by Gerhard Horn
It has been 40 years since Jeep dropped a V8 into the front of the Wrangler. Why did it take them so long? Well, to be brutally honest, the last thing the Wrangler needed was more power. It's not exactly known for its superior handling prowess, and adding more power to the mix just seemed like a bad idea. That didn't stop owners from doing engine swaps, however; these were scary experiences for which there aren't enough brakes in the world. But now there's a V8 Wrangler straight from the factory in the form of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, and unlike the mad gearhead next door, Jeep adds all of the other things needed to make a high-performance Wrangler work. Bigger brakes? Check. A custom Fox suspension? Check. And it's all to support a 470-horsepower V8. That makes it more powerful than the new Ford Bronco Raptor.
In an era where the combustion engine is at death's door, it seems that now is the perfect time to produce this manic display of insanity as a swansong to the gasoline engine. In light of the Wrangler 4xe indicating the future of off-roaders, this may well be your last shot at something this crazy.
Jeep has made no major changes to the Wrangler Rubicon 392 for the 2022 model year. The one minor change is that Billet Silver exterior paint has been replaced by Silver Zynith. Jeep also says that a new standard cabin filter that removes 95% of air particulates applies to every Wrangler model.
See trim levels and configurations:
|Rubicon 392 Unlimited||
6.4L V8 Gas
Could you go canyon carving in the 392? It has high-performance Fox monotube shocks, after all. Jeep also upgrades the frame rails, front upper control arms, and steering knuckles, so it should be good, right? And don't forget about the more powerful brakes… Still, the answer is no.
Unfortunately, this particular Wrangler still uses heavy-duty Dana solid axles front and rear. This means that what happens at one side of the axle will always impact the other side. There's a reason why performance cars have a fully independent suspension setup. The best way to drive it is to mash the throttle into the carpet once the wheels are straight. You then slow right down for a corner, go through it calmly, and pin the throttle once the road is straight again.
Jeep's chosen suspension setup only shines through on any loose surface though, whether sand, snow, mud, or dirt. The Fox shock absorbers do a magnificent job of soaking up massive bumps. Heck, this Wrangler doesn't even care if you jump it every once in a while. Loose surfaces are far more forgiving when it comes to hooligan antics. The grip returns more progressively, unlike a tarred surface where you're never 100% sure when the knobbly tires will start gripping again.
When it comes to off-road crawling, the 392 is epic. The Fox suspension allows for even more articulation, which the Wrangler hardly needed. And with locking differentials front and rear, there's very little that can stand in the way of this Jeep. In low-range, you don't need more than a twitch of the right foot to keep it moving. It's epic fun off-road, but it's simply a Wrangler with a more refined ride on-road.
There are two ways to look at this vehicle. You can either choose to see it as a pointless exercise in excess, as the world never needed a Wrangler with a V8 in the front. It doesn't handle particularly well on-road, and it's ridiculously thirsty. It's a 470-hp SUV that doesn't have an independent suspension setup, for goodness sake. There are any number of SUVs out there that do a better job of just about everything. The new Land Rover Defender comes to mind, and that's due to get its own V8 soon, too.
But we love it for the same reason Land Rover developed a V8 Defender. It will join the 392, Ram 1500 TRX, Ford F-150 Raptor, and Mercedes-AMG G63 on the list of cars that you can't help but love because they are horribly overpowered. Look at it that way, and the Wrangler 392 is a G63 for half the price. Does the world need large V8-powered off-roaders that make the kind of noises that give a gearhead's soul an erection? Does it need cars that can jump? Heck, no. But we love the fact that they exist.
We get the sense that gearhead designers and engineers know time is running out. So, if they ever wanted to do something silly with internal combustion, the time is now. That's why you can currently buy a 470-hp Wrangler and a 700-hp pickup truck. What a time to be alive.
Some think Jeep made a mistake with the current Wrangler. It should have gone the Land Rover route and reinvented its most iconic car for the modern world. It's hard to disagree with that school of thought, even though we freely admit that the Jeep walks all over the Defender when it comes to properly severe, hardcore off-roading.
Land Rover managed to build a modern Defender with a unibody chassis and an independent suspension that will roughly achieve 90 percent of what the Wrangler can. But you can easily live with it daily. It feels like a large luxury SUV. It has a modern interior, fantastic ride and handling, and a sweet turbocharged six-cylinder engine with mild-hybrid assistance. This engine produces 395 hp and gets the Defender to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. And while it's also no hot hatch, it handles corners much better than the Jeep. It also has a better tow rating, and it's safer. While we don't have US safety ratings, we can look at the Euro NCAP scores. The Wrangler was awarded a dismal one star, while the Land Rover received five out of five.
The Land Rover 110 Defender X may be more expensive, but it's worth every single penny. If you want a V8 engine in the Defender, it's going to cost you over $100k in four-door guise.
Though we haven't driven it yet, Ford's direct rival to the Wrangler is already in a good position. The four-door has a slightly shorter wheelbase but a much wider track and an independent front suspension. The Wildtrak model also boasts high-performance shock absorbers for high-speed off-roading. Because it's a modern Ford, you get a large touchscreen interface with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Though we haven't sat in one yet, the interior just looks far more appealing.
There is a new Bronco Raptor arriving for the 2022 model year that delivers over 400 hp, and it starts at under $70,000 so is more affordable than the Jeep. The Ford is less powerful but has more modern tech, looks far more aggressive, and has a better towing capacity. If you don't go for the Raptor, you can get a top-spec four-door Bronco in Everglades specification with a few options for under $60,000. We won't make a final call until we've driven it, but on paper, the Bronco looks like a better buy.
Check out some informative Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 video reviews below.