SUV Review: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

The Wrangler 392 is all serious about having ridiculous amounts of fun

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There’s an old internet meme from I Can Haz Cheezburger? days that read “Coffee: Do stupid things faster and with more energy.” And that basically sums up the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392. It has all the off-road chops a Wrangler Rubicon has always had, but now it also has a 470-hp 6.4L V8. Oh, hell yes, it does.

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I like to imagine a large vinyl banner hanging under the fluorescent lights in Stellanti’s engineering department. And in all-caps red letters it said, “Company policy is to install the Hellcat V8 in all vehicles where it fits.” And engineers looked at the wicked orange Hellcat engine sitting on the concrete floor, in all its 700-pound supercharged glory, and then they looked at a perfect Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. And they squinted.

In a rare moment of sanity from the company that will sell you an 800-hp purple sedan or a 707-hp three-row SUV, Jeep decided to “only” install the 6.4L “392” V8 in the venerable Wrangler, and not Hellcat. And they made beautiful madness out of the combination anyway.

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Trapped within the Jeep’s fenders, the mighty 6.4L engine makes 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, down from the 485 hp it would make if it were slotted into a Charger or Challenger. One might think that this lower output is because the Jeep requires a more restrictive exhaust manifold, but it only takes one push of the starter button to find out that theory is false. The 392 is so loud on startup, I checked under it to see if the previous driver had ripped holes in the muffler. No, it turns out that it does just that.

To be fair, the Jeep 392 comes with a standard selectable dual-mode exhaust system that lets the driver set it between high mode and anti-social high mode. It also automatically opens the baffle at wide open throttle, so if you pass someone on the freeway, they’ll know. At idle, the 392 rumbles like a big-block jet boat and sounds like every inch of that V8 is ready to tear up a quarter mile.

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And boy, hey, can it ever. Jeep claims the 5,100-lb Wrangler will hurl itself to 60 mph from zero in 4.5 seconds, and independent testing has recorded it doing so as quickly as 4.0. Put your foot down on that roaring V8 and you’re exactly a quarter mile from where you started in 13.0 seconds. In a Wrangler. The Jeep will eventually hit a governor at 110 mph, which is because it’s still a Jeep.

Unlike Jeep’s own Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, the Wrangler 392 doesn’t give up an inch of off-road capability for its fearsome acceleration. In fact, when properly equipped, the 392 is the most capable off-road SUV on sale.

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That’s because you can option it with the “Extreme Recon” package that includes 35-inch tall tires on 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels. These are the largest tires ever installed on a Wrangler from the factory. (Stock Rubicon tires are 33-inch units.) As if that weren’t enough, you also get a 1.5-inch extension over the lift that the standard Rubicon already has, and a 4.56:1 final drive ratio to accommodate the huge tires. All this makes for a completely unstoppable off-road vehicle.

Put the Jeep in low range and there’s nothing it can’t crawl over with its optional front and rear diff lockers. With the massive tires, massive power, and incredible approach and departure angles, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to call the Jeep Wrangler 392 Extreme Recon the single most capable off-road vehicle you can buy today. It is so good. When I drove it out in the Angeles Forest in California, I lost my nerve long before the Wrangler did.

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Too bad it doesn’t have a way. Jeep may have added a V8 to the Wrangler, but it hasn’t added an ounce of increased civility. Highway noise is a shade below “unbearable,” and the Jeep’s steering wanders like a lost child in the supermarket. Presumably the 392 uses front seats with improved bolsters, but I didn’t notice any difference from the standard Wrangler seats.

A drive in the 392 is physically draining. And it will empty your wallet too. Thanks to the huge V8, low (numerically high) gears and massive tires, the Jeep gets predictably dismal fuel economy. It’s rated at 18.1L/100km city; and highway 13.8. It’s worth noting that the 392 requires at least 91 octane gas. It drinks the good stuff.

The Jeep Wrangler 392 is a serious all-terrain vehicle, and yet it exists almost entirely for fun. Complaining about the soundproofing in this would be like complaining about the lack of air conditioning in a ski boat. It is not intended. Jeep seems to know the writing is on the wall for happy celebrations of fossil-fueled vehicles like this, and is going out with a V8 bang instead of a whimper. Dodge announced that the Hellcat won’t see production until 2023, and I doubt this gorgeous Jeep will make it past then either. The Jeep Wrangler 4xe is the future, and Jeep probably knows it. Even Keith Richards had to curtail his favorite habits to ensure his continued survival. The Jeep 392 is a gluttonous kind of fun, a truly unique vehicle, and one I don’t think will be around much longer. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Clayton sews

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