If you are Jeep Division, Stellantis’s most profitable brand in America, and a formidable rival develops a model that will appeal to your customer base for your core product, you naturally fight back in order to hold onto what you have earnestly worked for. In the case of Jeep, like sibling Dodge, you throw a heaping boatload of power into the engine bay and watch customers line up!
Adding horsepower has long been an auto industry philosophy because consumers always want more. Bigger V-8 engines, check. Twin turbos instead of one, check. Hey, Tesla isn’t selling mucho stripped-down Model 3 electric cars — buyers are going for the larger, more powerful batteries. Your planet-saving neighbors aren’t craving wimpy Nissan Leafs — they want the Teslas with Ludicrous mode.
And with Jeep about to be in a pitched sales battle with Ford’s new Bronco, let’s give the masses something to really talk about — a Hemi-powered Wrangler with 470 horsepower and 470 pound/feet of rock-trail twisting torque.
Even though it has been 40 years since Jeep offered a factory V-8 in the Wrangler (the 1981 CJ was available with a 125-hp 304-V-8 — a holdover from the AMC days), the aftermarket has been building plenty of “authorized” Wranglers with throaty V-8 engines for years. Even Jeep has been building countless V-8 prototypes for its various customer focus group expeditions.
And before you ask, it does seem inevitable that Jeep will soon up the ante in the hot-selling Gladiator — with some type of V-8 engine. Right now, for a cool $225,000, you can order a Gladiator Maximus (get it?) from Hennessey Performance Engineering in Texas that uses the supercharged Hellcat V-8 to produce an incredible 1,000-horsepower — and it comes with a warranty!
The Wrangler 392, available right now only in Rubicon trim starting at a robust $75,000 ($78,545 as shown with several options) augments an extensive engine lineup from the king of off-roaders. Jeep Wranglers can be ordered with a V-6 engine, a turbocharged-four, a turbo-diesel, a plug-in hybrid powertrain and now a race-derived 6.4-liter V-8. That’s five different motors to satisfy whatever driving style you want to embrace with your Wrangler. Don’t we love choices!
Not to belabor the point, but Dodge has found itself quite relevant with its various R/T, SRT, SRT8 and Hellcat models — all selling well, all adding income to a brand that hasn’t seen a whole lot of styling changes in its modest lineup. Sharing these paid-for powerplants with the Jeep family makes perfect industrial sense.
Yet, Jeep added a whole lot more to the Rubicon to make it work better with this monster motor stuffed into the engine bay. The frame is significantly strengthened, the chassis has actually been lifted 2 inches and wider, taller wheels are employed (with bead-lock rims). The excellent eight-speed automatic comes right over from the Charger/Challenger (except with mods for the transfer case, which has no conventional 2WD setting), while tougher Dana front and rear axles put that torque down to the ground. You can even do burnouts, wasting those 33-inch B.F. Goodrich tires if you wish.
Visually, everyone giving you the Jeep wave recognizes the higher-riding stance — as well as the giant domed hood with the functional scoop up front and not very subtle 392 emblems on each side. Special gold tow hooks, special alloy wheels plus a dual mode quad-exhaust system with driver override is part of the package. The deep rumble on startup, as well as the wail at redline, that those pipes emit will not endear you to your neighbors, but fellow gearheads will rejoice.
So smooth, so quick, the 392 literally jumps from 0-60 mph in 4.5-sconds — pony car territory. You won’t use the paddle shifters — a Wrangler first, because the eight-speed is so good.
Stocked with amenities and creature features, the most amazing part of the whole Rubicon 392 experience was how good it drove. Sure, it still has some Wrangler handling dynamics, but the 392 was easily the best handling and best riding Wrangler ever sampled. And then you hit the wail pedal and you are amazed again.
In radiant Firecracker Red, how appropriate, our 392 also featured the Sky One-Touch Power-Top, a combination of fixed hard-top and huge power cloth convertible top. You can modulate the size of the opening while you drive, increasing the air flow as necessary.
EPA fuel economy estimates are 13/17 mpg, but don’t let that deter your fun. We realized over 18 mpg for the week while thoroughly enjoying the V-8.
Fun, exciting, cool to look at and a spine-tingling powerhouse, the Rubicon 392 adds a fifth dimension to off-roading with Jeep’s Wrangler.