Jeep, one of the most recognized brands on the planet, has both a competitive spirit and a wonderful sense of humor. How else can you explain the initiative and business acumen of calculating that releasing a hugely powerful V8 engine in the company’s most rugged off-road vehicle – and then hitting a huge $ 30,000 premium – would only increase desirability?
Jeep has been offering its iconic Wrangler 4×4 with 4- and 6-cylinder engines for decades. But unfortunately, a new Jeep Wrangler has not left the factory with an 8-cylinder engine in almost 40 years. (If you wanted a V8-powered Wrangler, you need to find an aftermarket tuner to drop one under the hood.) Still, all this changed with the 2021 model when Jeep introduced the Rubicon 392 – a new range topping model equipped with a naturally aspirated 6, 4-liter Hemi V8 connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
FCA enthusiasts will immediately recognize the engine as shared with Dodge’s Challenger, Charger and Durango performance models, but the packaging and operating environment are a little different for the Wrangler. As a result, the jeep gets an oil pan rear sump, a highly mounted generator and a complicated Hydro-Guide intake that ensures that the engine can still breathe if a frivolous bow wave hits the hood. Despite these unique modifications, the powerful V8 develops 470 hp and a torque of 470 lb-ft – this Wrangler is a bona fide best.
Performance is strong. Even with a service weight approaching 5,200 pounds, the 392 will complete the 0-60 mph sprint in just over 4 seconds (top speed is limited to 100 mph, simply due to tire limitations).
Along the way, the V8 engine completely changes the Jeep’s character. Pressing the start button and the exhaust note coming from the quadpipes sends chills down your spine – it’s simply delicious. The throttle response is strong and the acceleration is almost immediate. Do you remember how they say that 45 mph in a boat feels like 60 mph? Well, the 0-60 sprint in the Rubicon 392 feels faster than 4.2 seconds – maybe that’s the way the front lifts and gets light under full throttle? It’s crazy.
The ride quality of the 392 is about the same as its 4- and 6-cylinder siblings, despite the 1-inch increase in ride height, rearranged rear suspension brackets and readjustment of the springs for the heavier engine (the fronts are 10 percent stiffer, while the rear is 20 percent softer). It still drives like a jeep, which means sloppy steering and body rolling when diverting from a straight line. Fuel economy, if you have to ask, will be in the range of 13-17 mpg on the sidewalk – actually not as bad as expected for the power.
Off the sidewalk, the Jeep 392 is a goat. The 8-speed automatic transmission comes with Selec-Trac dual-speed transmission (you can pull up to 3,500 pounds), while the Rubicon trim includes all tough terrain gear, including front and rear locking differentials, remote-controlled swingarm disconnect and rugged 33-inch BF Goodrich AT tires that appear to be military grade.
I took the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 into the mountains of Southern California and it was simply unstoppable – and an absolute explosion to pilot.
The robust 4×4 was unaffected by dirt, sand, gravel, stones. It simply overcame (or through) every obstacle that seemed untouched. Ground clearance was never a problem. At low range, the V8 engine gives it incredible torque and power – no matter how steep or challenging the hill is. I bet Rubicon 392 could climb the granite cliffs of Yosemites El Capitan if it had the grip!
As mentioned, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 is significantly more expensive than the other 4- or 6-cylinder Jeep Wrangler offers – the base price is around $ 74,000 (if it sounds steep, keep in mind that an aftermarket V8 solution will cost more and it wins “does not have a full factory warranty).
That money buys the most capable, and most powerful, off-road vehicle offered by all car manufacturers today – aka bragging rights. When you think about how fun the $ 74,000 Rubicon 392 is to drive, and then add the model’s likely resale value – I call this powerful V8-powered Jeep a bargain.