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, 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. 470-horsepower V8, duh, check.
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. Rival manufacturers are following suit, and a V8 Land Rover Defender is incoming, as is a Raptor version of the Ford Bronco called the Warthog.
The Wrangler Rubicon 392 is an all-new model based on the four-door Rubicon. It's powered by a naturally-aspirated 6.4-liter V8 engine and an upgraded suspension and brakes. This model serves as the halo model in the Wrangler range and comes as standard with many features that you'll only find on the options list of standard Wranglers such as 33-inch tires on beadlock-capable 17-inch wheels, a two-inch factory lift, and heavy-duty Dana 44 axles.
See trim levels and configurations:
|Rubicon 392 Unlimited||
6.4L V8 Gas
The Wrangler has looked more or less the same since the TJ series was introduced in 1996. There's an excellent reason for this. The TJ's predecessor (YJ) was presented with square headlights, and Jeep loyalists had the kind of hissy fit befitting of a misunderstood teenager whose phone was confiscated. From then on, Jeep stuck to the same design language, which is a square box with round headlights. Over the years, the angles were rounded out, and the headlights were replaced with LEDs, but that's about it. To differentiate the 392 from other models, Jeep includes some bronze accents, while the First Edition models get functional hood scoops and a quad-exit exhaust system. 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels are standard with 33-inch off-road tires. We wish they had done more, but the loud rumble of a Hemi V8 should be enough to let most people know.
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 SUV's overall length, including the spare tire, is 188.4 inches. This entire body rides on a 118.4-inch wheelbase. The overall width is 73.8 inches, and it stands a very square 74.5 inches tall. So it has a long and wide wheelbase, which is good for handling, but the ground clearance is still 10.3 inches. A high center of gravity isn't ideal for performance, but it makes for some pretty impressive off-road figures. The approach, breakover, and departure angles are rated at 44.5, 22.6, and 37.5 degrees, respectively. Jeep claims a wading depth of 32.5 inches, which means fitting a V8 has not affected its off-road ability. What it has affected is the Wrangler's curb weight, tipping the scales at a substantial 5,103 lbs.
Jeep is well-known for offering several exuberant colors on the Wrangler. Out of the 12 colors available on the standard palette, only nine can be applied to the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392. Bright White is the only no-cost option, while the eight other colors retail for $245 each. The available options include Black, Firecracker Red, Granite Crystal Metallic, Sarge Green, Snazzberry Pearl-Coat, Sting-Gray, and Billet Silver Metallic. Hydro Blue is the model's signature color, and we have to agree with Jeep that it does look good. However, we're partial to hues like Snazzberry and Sarge Green.
The new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 isn't that powerful, considering this the same company that gave the world the bonkers Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. That's probably for the best, as the Wrangler still uses solid axles at the front and rear and anyone who's experienced the so-called death wobble in a lesser Jeep will be weary of attempting speed in one, regardless of ho much power it has.
Stellantis's 6.4-liter Hemi V8 is well-known by now. In this application, it produces 470 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 470 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. To put all of this power down, Jeep includes the Selec-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system as standard. It has an auto mode for daily tarmac use, but it can only be used in four high. Low range is included as well.
As standard, the 392 has an active exhaust system as part of the Launch Edition. It engages automatically when you step on it, giving you the full effect of 470 angry American horses. The driver can override the quiet operating mode and wake the entire neighborhood via the quad tailpipes.
Jeep claims a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 13 seconds. It does not provide a top speed, but it likely won't be more than 130 mph. The brick-like body was never built with maximum speed in mind. Even with all of these changes, the 392 manages to retain some practicality. The 3,500 lbs towing capacity isn't spectacular, but at least it has a rating.
And while cooling systems are primarily boring, the 392's deserves special mention. The hood scoop is fully functional, and the main air path leading to the engine. But since the 392 will likely be driving through the kind of stuff that sticks to the body, Jeep included a secondary air path. It's so effective that the Jeep can run to its unclaimed top speed even when the hood scoop is completely blocked.
The 6.4-liter naturally-aspirated V8 produces 470 hp and 470 lb-ft and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It's a formula widely used in the Stellantis portfolio, and it works beautifully. The gearbox monitors a host of input parameters to determine what it should do next. If you're slowly lazing about town, it will swap cogs quickly and quietly. At full throttle, it's a little more aggressive but still lighting fast. In addition to being the first V8-powered Wrangler in 40 years, the 392 is also the first Wrangler equipped with paddle shifters for manual control.
Another unique feature is AMax shifting, which first made its debut on the Trackhawk. It's this system that allows the 392 to accelerate so fiercely, even though it weighs 5,103 lbs.
Unlike most of the standard Wrangler range, the 392 does not use a part-time 4x4 system. It uses a full-time system with an automatic mode that distributes torque where it is needed.
Off-road Plus with Sand and Rock modes is also standard. The Off-road Plus mode allows the rear differential to lock at high speed in 4H mode. In other words, you can pull some serious drifts in sandy conditions, but we would not advise ever engaging this on-road.
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's no easy way to say it, so we'll just put it out there. According to the EPA, the 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 392 achieves gas mileage figures of 13/17/14 mpg city/highway/combined. Mercifully, it has a 21.5-gallon tank, which means a theoretical range of 301 miles should be possible. But we're talking about the best-case scenario, so be prepared to visit the gas station often.
We reckon this conspicuous consumption is only possible due to the existence of the Wrangler 4xe. As soon as the green party pitches up to protest in front of Jeep's gates, it can point to the kind and gentle 4xe and its all-electric range of 22 miles.
The interior is straight from the regular Wrangler Rubicon, which means it's a giant plastic slab adorned with buttons. The ergonomics are spot-on, however. The climate control, electric windows, and off-road-related buttons are all clustered together in neat little bunches. Stellantis's well-known 8.4-inch touchscreen Uconnect infotainment system sits proudly in the center.
As the halo model, the 392 comes with leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped performance steering wheel with aluminum paddle shifters.
Solely available in 4-door form, the Wrangler Rubicon 392 is a strict five-seater. The 392 comes standard with the usual soft top, but a body-colored hardtop is included in the price of the First Edition. The headroom is 40.8 inches in the front and 40.3 inches in the rear, with the hardtop in place. The soft top increases the headroom to 42.8 inches in the front and 42.6 inches in the rear. Front legroom is rated at 40.8 inches, and rear passengers get a generous 38.2 inches.
This go-faster version of the Wrangler retains the ability to remove all of the doors. While some may see this as a silly party trick, it's genuinely good fun to drive off-road with everything removed. It's an experience unlike any other.
The 392 has a full leather interior, and the bronze exterior theme is continued on the inside. Black is the only available interior color, and it contrasts beautifully with the bronze stitching. Other model-specific interior features include paddle shifters, off-road menus on the infotainment system, and a newly designed instrument cluster. Jeep had to redesign the latter to include the kinds of speed the 392 can reach. The quality of the interior could be better, but the rugged plastic seems like it would be able to cope with hundreds of dune jumps.
Standard cargo space is perfectly acceptable at 27.7 cubic feet. It's enough space for a basic camping trip for the mid-size family. The rear seats can be folded forward in a 60/40 split, freeing 67.4 cubes of carrying capacity.
Interior storage is disappointing. Front passengers get cupholders, but rear passengers don't. The doors only have mesh pockets, which means you can't use them for drinks. There is a nice storage compartment underneath the front armrest, however.
Jeep's 392 comes fully stocked. In addition to the standard remote keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, and power windows, Jeep adds 11 premium features from the options menu as standard. This means you get the LED Lighting Package, premium leather interior, Infotainment Package, Cold Weather Package, Safety Package, and Advanced Safety Package included as standard. Some of the notable features in these packages include adaptive cruise control, high-beam assist, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, full LED exterior lights with LED daytime running lights, steel bumpers front and rear, and a heated steering wheel.
As mentioned above, the Infotainment Package is standard. This means you get the 8.4-inch Uconnect system with navigation, HD Radio, SiriusXM with traffic services, Bluetooth connectivity, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. It's connected to a nine-speaker Alpine sound system. As always, this system is fluid to use with clear and easy-to-read visuals. It's not the latest from the brand, but it does the job without complaint, and as such, received none from us.
The 392 hasn't been recalled yet, but the current Wrangler hasn't had the easiest start in life. It's currently standing on six recalls from its introduction in 2018. Issues include a steering wheel that may detach from the steering column, a rearview image that remains on display, and a clutch pressure plate that may overheat. It's also worth mentioning that Jeep receives an excessive number of complaints from customers. Complaints don't usually hit three digits, but somehow the Wrangler has managed to do it every year since its introduction. Most of these pertain to the so-called death wobble - a scary event where at even moderate speeds, the vibrations caused by the rudimentary solid axle suspension, high center of gravity, and stubby proportions of the Wrangler lead to a violent shaking that can cause loss of control.
Each Wrangler is covered by a three-year/36,000-mile limited warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The NHTSA has not completed safety reviews of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 and only did a partial review of the regular four-door Wrangler Unlimited that forms the foundation for the 392. It received four out of five stars for the frontal crash and three out of five stars in the rollover test. The IIHS has a more comprehensive safety review for the Wrangler on which the Rubicon 392 is based. It scored well in every category, except the front overlap crash test on the driver's side (Marginal rating) and headlights (Marginal).
On standard Wranglers, you have to add packages to get driver assistance features, but on this model, Jeep includes them as standard.
The traditional safety items consist of four airbags, ABS, a rearview camera, and traction and stability control. On the driver assistance side, the 392 has blind-spot monitoring, cross-path detection, rear park assist, advanced brake assist, auto high-beam control, full-speed forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control with stop.
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 is working on 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 and completely irrelevant. 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.
The new Wrangler Rubicon 392 has a price of $73,500 MSRP, excluding the destination charge of $1,495. That seems like a lot for a Wrangler, but if you take a standard Rubicon with the 3.6-liter V6 engine and add all of its options, the price comes in at just under $60,000. The AMG G63 starts at a whopping $156,450. Suddenly, the cost of the Rubicon 392 doesn't seem so bad.
There's only one 392, and it's based on the Rubicon model. That means it's already prepared for severe off-roading, as Rubicon specification comes standard with locking differentials front and rear, Dana solid axles, and a sway-bar that disconnects for increased articulation. Jeep adds a 6.4-liter V8 with 470 hp and a full-time 4WD system for increased traction. To handle all of that extra power (40 percent more than the standard V6), Jeep also strengthens the frame, adds Fox shock absorbers, and fits massive brakes. To differentiate it from other models, the 392 gets bronze exterior and interior accents.
The interior is fully kitted with standard Wrangler features like electric windows, dual-zone climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, and a rearview camera. Jeep then adds 90% of the options menu as standard, which means you get a high-end 8.4-inch touchscreen with navigation and every other kind of connectivity, a Bose sound system, leather seats, heated front seats, and a few driver assistance features.
Jeep adds most of the packages as standard, so there are only two left on the menu. The Smoker's Package costs $30 and adds a cigar lighter and a removable ashtray. The Trailer-Tow Package retails for $350. We reckon Jeep did not include the latter as standard for a good reason. With a 3,500 lbs tow rating, this is far from the best Jeep model for this specific application.
There's only one model, but it's worth looking at how it competes with the standard Rubicon. A standard Rubicon has an MSRP of $42,475, and for that, you get a 3.6-liter V6 and a six-speed manual gearbox. Once you add an automatic gearbox, some nice alloys, a body-colored hardtop, all of the optional packages the 392 comes with as standard, and the powerful 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine (more torque than the 392), the total comes to just over $64,000. So, essentially, you're paying $10,000 for a V8 engine, a full-time 4WD system, and a custom suspension setup, not to mention all of the model-specific items. Looks like a good deal to us. Because the Rubicon 392 has impressive standard specs and is so well-equipped, the available options are limited to items like paint colors, the one-touch power soft-top roof, and a trailer tow package - none of which are must-haves for us.
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 around $10,000 more expensive ($83,000), but it's worth every single penny. And, if you're willing to wait, a V8 is coming to the Defender soon, too.
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.
The only downside is the power. A 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 is the most powerful engine available, and it delivers 310 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. It will undoubtedly make a great noise, but can it keep up with the 392 Wrangler? Given Ford's history of building epic Raptors, we can't see them getting such an important car wrong. It may not have the straight-line speed, but the electronic trickery might just make up for it, and in the upcoming Warthog guise, the Bronco could be unmistakably excellent.
Finally, there's the price. A top-spec four-door Bronco in Wildtrak specification with a few options on it costs around $53,000. We won't make a final call until we've driven it, but on paper, the Bronco looks like a better buy.
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