The 2024 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 is the perfect example of something that makes no sense whatsoever somehow making all the sense in the world. As if Hellcat-powered Durangos weren’t proof enough, Stellantis putting the biggest naturally-aspirated engine in its toolbox into its vehicle worst-suited to controlling the big ‘ol V8 6.4L Hemi beast is little more than a sign that the company has officially lost its marbles in the best way possible. And yet, as it turns out, one of the least sensible vehicles on sale today is one of the best, and with the 392-powered Wrangler, Jeep has created something truly special.
A V8-powered open-top Jeep isn’t a new proposition. The brand offered an AMC-sourced V8 in its CJ-5 many decades and model designations ago, but it has never offered eight cylinders in a model bestowed with the Wrangler branding. That didn’t stop the enthusiasts: As recently as the TJ, JK, and even before the factory built 392 Wrangler launched in 2021, consumers have long gone to the aftermarket to add cylinders to the Wrangler in what is usually a rather expensive proposition.
In most cases, this rings to the tune of anywhere from $5,000 for a DIY job with a home-brew setup and a junkyard motor to $20,000 or more for a reputable shop to install a fresh engine in a manner that makes it look and feel like it came that way from the factory.
Time for some math: Take a no-option 2024 JL Rubicon Unlimited which starts at around $50k and send it to an upfitter for a properly done $25k conversion and the job is already within sight of the JLUR 392’s ~$90k base price. Throw some options on the JLU Rubicon X’s ~$62k base price to equip it like a factory 392 (which comes with a lot of the lower-spec models’ optional equipment as standard) and it quickly becomes $70k, so adding a V8 conversion is a financial wash between buying it from the factory (with a full warranty and the breadth of Stellantis’ R&D department backing up the thing) and not. See? The JLUR 392 makes financial sense.
The Wrangler 392 makes sense on the road, too. This is far and away the best driving Wrangler ever to come from the factory. Whatever Jeep did to beef the thing up makes for a significantly improved driving experience over anything the 3.6L V6 Pentastar (with either the manual or automatic transmission) or the 2.0L turbocharged Hurricane I4 provides. The 392-equipped JLUR is also more buttoned down, planted, and better handling than a Wrangler has any right to be.
Kudos to the engineers that not only made the most of the 6.4L Hemi but curated and enhanced the rest of the package to make it worthy of housing an engine likely not originally meant to live in this chassis. Don’t get me wrong; It’s still a Wrangler, and it doesn’t love highways or crosswinds or rapid surface changes the way a vehicle with independent front suspension or that isn’t shaped like a brick does, but it’s the best version of the Wrangler experience by a country mile.
It also goes without saying that the 392 is the best engine ever fitted to a Wrangler. It’s not just a good engine in its own right, but it somehow makes perfect sense in this vehicle. The JL platform handles it with ease, never overwhelmed by double the power of what most would deem ample for the rig. And though the torque makes it a hoot from stoplight to stoplight, the engine’s main party trick is the Active Exhaust which, with the press of a button, changes the output from burly to blasphemous.
It’s a weird world in which a Wrangler makes the best muscle car sounds out there, but that didn’t stop Jeep from unleashing the best 6.4L Hemi exhaust note we’ve gotten to experience on unsuspecting bystanders. Holy hell does it sound great; at any amount of throttle the relative lack of insulation allows the Hemi to rumble through the cabin, getting under your skin and seething into your soul. Pop the baffle mode to wide open and it’s one of the loudest, most violent exhaust notes from a mass-produced factory vehicle on sale today. Charger and Challenger owners can only dream of their stock pipes sounding like this.
The 392 Wrangler is also a surprisingly pleasant and comfortable place to be. The ride quality is great as far as Wranglers go. 35” tires on 17” wheels make for substantial sidewall which helps absorb bumps, but with the (finally) powered driver seat you can find a seating position that prior was completely unattainable. And while a new touchscreen and side curtain air bags improve the tech and safety, it’s more the notion that the Wrangler 392’s cabin has simply come together as a great, authentic interior that quietly has excellent materials and reasonably good fit-and-finish. The most comfortable, spacious, and quietest? No, but a Jeep Wrangler never will be. For what it is, and what the model is, this is as good as it gets.
All that said, there’s obviously qualms and compromises here and some of them are substantial. The exhaust can drone like crazy at low and mid-range RPM when the valve is closed, which was only amplified by the Sky One-Touch roof’s partial hard-top of my tester. Also, the gas mileage is dismal, but that’s no surprise. Expect to pay for premium fuel to the tune of 11-14 MPG in this thing. And, of course, the asking price is astronomical, even before dealer markups. The vehicle seen here has a base price of $87,595 and an as-tested price of $95,945 thanks to the $595 Firecracker Red paint, $3,795 Sky One-Touch Power Top, $1,995 Warn Winch, and $170 all-weather floor mats. That’s an enormous sum of money for a vehicle that shares its bones with fleet and rental vehicles priced in the $35-40k range, but it’s in line with the top-trim Ford Bronco, the “Braptor.” Still, inflation has certainly hit the Wrangler 392: The model stickered at $74,995 in its introductory year. Is it worth the money? If you have this much to spend on a Wrangler, that’s probably not a question that applies to you.
Money be damned, an admission: I’m a Jeep Wrangler fanboy. I grew up riding in my dad’s 1989 YJ, the vehicle that ultimately put me on the trajectory I’m on today. Much as I put my own money towards Toyota 4x4s, my first love was that of a roofless vehicle with a seven-slot grille. And as badly as I’ve wanted to own one, the JL-generation Wrangler Unlimited never quite worked for my life, even as much as I enjoy and appreciate it. But still, when Jeep announced they were putting the ‘ol SRT engine into its flagship, I knew it would be a winner. Long story short: If I had the money, I’d buy a 2024 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 in a heartbeat. It’s that great.
In a time of increasingly strict emissions and fuel economy standards, V8 engines built with a good time in mind are fading, and vanishing quickly. A Jeep Wrangler might not be what the 6.4L Hemi V8 is objectively best suited to, but it is, in my opinion at least, unquestionably the one it is subjectively best suited to. The 392 Wrangler is one of the most fun times you can have in a new vehicle today. It’s so silly and so pointless, but it also makes you smile and laugh endlessly which is, or at least in the enthusiast space should be, the point of anything with emotion tied to it in any capacity. The 2024 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 is one of the most fun, smile-inducing, raucous, hysterical vehicles on sale today, and in this era of automobiles as a whole. I absolutely love it.
[And apologies for the awful images; the Wrangler 392 honestly does deserve better. Every chance I had to photograph it was during absolutely dreadful weather conditions and I was too busy enjoying the glory of what is this vehicle to do a full photography setup in the pouring rain. But you know what they say about rain and luck…]