Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 doesn’t understand compromises

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392. I came here to tell you that the 6.4-liter V8 engine is too big and too heavy for the Wrangler. I came to say that having 470-horsepower is just dumb in a vehicle that’s designed to conquer Moab. I expected to tell you that high center of gravity and soft suspension designed for maximum axle articulation cannot cope well with all that power. And that all of this is connected to ancient stick axles which even muscle cars ceased to use is just dumb. I came here to tell you that all of this is just a huge recipe for disaster.

And yet…

And yet… sonofabitch, it works. It somehow fucking works! Not only does it work, it works in the most hilarious, brilliant, and lovable way.

Hook color and Gladiator Mojave-like hood are the big frontal differences.

Differences

The 392 has more cylinders than other Wranglers. It is two inches taller, too. The hood looks pretty cool. It’s got a unique set of wheels but the same 33-inch tires (a package with taller gearing and 35″ tires has since been introduced). And the trim is just slightly different, just enough to make you look twice.

Oh, and it’s much louder!

Despite all this, it is actually subtle. Sort of. It does not really look much different than so many other slightly modified Rubicons. The biggest visual difference is in the front, in form of a specific hood and golden tow hooks. In the back, the only differentiation is the dual exhaust and the noises that come out of it.

More subtlety is carried over to the inside, where the only distinguishable differences are seat embroidery and a specific dash trim color. The 392 comes pretty much fully loaded, with heated leather seats, big screen infotainment, and a kick ass audio system.

For specific technical details on the Wrangler Rubicon 392, check out my write-up for Hagerty. While there, also checkout my write up on the Wrangler diesel. The diesel is torque-y but not as fast or dramatic, but it is a lot more efficient. And in my opinion it is the proper engine for the Wrangler.  

Two-inch lift kit, hood, and specific wheels set the 392 apart from lesser Wranglers.

Driving

The combination of power, extra weight, taller ride height, and additional weight should yield all the agility of a tipsy college freshman. Yet, the V8 Wrangler drives great. In fact, the extra weight results in a ride that is much smoother than the lesser gasoline models. This is still designed to be a softly sprung off-roader, so there is pronounced yaw and body dive but it is very predictable and should not bite an experienced driver in the butt on the street.

The best thing for anyone to do with the Wrangler 392 is to take it easy at first. Chassis dynamics, and physics, are very pronounced in this vehicle. It will gently remind you that driving mistakes masked by your 3-series will be exposed here. Brake early. Accelerate once your wheels are straight. Understeer is very pronounced, so learn how to avoid it. With that, your Wrangler 392 experience will get so much better.

The 392 is very fast. 0-60 comes in just around the four second mark. It kills the quarter mile in about 12.8 seconds, topping out at around 100mph to which it is, wisely, limited to from the factory. These were very fast sports car specs not long ago. Now it can be achieved in a vehicle with removable doors, a folding windshield, and almost a foot of ground clearance.

This is madness.

It’s got a slight drinking problem…

Secret Sauce

What I really could not figure out is how Jeep engineers managed to develop this driving civility. In theory, on paper it does not work. But in life it sure does. I concluded that there are two aspects that contribute to this civility. One is the full-time four-wheel-drive system. The second, oddly, is the additional weight.

The MP3022 transfer case has electronically-controlled clutch pack. It is a variable system that automatically shifts power between a 50 percent front/rear split to 100 percent rear when in 4WD Hi. In 4WD Low, the clutch pack is locked to 50/50 front/rear power split. In street hooning, this full-time system makes this tall Wrangler easier to drive, and safer, then a typical part-time system would. This comes at expense of doing burnouts. Boohoo, get a Challenger if you want to do burnouts.

I noticed a certain phenomena about the Wrangler Rubicon 392. The diesel and the plug-in hybrid 4xe also fit that mold. These three Wrangler models ride significantly better than the conventional V6 and four-cylinder models. This is due to the added weight to both vehicles. In all these cases, Jeep accidentally solved one of the Wrangler’s biggest problems, which is a bouncy ride.

Very loud button!

It’s got a Loud Button!

Where the engine start/stop button is located on conventional Wranglers, the 392 get a button that looks like a pair binoculars. It is the quiet/loud button for the exhaust and it’s phenomenal. When respecting your residential neighborhood, or cruising around while chatting with your passengers, the quiet mode allows one to retain all the composure of a considerate, grown-up adult.

For the times when your inner teenager hooligan comes out, or for those sprints through local tunnels, the loud mode will make you grin. And it is not just loud – it is very loud. It is Hellcat loud, less the whine of the compressor. It is downright hilarious and itself worth the price of admission.

Bottom Line

It is amazing what the Jeep has become in the form of the JL Wrangler. The CJ-7 I had in high school would often start and never had heat. The only adjustment on seat was a slider. The JL, is supremely refined in comparison to that CJ. It’s no longer a military-based utility vehicle. It’s a modern vehicle in every way but it also retains so much of its original functions and quirks. It’s capable, functional, fun, and unmistakable.

The powerful V8 engine adds an element of speed and muscle to that. It takes so many reasons away from having a companion sporty vehicle to the Jeep. It is not a vehicle for everyone and when its $90,000 price tag is concerned, it’s not a vehicle for most. But it can be multiple vehicles for many people in one. It’s crazy, it’s unnecessary, and it has no right to be as amazing as it is. It is the best Jeep Wrangler ever made. But it’s not the one I would buy…

Ditch the fancy air intake and there might be enough room between the hood and the top of that engine for a blower.
I did some hard core off-roading, far further than most owners would.

7 Comments

  1. One of the coolest vehicles I’ve ever driven, so much fun. My issue was that it needed rocket launchers or something for $90K. I drove around like I did in the Civic Type R, assuming that every person with a lesser version would bow before me. They didn’t, because most of the Jeep drivers didn’t even know WTF it was. It’s too subtle. Which is likely why I was on the loud pedal a lot!

    1. “assuming that every person with a lesser version would bow before me”

      YES!!! And I felt so disrespected when they didn’t!!

  2. It is in no way a direct comparison (because horsepower is HUGE these days), but back when I built my ’77 CJ-7 Renegade, I originally dropped in a fresh 258 inline six to replace the grenaded 304 V8. It was a great little stump-puller, but when you pull off all of the smog hoses from an inline-six of the 80s era, they never quite run right. The fuel-injected 4.0L would have been a better choice, if I’d had one readily available. We were a Ford/AMC family, so I had inline sixes at my disposal.

    I later found a 360 V8 from an early-70s J10 and decided to swap it in. My father (who was helping me on the project) thought it was too much. I sincerely hoped it would be too much! But it wasn’t. The extra weight actually softened up the ride of the heavy-duty springs, the ocean of low-end torque made crawling a breeze, and the sound from the twin exhaust was melodious. Yes, four-wheel burnouts were possible, but I saved the silliness for the trail. For the time, it was a very powerful CJ. It was absolutely nothing compared to a modern fire-breathing 392 Wrangler, but it was hella fun. I can completely understand how this V8 option could be an almost “logical” choice.

      1. At the time, I was able to acquire the 360 V8 for less than the cost of a fuel-injected 4.0L six from a wreck, and it was also cheaper than the TBI kit I could order to fit the carbureted 258. The J10 pickup cost me only $350 (the body was shot, but the engine and transmission had only 50K miles on them). Thinking as a wiser old dude, I would now go with the FI 4.0, but as a 20-something “kid”, I wanted the V8.

        Anyway, back to the relevant topic: Despite being overkill, the 392 Wrangler would be tempting as hell if not for the price. The 3.6L Pentastar V6 is probably the only thing that’s kept me from buying a modern Wrangler or Gladiator. I hate that engine– its power curves seem much more fitting for a car (but I don’t really like it in those applications, either). Only gearing makes it usable in the Jeeps.

        1. So, the diesel, available on both the Wrangler and Gladiator, is pretty amazing. I could live with it for decades. Excluding the pricey diesel, the Wrangler-only 4-cyl turbo is a great choice. For better or worse, all of those come only matched up with (excellent) automatic transmissions.

          For a Wrangler, there is one more delicious option which I’ll discuss in the near future.

          1. Either the diesel or the turbo four would be an excellent choice if offered with a manual. I feel that driving a Jeep should be a tactile experience, so I don’t want an automatic. Yes, I realize they’re “great” as automatics go, but in my opinion that’s like someone saying they had a “wonderful vasectomy”. Automatics get the job done, but I want more interaction with the vehicle. (Everything I’ve read here suggests the manual that’s paired up to the V6 isn’t very good anyway, so perhaps it wouldn’t be good with those engines, either.)

            So, I’ve currently pinned my hopes on buying a 4-cylinder, manually-shifted Bronco in a couple of years.

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