Review: Jeep finally made a V8 Wrangler. Is the Rubicon 392 a hit?

The last time Jeep shoved a V8 engine under the hood of its flagship all-terrain machine, a young Tom Cruise climbed into the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat and flew it from the deck of an aircraft carrier into an endless sky of film. superstar.

Flash forward four decades to 2022 and a lot has changed—that is, if we’re not talking about Hollywood or the Jeep. An older, wiser and infinitely richer Cruise has returned to theaters to star in the sequel to the most successful Navy recruiting film of all time. While lurking on the lot of your local dealership, an overmuscled icon growls to life, the tonal horror of its exhaust rumbling back through the years to sync with the long-gone CJ-7 Renegade’s own aural emissions.

Jeep fans have been clamoring for an eight-cylinder edition of the Wrangler to match its ancestor for nearly as long as parent Chrysler’s revived Hemi engine has been on the order list for siblings like the Grand Cherokee and Commander. But after spending some time behind the wheel of a 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, it’s very clear why it took so many years for the automaker to offer a full nuclear option with its anachronistic 4×4.

While there’s no doubt that the Rubicon 392’s beef injection gives it unprecedented levels of grin-inducing power, the same steroid situation proves that the universe is nothing if not balanced by accentuating the worst qualities of the Wrangler platform. Whether that matters to you depends entirely on why you’re attracted to the idea of ​​an outdoor all-terrain machine that constantly pushes you to make a bad decision that its ancient stilt-walking chassis almost certainly won’t help you recover from.

It looks like your standard four-door Wrangler, but get behind the wheel and you’ll quickly realize this is a completely different beast.

Stellantis

The return of the V8 Jeep Wrangler

Lest you think I’m exaggerating about the Wrangler Rubicon 392’s propensity for mayhem, let’s do a quick rundown of its specs. The SUV has a 6.4-liter V8 that has been tuned to produce 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. For those keeping score, that’s 175 extra lb-ft of twist more than the second-most torquey, gas-powered Wrangler powertrain and 185 more ponies than Jeep’s standard V6. Only the plug-in hybrid Wrangler 4xe matches the 392 thanks to its electric motor capabilities.

Jeep’s track masters struggle to keep a straight tiller on tarmac even in the best of circumstances, and I can assure you that almost doubling the engine power doesn’t come close to qualifying as fair sailing. Throw in the fact that the Rubicon 392 rides on huge 33-inch all-terrain tires (or 35-inch BFGoodrich KO2s with the Xtreme Recon package installed), whose bumps and bobs are better suited to throwing mud than holding a steady course on pavement, and that its solid front axle occasionally shrugs when asked to parse a steering command, and you have a general template for power-induced pandemonium.

The two front seats of the 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, an off-road SUV with a V8 engine

If your passengers forget what they’re getting into, it’s right there on the seats.

Stellantis

Unleash the off-road excess

That the Rubicon 392 is only available in the long-wheelbase, four-door Unlimited body style alleviates some of the full-throttle panic, but really, it’s like giving a cheat sheet to a dog sitting for the LSATs. Hopelessly overmatched, the Wrangler platform responds to every acceleration by trying to roar madly in every direction, the wild bark of its quad-tip sport exhaust sending out a plea for help as it heads toward almost certain doom.

No Wrangler was meant to see the other side of 60 mph in just four seconds, and spending any of those hours strapped behind the wheel quickly convinces even the most die-hard enthusiast of that fact. Rubicon 392 is an agent of chaos, the snapping, all-crushing harbinger of universal entropy, and the impregnable embodiment of the certainty that the center will not hold.

Who is this four-wheel-drive wetsuit aimed at? Apparently it’s forged for the same off-road crowd that has always enjoyed the Rubicon’s exceptional go-anywhere prowess, but also needed the existential dread that comes with pairing rocket-sled acceleration with penny-farthing handling. Just as robust as more responsible versions of the Rubicon, the 392 adds the requirement for extreme throttle when traversing loose or slippery terrain, lest one trigger an avalanche, rock slide or mud tsunami. Unleash on a fairly flat stretch of desert tarmac (perhaps the least dangerous of all potential Rubicon 392 environments), the SUV’s functional hood scoop will happily suck up dusty air as you aim, flat-footed, into oblivion — or the Wrangler’s 112 mph top speed, whichever comes first.

A red 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, a version of the SUV with a V8 engine, climbing a cliff face

“A caricature of performance … this is not a vehicle built for everyone, not even for most people.”

Stellantis

The first and last of its kind

Is it possible to drive and survive the excessive inclination of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392? Of course. Disable the temptations of its dual-mode exhaust, pop the right pedal and the Jeep simmers along, its eight cylinders cut to four by a variable-displacement system whose confused blats and whumps take much of the commotion out of the commute.

Without the distractions of powertrain histrionics, it’s easier to focus on the areas of the Jeep that raise eyebrows given its $80,000 starting price: a stereo system that struggles to be heard over road and wind noise, the unpainted interior panels of the Wrangler’s removable hardtop, the fact that it returns 17 mpg highway (on a long downhill with a strong tailwind). These are costs that blow your mind alongside the 392’s hefty monthly payment, to say nothing of the focus required to reign in the wanderings of its gumball tires and club axles.

Jeep is fully aware of the Rubicon 392’s weaknesses and feel. A caricature of performance intended to shift the conversation away from the well-received Bronco and its upcoming muscle-shirted Raptor model, this is not a vehicle built for everyone, not even most. Someone willing to pay nearly double the Wrangler’s base price to triple the worst aspects of the SUV’s on-road personality is in possession of a personality that values ​​absurd straight-line speed, dune-bashing suspension bravado and a proven will over all other concerns.

Meanwhile, the first and last of its kind, Rubicon 392 is a ferocious dinosaur whose earth-shaking bellows foretell its own impending extinction as the world turns away from tar pits and toward an electrified future.

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