and robust skid plates protect the batteries from off-road scarring.
Jeep has finished off the Magneto with a 2.0-inch lift kit, rock rails, 35-inch tires, and a Warn winch. The custom roll cage and white-black-blue paint scheme give it a cool early-1980s beach cruiser vibe.
EVs for the Trail? Really?
More compellingly, the Jeep Magneto is a fascinating experiment in how electric motors might apply to off-roading. One of the Wrangler's parlor tricks is the ability to start the engine without the clutch while in Low range—that way if you stall on an obstacle because you've chosen too high a gear, you can hold the brakes, shift to a lower gear, release the brakes, then turn the key to start rolling. It's messy—the starter pulls unevenly, there's a jerk as the engine fires, and (unlike the old 4.0-liter I-6) the 3.6-liter V-6 doesn't always have the torque to resume the climb without stalling—but it's safer than trying to engage the clutch on a steep hill.
This sort of low-speed thing is exactly what an electric motor does best: Just apply the accelerator and start moving slowly. With the stock 84:1 crawl ratio, the Wrangler can creep along at a mere five feet per minute, or 0.23 mph. Off-roaders say "slow as possible, fast as necessary", and as a drummer once said about Ray Charles' chosen tempos, that is slow, my man.
The driving range available to Magneto drivers is a big open question, and Jeep hasn't told us how far the EV Wrangler will go on a charge. The idea of off-roading without a plug for miles may seem daunting, but then again, there aren't any gas stations on the trails, either—and while gasoline and diesel engines waste (lots of) fuel while idling away on the trails, electric motors don't consume power unless they're moving their host vehicles. In the future, we may start thinking of off-road endurance in hours rather than miles of range.
The Jeep Magneto is a good-looking concept, but it also has a lot to teach us about how off-roading might move beyond hybrids in the electric age—and if it saves the stick-shift, well, that's all the better.