2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Road Test Review | Pounding pavement the American way
11 hours ago
Bigger. Taller. Faster. Louder. Sure, but if there’s any single word to describe the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392, it’s “more” – as in more power, more speed, and arguably even a little more capability. (Also, more words. Check out that name!). A 470-horsepower Jeep Wrangler may not be what the world needs, but to Jeep fans (of which I am one), this was a long time coming.
The Wrangler hasn’t had a V8 since, well, ever; the most recent generation of dedicated Jeep off-roader with an available V8 was the CJ, which predated the Wrangler nameplate. The current (JL) generation marks the first time the Jeep Wrangler has even been offered with more than one engine since the TJ was retired after 2006. The last-gen (JK) model started life with a 3.8-liter V6 (also known as the “minivan” engine) before it got the 3.6-liter Pentastar (also, strictly speaking, a minivan engine), but whichever V6 was available in a particular model year, that’s what you got. No options.
With the JL, that changed dramatically. Now, it’s six: a 2.0-liter turbo-four, the latest 3.6-liter Pentastar, an “eTorque” mild-hybrid version of that V6, a 3.0-liter turbodiesel, the 4xe plug-in hybrid system, and this one – the 6.4-liter V8. Argue as you will over the exact powertrain hierarchy, but in the Jeep world, the 392 will be regarded by many as the top dog. With this much power (and a matching 470 pound-feet of torque), it’s certainly no puppy, and it’s thrown together with conventional parts to boot. That sort of thing matters to folks who take their cars off public roads; whether you prefer the trail or the track, a known quantity is a comfort.
At first blush, the Rubicon 392 is merely a top-spec Wrangler Unlimited with a V8 in place of the V6, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Fitting that 6.4-liter meant modifying a front crossmember and shuffling some other bits around. One glance at the engine bay and you’ll have no problem imagining why: It’s snug in there. While you’ve got it open, peep at that big integrated hood intake. It’s functional!
The 392’s prodigious torque output (not something the Pentastar is known for, I assure you) dictated taller gearing and an always-on 4WD system. Unlike most Wranglers, there’s no part-time 4WD system available on the 392, which you’ll come to appreciate the first time you give it a bit too much gas on a wet roadway. Sending power to all four wheels under normal driving conditions also helps propel the 392 to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and clear the quarter mile in 13 flat.
That brings us to the tires, which are also pretty much standard Rubicon fare. That’s a good thing in terms of off-road capability, but it hamstrings the 392’s top speed. Most normal Rubicon buyers may not care that their rigs can’t eclipse the 100-mph mark, but the 392 shopper might.
The 392’s most subtle differentiations are found on the exterior, which may seem odd for a Jeep, but the Rubicon is already so over-inflated and boundlessly bedecked with burly bits that the “392” badges on the hood bulge are easily missed. Don’t worry, though. The performance exhaust guarantees that you’ll be heard long before you’re seen. No other factory Wrangler sounds this good, and it’s not even close.
Apart from that, it boasts 10.3 inches of ground clearance (just half an inch less than the regular Rubicon) and an approach angle of 44.5 degrees, a departure angle of 37.5 degrees and a breakover of 22.6 degrees. Those approach and departure figures actually best the other Rubicon variants. Jeep says the 392 can also traverse up to 32.5 inches of water and benefits from a unique air induction system that can divert as much as 15 gallons of water per minute away from engine. It also has a secondary intake just in case that hood scoop becomes obstructed.
Now, the bad news. For starters, the 392 is automatic-only, so if you want to row your own behind a 6.4, the Dodge Challenger remains your only option. It’s also heavy, thanks to that honkin’ iron-block V8. At 5,100 pounds, it’s also just about as heavy as the battery-packed 4xe hybrid, and with the included 2-inch lift, that weight’s up high.
You’ll feel every bit of it behind the wheel, too. It’s tall, loose, and heavy. Believe it or not, Wranglers aren’t hopelessly ponderous vehicles. Don’t get me wrong; if you’re in an even remotely sporty car and struggling to keep up with a Wrangler driver on a twisty back road, seek performance driving lessons immediately. That said, the uninitiated would likely be surprised by just how nimble a Wrangler can be – especially if you’re talking about a two-door, but I digress.
The 392 just drives big, and it’s more difficult to place as a result. While that didn’t seem to be a problem in Jeep’s controlled off-road scenario, I have a hard time believing it would be entirely inconsequential when things get tight and pointy.
And while it still fundamentally drives like a Wrangler, the added heft magnifies a lot of the quirks of its characteristic on-road behavior. It’s not any more prone to wandering, nor does it require more corrective inputs than a run-of-the-mill Rubicon, but you’re more likely to notice them because there’s simply more Jeep between you and the road.
The good news is that it does most of the things that actually make a Wrangler so fun and characterful on the road even better than a regular Wrangler does. It looks great, it sounds great and it’s available with multiple tops, so if those are the things you value in Jeep ownership, you’re golden.
But this isn’t just a Wrangler 392, it’s Wrangler Rubicon 392, and frankly I think that’s a bit of a miss. If ever a Wrangler was built for parading around town on a sunny day with the top down, this is it, and I question how many owners will do anything more with it. Oh, sure, there will be folks who absolutely must wheel their almost-$80,000 toys, but I predict they will be outliers. Feel free to prove me wrong; it’s your wallet. Oh, and send us the videos.
But that thought process leads me to yet another inevitability: If we’re to assume that the 392 is a good idea in a Wrangler, it seems like an even better one in a Gladiator, where the power could be put to more practical use. Besides, what do pickup buyers love more than a good, old-fashioned V8? It seems far more appropriate for a high-speed off-roader like, say, the Gladiator Mojave.
The Rubicon 392 is a loud, boisterous, badass example of fan service. It checks the “factory V8 Wrangler” box, but it’s no more than the sum of its parts. It’s one of those things that seems like it should exist, so I appreciate that it does, but with a price starting at over $75,000, it’s more a symbol for the true believers than a must-have for the off-road enthusiast.