2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 Quick Facts
6.4-liter V8 (470 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM, 470 lb-ft @ 4,300 RPM)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
13 city / 17 highway / 14 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
18.5 city / 14.1 highway / 16.5 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100 km)
$73,500 (US) / $101,445 (Canada)
$78,545 (US) / $111,445 (Canada)
Prices include US$1,495 destination charge and US$1,895 (up to US$2,795) shipping, PDI and A/C tax in Canada and, due to cross-border equipment differences, cannot be directly compared. Note: This trim was not available in Canada
No needs a V8 in a Jeep Wrangler. But sometimes brands do things just because they can. Which is the case with this particular Jeep – there’s a hell of a Hemi under the hood, for no other reason than Jeep can do it.
Well – there is another reason. The company can rake in some serious cash.
That’s because the addition of the 6.4-liter V8 puts a lot of weight on the price tag. My test vehicle stickered for almost 80 grand.
Eighty grand for a Wrangler. One that outside of the V8 and the Rubicon off-road trim – something found with other powertrains – adds very little to the overall Wrangler experience.
That said, the extra power—and the tailpipe, especially when the dual-mode exhaust system is properly tuned—is appreciated. I’ve driven a lot of Wranglers, and the 392 is the first one I’ve driven that had really decent punch. It might be overkill, but who cares? At least until it’s time to refuel – which is often.
Editor’s note: Even though we’re well into 2022, we’ll still be running reviews of some 2021 models, especially models that don’t change significantly for 2022. That’s partly because those models are important to the market, partly because yours truly was had to take some reviews back as they worked on other internal projects, and partly because some 2021s are still in the press fleet. In fact, I recently test drove a 2021 Bronco.
Choosing this Wrangler with Rubicon trim gets you a 6.4-liter V8 (470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, Fox shocks, up to 32.5-inch watershed, 33-inch tires, 2-inch lift , eight-speed automatic transmission and a crawl ratio of 48:1.
Aside from the V8, you have the bog-standard Wrangler experience, which means a rambling freeway ride that requires frequent steering corrections, plenty of road and wind noise that intrudes at speed, and a bouncy ride. That’s not bad, of course – the modern Wrangler’s interior is a nice place to do business, Uconnect is still one of the better infotainment systems out there, and there are plenty of off-road goodies, especially in Rubicon models, that you can use should you want have adventures off the pavement.
This writer had an adventure, all right. I took this Wrangler off-road and it acquitted itself just like any other Wrangler, although the extra torque seemed unnecessary on slicker surfaces (even with 4WD engaged and the axles locked appropriately). You might want the V8 for its burble, passing power or miserable excess, but you probably won’t need the extra oomph off-road.
Here’s the point of this piece where I rant – just like with the Ford Raptor from a few years ago, I got stuck. Large. It was a similar situation – went too slowly into a water filled hole and had no traction to get out. In my defense, part of the reason I didn’t just blast through was that the trail was slippery and there were trees on each side – too much throttle would probably have resulted in fishtailing that could have bent sheet metal.
I felt a little better about my dumbassery when the park ranger who winched me and my companion out told me that the same mud hole had killed a Mojave Gladiator the week before. Better, because the Mojave is as capable as the Rubicon and this waterhole took out two mean machines, but also worse, because the Gladiator was apparently heavily damaged.
As for this test rig, it got us home with no apparent drivability issues while on the move. That said, it stopped working when placed in Park.
I dug around on some forums after the incident and found that other Wrangler owners have reported the same problem occurring after off-roading if they got a little too dirty. Maybe rocks or dirt/mud got somewhere they shouldn’t and caused problems.
I also tried to pick Jeep’s brain about the incident – after profusely apologizing, of course – but was told that even if Jeep PR wouldn’t hold me to what happened (shit happens off road, no sheet metal was bent, I asked for apology, I was transparent, et cetera), they would prefer to keep any lessons learned in-house. I heard that the trans may have been replaced, although I couldn’t confirm that.
To be clear, I’m not saying the Jeep failed its off-road test – I did. And the Jeep gets credit – it got us home. So if you’ve got your eye on this Jeep in Rubicon trim, rest assured it’s as capable as any other Wrangler I’ve tested, and it fell victim to a bad decision. I’ll also give a shout-out to the air intake system for keeping the Jeep running even when it’s half submerged.
Bad days in the off-road park aside, the V8 Wrangler experience, especially in Rubicon trim, is much like the experience in most other Wranglers – you’re asked to sacrifice some comfort, as well as ride/handling, for off-road ability. Here you are further asked to make greater sacrifices – a much larger cash outlay and even worse fuel economy. The trade-off is a serious increase in power that is quite useful on the road, and may or may not help off the pavement, depending on the situation – sometimes more power is helpful, sometimes it’s unnecessary or even counterproductive.
Besides the engine, what does 80 grand get you? Full-time four-wheel drive of course and 3.73 rear axle ratio. Other standard features include locking front and rear axles, remote start, towbars, keyless entry and start, blind spot and rear cross traffic detection, heated front seats, Uconnect, Alpine audio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, audio, USB ports, Bluetooth , 17-inch wheels, three-piece body-colored hardtop, mudguards and automatic temperature control.
Optional features included Firecracker Red paint, a towing package, a cargo package, all-weather floor mats, terrain camera, and Jeep’s one-button powertop (replacing the body-color hard drive). The outside price, including the $1,495 destination charge, was $78,545.
Those dismal fuel economy numbers I hinted at? 13/17/14. Yes.
Once I shook off the shame of getting stuck (again) and put the Wrangler in perspective, I left with mixed feelings. Putting a V8 in a Wrangler sounds great, and when you step on the gas you understand why Jeep did it. But the extra power is probably not necessary for most off-road driving. I’m not even sure it’s that useful on the road – yes, I talked about how this Wrangler has a lot more power to match than most, but the other powertrains on offer aren’t completely anemic. They can do most fitting and joining work without much drama, especially if you’re patient.
Younger me would just, without much thought, say “screw it, V8 all things”. Older, more experienced me says that putting a V8 in a Wrangler is kind of like buying first class flights – it’s a lot more expensive and definitely more fun, but not absolutely necessary.
What’s new for 2021
The availability of V8 power and upgraded off-road capability.
Who will buy it
Those who absolutely, positively need V8 power in their Wrangler – and can afford the payments. And the fuel.
[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]