Auto review: With V-8 power, Wrangler Rubicon 392 is King of the Jeeps

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 (Stellantis)
advertisement
Testing Article Top Adspace

Henry Payne The Detroit News (TNS)

Well, you just knew the mad scientists at Stellantis had this up their sleeve. First came the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Then the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat family sedan. Followed by the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk family SUV.

Now doff your cap to the earth-shaking 470-horsepower Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 off-road vehicle stuffed with the same 392-cubic-inch V-8 found in the Dodge Challenger Scat Pack, for goodness sake. The forest will never be the same.

I took the juiced Wrangler to Holly Oaks ORV Park in Holly, Mich., and made the trees shake. The ground quake. The rocks crumble. After I hurtled around the dirt track at obtuse angles, Joey Logano approached me and asked if he could enter the Wrangler in next year’s NASCAR Bristol dirt race.

advertisement

Jeep’s compact SUV is insane. My only question is: was the alphanumeric 392 badge the best marketing could come up with?

How about Beast? Hulk? Was Hellboy taken?

After all, Jeep executives have made clear they don’t have room to fit the supercharged 700-plus horsepower Hellcat engine in the Wrangler without compromising crumple safety zones — so this is the highest-flying V-8-powered Wrangler we’re going to get. Heck, at $74,995 it actually costs more than a Challenger Hellcat. If an alphanumeric badge it must be, how about 666?

The Wrangler Rubicon 392 is a treat from the moment you push the Start button on the dash.

BRAAAPP! The 6.4-liter V-8 roars to life like someone stuck the Kraken with a hot poker (was Kraken taken?). Unlike its sedan and SUV peers, the Wrangler is wonderfully uninsulated due to its removable doors and roof, so the sounds wash over you like a wave.

Anyone who thinks we’ll only be driving electric cars in the future hasn’t heard this pure sound. My Jeep friend Joe instantly fell in love. When his kids turn 16, they’ll get his V-6-powered Rubicon. Dad’s getting the 392.

Hustling up I-75 to Holly Oaks, it’s impossible to resist jumping on the throttle over 3,000 RPM. The soft suspension throws the Wangler’s head back. The huge 33-inch tires churn. Eight cylinders sound like jackhammers in the asphalt.

Naturally, Jeep dressed the 392 in full Rubicon off-road battle dress so that you could enjoy all the amenities the King of Off-road has to offer. The Jeep faithful will strip off the doors and peel back the roof to get even closer to the V-8 roar. If we had done that on this sun-soaked Saturday morning — a day after heavy rains in southeast Michigan — we would have been caked with mud from head to toe. We left the doors on.

A red Wrangler Rubicon is a beautiful canvas to paint with mud. Now that’s landscape art.

When not destroying sports cars out of stoplights, the 392 loses none of its abilities off-road. Indeed, the 392 is raised another inch to encourage you to take it where the asphalt ends.

That extra inch is functional — a testament to the extensive re-engineering Jeep’s surgeons did to make this Frankenjeep monster a reality. The engine bay has been extensively reworked to fit the taller, longer, hungrier V-8. The hood scoop is real, and more airways are available should it get blocked or overwhelmed by a wave of muck while treading up to 32 inches of water.

Years ago, a mod shop stuffed a Porsche 968 motor into my Porsche 944 (more power! Uh uh uh!) engine bay, requiring extensive plumbing. And that was just swapping a 2.5-liter 4-banger for a 3.0-liter four. Ask an aftermarket shop to upgrade your Jeep Rubicon to a V-8 and you’re likely looking at a bill north of $40,000. Jeep does it for $24,000 over the standard Rubicon.

The Frankenstein transformation doesn’t stop at the engine bay. In addition to the aforementioned lift, the ladder frame gets stiffening, and the suspension gains Fox performance shocks and muscular Dana axles off the Gladiator pickup.

Bottom line: this is the most capable Jeep Wrangler ever, with 10.3 inches of ground clearance and an absurd 4.5-second 0-60 dash. Even the Rubicon’s legendary approach/breakover/departure angles increase up 44.5/22.6/37.5 degrees. Boowah-haw-haw!

Scaling the South Face of the park’s Sandbox area is a formidable task as you have to accelerate up a sandy hill that steepens to 31 degrees (think Daytona’s high banking) at the top.

With 470 pound-feet of torque, my 392 fearlessly attacked the obstacle, flinging sand plumes from its knobby tires. At the top of the ridge Wrangler surveyed its Jeep kingdom below like Simba on Pride Rock. Ah, when the Ford Bronco arrives this summer, the fur will fly at Holly Oaks.

Soft ground after overnight rains demands extra safety vigilance over Holly Oaks’ steep, 200-foot drops. I manhandled the transfer case shifter into 4-low, locked front and rear axles, disconnected the swaybar and grunted across muddy Darlene’s Ridge — the huge 33-inch tires slipping and sliding but clawing for grip.

Grip was an issue on the steep rocks of the park’s signature Mashed Potato hill on Mt. Magna for some V-6-powered Rubicons. For the V-8, it was a piece of cake, the suspension lift adding extra clearance for the rugged frame.

On Holly Oaks’ challenging five-turn Glen short course, I turned off traction control to allow the rear end to really hang loose. I’ve overcooked the course’s moguls before — separating a Ford Ranger Tremor’s tire from its rim — but the Wrangler 392 comes standard with bead locks to protect against separation anxiety.

As I’m 6’ 5”, my biggest concern was hitting my noggin on the roll bar as we flew over hillocks.

For its ultimate workhorse, Jeep has spared nothing. The 392 gets signature bronze tow hooks, leather 392 seat badging, a Sky One Touch roof, front-facing crawl camera, paddle shifters — even a quiet mode button on the dash should you want to hear the person in the backseat over the wail of the V-8.

But if it’s quiet you’re looking for on your off-road wanderings, get the plug-in hybrid 4xe that I recently tested in Texas. You can stealthily sneak around Holly Oaks and listen to every twig snap under your 33s.

The 392, on the other hand, is all about teeth-baring, chest-thumping dominance.

I know, let’s call it Kong.

——

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

Vehicle type: Front engine, four-wheel-drive, five-passenger compact SUV

Price: $74,995, including $1,495 destination fee ($78,545 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.4-liter V-8

Power: 470 horsepower, 470 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (mfr.); towing capacity, 3,500 pounds

Weight: 5,100 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 13 city/17 highway/14 combined

Report card

Highs: Off-road cred; a Hemi V-8 in a Wrangler, need I say more?

Lows: Drinks gas; gotta shout to be heard in the cabin

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

©2021 www.detroitnews.com. Visit at detroitnews.com.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.