This might be the most important year for the iconic Jeep® Wrangler in over a decade. As a global pandemic continues, there has never been a time better for the beloved American brand to tout its outdoor adventure attitude as social distancing has been pushing us farther and farther apart. But with new competition on the horizon with the launch of the Ford Bronco, the Wrangler’s first true competitor in decades, Jeep has created the most diverse lineup ever for the Wrangler. One of those models is the new 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392.
For the first time since 1981, the Jeep brand has installed a V8 under the hood of its halo vehicle. The 1981 Jeep CJ Series, featured a 5.0-liter (304 cubic-inch) V8 engine producing 125 horsepower and 220 ft.-lbs. of torque. At the time, the 2,707 lbs. (1,228 Kg) CJ-7 felt like a purebred racehorse on the trail, with its low weight despite not having a lot of horsepower.
Fast forward forty years, Jeep is now ready to reintroduce a V8 model to its modern lineup after years of enthusiasts calling for the automaker to do so. Using its four-door Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon as its basis, the Rubicon 392 throws the mighty 6.4-liter (392 cubic-inch) HEMI V8 in the engine bay and pairs it with a fast-shifting ZF-source 8HP75 8-speed automatic transmission. The combination results in an off-road-oriented SUV capable of a 0 to 60 mph run in 4.5 seconds and can run the quarter-mile in 13 seconds flat for the 5,103 lbs. (2,315 kg) SUV. That’s pretty impressive for a Wrangler, let alone of most muscle cars in today’s market.
Wrangler engineers worked closely with the recently dissolved Street & Racing Technology (SRT) engineering team, to make sure that the performance of the 392 HEMI could be truly used off-road. This resulted in nearly 75% of the Rubicon 392’s peak torque being available just above engine idle speed, perfect for rock climbing. If you thought the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 had a ton of torque with 442 ft.-lbs. of torque, the 392 HEMI adds an additional 28 ft.-lbs. and sounds much more amazing running through the canyons and trails, than the EcoDiesel.
But does the HEMI hurt the Rubicon 392’s capability? No! Rubicon 392 models come equipped with Dana 44 axles, a full-time two-speed transfer case, Tru-Lok® electronic locking front and rear differentials, Fox shocks, an electronic front sway-bar disconnect for max articulation, and a 3.73 final-drive ratio. A new set of 17-inch Beadlock-capable wheels come standard and are wrapped in 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain K02 tires (Falken Wildpeak M/T tires are optional). Brakes have also been beefed up due to the added weight of the 392 HEMI, with twin-piston floating calipers up front and single-piston calipers in the rear.
When it comes to styling, the Rubicon 392 is by far our favorite looking Wrangler in the lineup. Starting with the hood from the popular Gladiator Mojave, the hood is fully functional and is branded with unique bronze-accented “392” badging, and the bronze-accent replaces all of the typical red accents on the Rubicon. A very classy touch, compared to the different bright colors we are used to.
A dual-mode quad-tip exhaust system is also standard. It allows the 392 HEMI to have lots of grunt on or off the trail when it is opened up thanks to a button located on the center stack.
With a 2-inch lift over the standard Wrangler, the Rubicon 392 sits 1-inch higher than the standard Rubicon model. Rubicon 392 models have 10.3-inches of ground clearance, which is about half an inch less than the standard Rubicon. However, the Rubicon 392 does have an improved approach angle of 44.5 degrees, an improved departure angle of 37.5 degrees, and a breakover of 22.6 degrees.
Jeep states that it can also tackle up to 32.5-inches of water fording depth. This is done thanks in part to the new Hydro-Guide™ air induction system that can divert as much as 15 gallons of water per minute away from the engine. There is also a secondary intake to allow for the engine to continue to run, even when the functional hood scoop is blocked with mud.
Inside, there are a few minor differences from the standard Rubicon model. There is a bronze-colored accented stitching on the leather seats and steering wheel. Seats are embroidered with the standard Rubicon text, however, 392 text has been added as well. For the first time ever there is a pair of steering-wheel-mounted aluminum paddle shifters.
There are a number of features that are optional on the standard Rubicon, which is now standard on Rubicon 392. Those features include standard leather seats, Infotainment Group, the HD electrical switch brank, body-colored hard-top, body-colored flares, Steel Bumper Group, LED Lighting Group, Cold Weather Group, remote proximity entry, Safety Group, and Advanced Safety Group. So expect the Rubicon 392 to be a pretty loaded model, right off the get-go.
While it may be pretty loaded, the Rubicon 392 is pretty pricy as well. With a U.S. Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $73,500 (excluding $1,495 destination), the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 is about $2,800 more expensive (including destination charge added in) than the starting MSRP of the Hellcat-powered 2021 Ram 1500 TRX. In our opinion, the TRX offers lots more value than the Rubicon 392 and even features a rock-crawling mode. We know it will be hard-pressed for a Jeep enthusiast to cross-shop a Ram, but on paper and considering the features you get, the TRX is still more bang for the buck.
Another issue with the Rubicon 392 is timing. A HEMI-powered Wrangler would have been awesome about 8 years ago on the previous generation Wrangler (JK) model. There were plenty of Mopar-built 5.7-liter HEMI V8 builds during the time and the aftermarket has numerous companies (including our friends at AMW4x4) who have been doing HEMI conversions for years. With gas prices and emissions on the rise with the current administration, this Wrangler would have been ideal a few years ago.
No matter what, we love the engineering behind this amazing machine. For those who opt to pay the premium price for HEMI V8-powered Wrangler, we salute you. There possibly can’t be a more “American” vehicle on the market than the Rubicon 392. With iconic styling, amazing V8 soundtrack, the Rubicon 392 is about smiles per gallon! That is a fact!
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