What Is It?
The Jeep Wrangler is easily one of the most recognizable vehicles on (or off) the road. Without changing the basic idea behind the brand’s legendary off-road nameplate, Jeep continues to iterate on the Wrangler, and for 2021 that means more power. For the first time since 1981, Jeep puts a V8 engine under the hood of its iconic off-roader, making the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 the most powerful Wrangler to ever emerge from a factory and creating, in effect, the equivalent of a Wrangler-based muscle car.
Jeep provided us with a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 painted in Sarge Green Clear-Coat. Sitting at the top of the Wrangler lineup, the Rubicon 392 comes with practically every additional item imaginable as standard equipment. The test vehicle did have a few additional options — such as a trailer towing package, a cargo group, all-weather floor mats and integrated off-road camera — for a total MSRP of $78,565.
At first glance, the Rubicon 392 looks almost like any other Wrangler, but on closer examination this potent SUV stands out thanks to a 40-mm raised hood with a functional air scoop taken from the Gladiator Mojave pickup, as well as a grille designed for better airflow. The sides of the air scoop are adorned with 392 badging.
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 gets lifted 2.0 inches higher than the standard Wrangler (1.0-inch higher than the standard Rubicon). Not only does this additional altitude provide a more aggressive stance, it becomes a requirement in order to package the large V8 engine.
To further differentiate the 392 from other Wranglers in the lineup, this HEMI-powered potentate gets bronze accents all around, including bronze traces around the Rubicon hood lettering, bronze front and rear tow hooks and a bronze outline on the Jeep badging. Rounding out the look are 17-inch bronze wheels with a beadlock option, fitted with 33-inch off-road tires.
Under the Hood
The last time Jeep Wrangler drew motivation from a V8 engine, it was a 5.0-liter unit producing 125 horsepower. In the four decades hence, technology has advanced considerably — Wrangler now gets a 6.4-liter (392-cubic-inch) V8 unit that generates 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission. (No manual gearbox will be offered with the big V8 powerplant.)
With almost 500 horsepower on tap, the Wrangler Rubicon 392 is one quick Jeep. Other drivers and onlookers alike will be shocked to see this boxy off-roader sprint to 60 mph in a hair under 4.5 seconds (we know this from experience). The Wrangler 392 can cover a quarter mile in a mere 13 seconds, although top speed gets limited to only 99 mph — since those big off-road tires aren’t designed for any higher speeds.
It may be the quickest production Wrangler ever, but the Rubicon 392 does not lose any of its Jeeplike capabilities. Ground clearance is a generous 10.3 inches and, when necessary, this high-performance Jeep can traverse up to 32.5 inches of water. The wide track and heavy-duty front and rear Dana 44 axles with electronic-locking differentials add to the impressive capability. Additionally, the front sway bar can be disconnected electronically for maximum suspension travel.
One reason the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 is so quick off the line: the Selec-Trac four-wheel-drive system. The Selec-Trac active transfer case has four modes: 4WD Auto, 4WD High, 4WD Low and Neutral — the latter allows the Jeep to be flat towed (all four wheels on the ground). The 392 cannot be configured with rear-wheel drive.
To handle the potent V8 engine lurking under the hood, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 gets upgraded frame rails, front upper control arms and cast-iron steering knuckles designed to handle the big increase in torque. Additional performance improvements include heavy-duty brakes as well as tuned high-performance Fox aluminum monotube shocks.
Perhaps it’s because Wrangler doesn’t have the soundproofing of other vehicles, or that it has a shorter exhaust system — the 392 possesses quite possibly the best-sounding exhaust note of any HEMI-powered vehicle. The V8 sound is somewhat muffled initially, although when drivers press the Dual-Mode exhaust button it opens the electronically controlled valves and the sport exhaust simply roars — full throttle possesses the potential to scare small children (and some big kids, too).
As the top-of-the-line Wrangler, the Rubicon 392 gets fitted with leather-trimmed sport seats as well a leather-wrapped performance steering wheel — a first for Wrangler. Bronze accents throughout the cabin continue the exterior appointments, including bronze stitching on seats, steering wheel and center console. Seatbacks are embossed with Rubicon 392 — also in bronze.
The Wrangler 392 comes with all possible Jeep-brand bells and whistles, including an 8.4-inch touchscreen display running Uconnect, an Alpine premium audio system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an LED lighting group, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Also standard is an Advanced Safety Group that includes automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.
On the Road
With its powerful HEMI V8 under the hood and full-time four-wheel drive, the Rubicon 392 is incredibly quick off the line. Unlike many four-wheel-drive systems that require some wheelslip before engaging AWD, the Wrangler’s power is always being transmitted to all four wheels. The V8’s throaty roar accompanied by this Wrangler’s strong acceleration is quite intoxicating — even more so if the roof and doors are removed.
Still a Jeep
The Rubicon 392 easily stakes its claim as the most powerful Wrangler in the lineup, but it is still a Jeep — for better or worse. A result of its large off-road tires, the Wrangler 392 is not the best-handling vehicle on pavement, especially on a winding road. Granted, on freeways the 392 can cruise along at 80 mph with no issues, although emergency maneuvers might cause some tense moments. Ultimately a big engine does not a sports car make.
When heading off pavement, the Wrangler 392 proves that “still a Jeep” definitely remains a good thing. On rough logging roads through the Pacific Northwest interior, the Wrangler’s huge tires and off-road suspension swallowed up large holes and rocks in the gravel road. In some places we were able to tackle rough terrain at 50 mph and still maintain a perfectly comfortable ride. Launching from a stop on gravel is also an impressive undertaking — with all four wheels providing excellent grip, the 392 simply ignites like a rocket.
Built to handle extreme driving conditions, the Jeep Wrangler is not for everyone. But for those who love the iconic styling and ability to venture off the beaten path, the legendary Jeep is hard to beat. Adding in the powerful V8 engine and its roaring exhaust does increase the price considerably, but the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 becomes a beast like no other — certainly something fun for serious desert running or a Rocky Mountain high.