UPDATE 11/23/21: This review has been updated with test results.
Whatever kind of engine you want, the Jeep Wrangler offers it. Jeep’s lucrative four-wheel-drive anachronism is available with a turbocharged four-cylinder, a naturally aspirated V-6 (with or without 48-volt hybrid assistance), a plug-in hybrid turbo four, or a turbodiesel V-6. And now, rounding out Jeep’s offer-all-the-engines policy, you can get a Wrangler stuffed with a gargantuan 470-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V-8. No, Jeep didn’t use the supercharged Hellcat engine. Nobody has enough life insurance for that.
The resulting mutant is the 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 392. It’s Jeep’s G63. A mud-bog Maserati. It’s “hold my beer” with an eye-level hood scoop. While everyone’s fawning over the 2021 Ford Bronco, Jeep is clearing its throat through quad tailpipes and asking for a moment of your attention. You’ve seen the Wrangler, folks, but never like this!
Well, not from a Jeep production line anyway. Aftermarket companies have been cramming V-8s into Wranglers for years. Jeep itself used to offer V-8s in the Wrangler’s distant ancestor, the CJ. But production Wranglers never had more than six cylinders, its V-8-powered specials relegated to Moab Easter Safari teases and SEMA show trucks. It’s not like it’s difficult to fit a Hemi in a Wrangler, so why did Jeep wait more than 30 years to do it?
Two reasons. First, until now the brand never had an outside reason to go nuclear with underhood weaponry. You didn’t need a V-8 to compete with the Suzuki Samurai back in 1980s. And for about the past two decades, the Wrangler’s biggest competition has been Jet Skis and divorces. The new Bronco is about to change that.
The second reason pertains to the philosophical matter of fast Wranglers and whether such a thing violates the natural order of the world. A 6.4-liter Wrangler is a rocket-propelled basset hound, an unlimited hydroplane tugboat, a 360-degree rotating rooftop restaurant set to 88 rpm. Have you seen those new speed stilts? No, because there’s no such thing. And yet, Jeep makes this brute.
With 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the Wrangler Rubicon launches from zero to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds. The fun continues through the quarter-mile—12.9 seconds at 104 mph—but doesn’t last much longer than that, with top speed governed at 112 mph, so as not to test the structural integrity of the 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires, which are part of the Xtreme Recon package. While the 392 might accelerate like a C6 Corvette, it doesn’t brake or corner like one. Skidpad grip measured a mere 0.70 g, and stopping from 70 mph required 218 feet—significantly longer than the 197 feet posted by the two-door Ford Bronco Sasquatch. If you’re stepping into this from a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454, you’ll feel right at home.
The 392’s full-time four-wheel-drive system doesn’t offer a two-wheel-drive mode, and that’s probably for the best since this rig can do four-wheel-drive burnouts if the pavement’s even slightly damp. For launches that feel like they might involve a wheelstand, apply left-foot braking to cue up Torque Reserve, which is basically launch control for dummies. Similar to the Gladiator Mojave, the 392’s Off-Road Plus driving mode lets you lock the rear differential at high speeds, leading us to wonder what Jeep thinks people are going to try to do with this thing. Maybe the better question is: What won’t they try to do?
While there’s no 2Hi mode for the transfer case, there is low-range four-wheel drive, plus a new button on the dash that lets you choose between a loud exhaust and Monster Jam Freestyle-loud exhaust. At wide-open throttle, the 392 belts out an 87-decibel cacophony. Under light loads, the V-8’s normally transparent cylinder-deactivation system becomes obvious, as the booming exhaust cuts to a strangled stutter. With EPA estimates of 13 mpg city and 17 highway, the Rubicon 392 needs all the cylinder deactivation it can get.
Up front, that hood scoop is functional, and it’s plumbed to an intake that resembles a Dr. Seuss musical instrument. There are twists and turns going thisaway and thataway and a series of drains that prevent water from dripping down the 6.4’s gullet. Jeeps says the main drain within that setup can separate 15 gallons of water per minute from the intake air. And should the hood scoop become clogged with the viscous tears of your enemies, there’s a secondary intake path that can flow enough air to allow the Wrangler to still hit its top speed. We’re not sure what confluence of life decisions would result in a clogged hood scoop and the need to drive 112 mph, but the Rubicon 392 is ready.
To accommodate the Hemi engine and the shenanigans it’ll inspire, Jeep strengthened the 392’s frame, fitted a two-inch suspension lift with Fox dampers, and upgraded the rear brakes. Our test vehicle also included the Xtreme Recon package that adds another 1.5 inches of lift, along with the bigger tires. But there’s only so much you can do to cope with this much horsepower in a Wrangler. For instance, Jeep made the bronze-colored 17-inch wheels capable of mating to beadlock rings that can firmly pinch the tire to the rim, a feature often associated with airing down tires for low-speed trail work. But, as we discovered, when you’re roosting sand dunes with 470 horsepower, you might need beadlocks even with the tires fully aired up. When we took the Rubicon 392 to a local tire store to investigate a slow leak, the technicians there wondered at the rubber-to-earth violence that led to sand getting inside a mounted tire. Typical V-6 Wranglers don’t tend to have that particular problem.
All this over-the-top performance comes with predictably hyperbolic pricing. The 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 392 Launch Edition started at $74,995. The 2022 model’s basement grew by $1400, and the one we tested rang in at $83,400 thanks in large part to the $3995 Xtreme Recon package. Meanwhile, $53,190 will get you a new plug-in-hybrid Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, which also makes 470 pound-feet of torque and is eligible for a $7500 federal tax credit. That combination of price and performance makes a lot of sense, which is why we doubt that audiences for the 4xe and 392 will overlap even a little bit. The 392 isn’t about making sense. It’s about making noise and stomping Broncos and not necessarily in that order.
While a V-8 Wrangler may seem obvious and inevitable, it’s probably for the best that Jeep accrued several decades of chassis development before unleashing one on the public. Still, the Rubicon 392 is a royal handful, a bellowing musclebound clodhopper on 35-inch tires. If it’s your dream Wrangler, thank Jeep for giving it the green light for production—right after you thank Ford for applying the pressure.
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