Jeep has had a very complicated relationship when it comes to giving its iconic Wrangler a V8 engine. While aftermarket companies have been doing it for years, Jeep resisted the urge to give its Wrangler an injection of V8-powered fun. But the rise of the Ford Bronco has finally finally forced Stellanti’s hand, and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 is the long-awaited fruit of this dream. But is it the case that you will never meet your heroes? Or is that the perfect definition of insanity?
A familiar cover hides the essentials
With all the magic happening under the hood, Jeep engineers kept the changes to the Wrangler Rubicon’s core design very minimal but also made a few to enhance its performance-focused mission. For example, the hood is lifted from a Gladiator Mojave and the hood is functional and is designed to channel air to the 6.4 liter V8 lurking under the hood. If the bucket becomes clogged with debris, a secondary intake also serves as an alternate air source.
Our example also came with the $3,995 Xtreme Recon package that gave it 35-inch off-road tires mounted on bronze 17-inch Beadlock wheels with an accompanying suspension lift to give it more ground clearance. The Wrangler 392 is also only available as a four-door Unlimited model (sorry two-door fans) with this version’s extra length actually needed to accommodate some of the beefed-up hardware needed to handle the V8’s beefier performance. Subtly isn’t a Wrangler 392 strong suit, and our tester attracted all kinds of attention from curious passersby, especially those who noticed the 392 badges on either side of the hood scoop.
Wrangler 392 interior needs better seats
With the Wrangler 392, the equivalent of the Indoraptor is from Jurassic Park Fallen Kingdom It should come as no surprise that the cabin is where some of the unstable parts of its genetic code begin to show. In true Jeep fashion, the cabin remains the functional masterpiece you’d expect from a traditional Wrangler Rubicon, and for better or worse, it manages to leave an impression. Material quality is very good for a Wrangler, and our tester came loaded with all kinds of goodies, including an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system, heated steering wheel, and other Wrangler must-haves.
Our tester also came with heated leather seats, but while emblazoned with Wrangler 392 logos on the seatbacks, the front seats lack the bolstering that would suggest you’re in a true performance offering, and we wished there were better backrests. The infotainment system also doesn’t get the SRT Performance side system (it gets the Off-Road sides instead) and that means you can’t change the driving experience to suit your distinct needs. Also, the Wrangler’s active exhaust system is always set to the highest setting by default, and you have to turn it to silent every time you start the Jeep for early morning jaunts through the neighborhood (unless your neighbors are cool with that sort of thing.)
The louder exhaust also highlights how much road and wind noise enters the cabin, but that’s always been because of the removable roof panels and doors so it’s best to give the Wrangler a pass here. We even invited my cousin’s daughter Sophia to come along for a weekend trip to Woodward Avenue. A future Jeep Wrangler owner in her own right, we put her in the backseat to find out how it went from her perspective. Her rating, the seats were comfortable but wished for more places to charge mobile devices. That could happen with the next-generation Wrangler as more buyers from Sophia’s generation and younger demand better integration of their mobile technology and places to charge them even in custom-built creations like the Wrangler.
V8 is the way to go in the Wrangler 392
Engineering challenges have always prevented the Jeep team from making a factory V8, and for decades V6 and four-cylinder engines were always the norm. But this V8-powered factory-backed monstrosity is sure to show buyers what they’ve been missing all these years. As mentioned, a 6.4 liter V8 lifted from the Charger and Challenger SRT is stuffed under the hood and is good for 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to launch the Wrangler to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, but the fun doesn’t go much higher than that with Xtreme Recon versions like our tester limited to a top speed of 112 mph. Jeep claims it did so to preserve the integrity of the beefy BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires, but that’s fine by us because this lovable mutant will be content to impress buyers with its stoplight sprinting skills.
While it can accelerate like a sports car, the similarities between them and this Wrangler end there, with our tester nowhere near matching them in terms of cornering and handling. Like other lifted Jeeps, you feel disconnected from the road, and the vague steering discourages any corner-cutting antics, preferring instead to let this thug go through turns at its own comfortable pace. That includes on trails and dirt roads, with some of the driving we did there revealing that it’s a tick when it comes to quieting ruts and bumpy cornering,
Fuel economy is a category the Wrangler 392 prefers to keep tucked away on a lone shelf in the closet, but for those curious, the EPA claims this beast gets 13 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway. Thankfully, it has cylinder deactivation technology to take full advantage of its waste, but we suspect most Wrangler 392 buyers aren’t buying it for its green factor anyway.
With the Wrangler 392 Rubicon as the equivalent of a mad-science experiment, pricing here reflects some of the upgrades needed to bring it to life with a base model starting at $76,635. Our Firecracker Eed example came with a modest list of options and that helped push the price over $80,000 before factoring any other fees and potential markups into the equation.
Its natural rival is the Ford Bronco Raptor which has a cheaper entry fee of $69,995 but the dino-inspired model doesn’t come with a V8 and it won’t be available in dealership lots until later this year. Another potential rival is the Mercedes-AMG G63. Although much more expensive than the Wrangler 392, it follows much the same blueprint, take a giant V8, put it in a brick-shaped off-road SUV and see what happens.
When it comes to being a vehicular expression of pure madness, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 manages to deliver a strong showing in that regard. It’s the answer to a question long asked by Jeep Wrangler fans, and its V8-powered fury delivers plenty of smiles in straight acceleration and trail work alike. Jeep claims this breed of Jeep will be a limited production run, but we’re sure Jeep may change its tune if the Rubicon 392 proves to be a popular hit with buyers.
Carl Malek has been a car journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before transitioning to writing in college, his work has appeared on many automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a huge fan of British vehicles and the bulk of his devotion goes to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG and Caterham. When not writing about cars, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.