The Jeep Wrangler is not for everyone, but it has always been a perfect version of itself. Dating back to the 1960s when it was known as the CJ, the “original Jeep” has always been the most off-road capable production vehicle on the road while also offering the open-air freedom like no other vehicle on the market. Since the CJ era, Jeep engineers have constantly been working to gradually make the ultimate off-roader more capable and their results have paid off – the Wrangler is the first choice for drivers who want the best off-road capabilities from their daily driver.
The key reason why the Jeep Wrangler has continuously improved since it was called the CJ is that the brand listens to its customers and makes changes based on real customer input. The people who work on the future Wranglers don’t focus on industry trends like improved fuel economy – they focus on creating an SUV that is increasingly more capable off-road without compromising on-road comforts. The Jeep team even went so far as to introduce a pickup version of the Wrangler in the form of the Gladiator, but for decades, there had been one key request that the team hadn’t answered.
For years, Jeep Wrangler owners and enthusiasts have been asking for a V8 model. The Pentastar V6 is great, as is the turbocharged four-cylinder and the 4xe hybrid, but those who wanted big power had long-demanded Hemi power. Realistically, they would have settled for a Wrangler with the 5.7-liter Hemi, but when the Jeep team announced their plans to produce a factory-V8-powered Rubicon, they swung for the fences. Rather than the 5.7-liter Hemi with somewhere in the 360 to 400 horsepower range, the Jeep team opted for the 392 cubic inch Hemi from the SRT lineup, offering a whopping 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque.
After spending a week living with the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, I am here to say that this is truly the perfect Jeep Wrangler. The vehicle has progressively improved for years, but Hemi power is exactly what this legendary model has been missing and now that it is arrived, this is the model that every serious Jeep fan will want. It combines the feel of the modern Wrangler with never-before-seen levels of factory power, making the Rubicon 392 the most exciting Wrangler that I have ever driven on the road and off.
Familiar Wrangler Driving Dynamics
Before getting into the awesome power of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, let’s talk about the on-road driving dynamics of this package – which is probably the most off-road capable production vehicle on sale today. While the key feature of this package is obviously the 392 cubic inch V8, this is far more than just an engine upgrade. The Rubicon 392 features unique frame rails, front upper control arms, steering knuckles, larger brakes and a 2-inch suspension lift with specially tuned Fox shocks.
If you have driven a newer Wrangler with a 2-inch lift and 33-inch tires, you should have a good idea of how the Rubicon 392 drives, as the engineers did a beautiful job of creating a V8-powered Wrangler that drives and feels just like the other, non-V8 models. Of course, that means that this Wrangler has a fairly high center of gravity, it rides as stiff as you would expect from such an off-road-capable model and it has the unmistakable steering feel. Not everyone will love the rigid, high-riding feel or the constant need for steering input when driving straight on the highway, but for those who appreciate the ruggedness of the Wrangler in general, I am confident that they will love the Rubicon 392.
The Sweet Roar of the 392
I have been fortunate to test many of the new Wrangler models introduced over the past decade and while I have talked about many aspects of the legendary Jeep, the exhaust note has never been one of them. The old and new V6 engines and the newer four-cylinders are heavily muffled, so there really isn’t any exhaust note. Most buyers don’t want the kind of nasal tone of a smaller-than-V8 engine, so in stock form, most modern Wranglers are very quiet under every driving condition. In most cases, when driving a Wrangler, the tires make more noise than does the exhaust system.
On the other hand, the roar of the 392 cubic inch, 6.4-liter SRT Hemi demands attention on startup, even with the exhaust set to the quiet mode. Many modern Mopar products with a Hemi engine have an active valve exhaust system that adjusts exhaust volume based on drive mode and throttle position, but the Wrangler Rubicon 392 has a button that lets the driver choose when the vehicle is loud or quiet. With a push of this button on the center console, the Performance Exhaust Mode opens the valves and the exhaust note becomes dramatically louder and more aggressive. It isn’t just volume – although it is much louder in Performance Exhaust Mode – but the sound is also throatier, with more crackles and pops on deceleration. Even at idle, when you switch between exhaust modes, there is a clear difference in volume and tone, and it is wonderful.
Now, some of you might be wondering why Jeep didn’t go with an active system similar to that on the Dodge Scat Pack cars with the same basic engine. All I can figure is that the engineers wanted to give drivers the choice of when they wanted their 392 to whisper or roar, and roar it does. When you have the top off and windows down, the louder exhaust mode is very loud in every situation. The problem with that is that in very specific engine speed ranges, like when cruising in Drive in a higher gear at roughly 35mph, the drone inside of the open-air cab is loud enough to drown out the radio or any conversations with passengers. Frankly, it is pretty loud with the top in place as well, but by turning off Performance Exhaust Mode, the roar of the exhaust is quickly muffled, with no hint of cabin drone.
Low speed situations aside, the exhaust system of the Wrangler Rubicon 392 is an absolute masterpiece. When you launch hard from a stop, the exhaust screams throughout the powerband and when the 8-speed transmission shifts, the “bark” between gears is wonderful. The 392-powered Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee both bark a bit on shift, but nothing like this new Jeep. At highway speeds in the louder exhaust volume mode, the system sounds great without any downsides and when cruising at low speed, rolling in and out of the throttle, the roar and crackles of the system are as sweet as any V8-powered machine sold in the United States. It really sounds that great.
The roar of the exhaust on startup, on a hard pull and at wide open throttle adds an auditory element to the Wrangler like we have never experienced in factory form – even among the classic V8 Jeeps. When you fire it up, the sound puts a smile on your face. When you put the hammer down and make a hard 0-60 pull, the sound puts a smile on your face and when you hear the bark during a hard shift, you are likely to smile even bigger. Best of all, the Performance Exhaust Mode stays active when the vehicle is turned off, so if you like the big roar on startup, you can experience it on every startup.
Before ever driving the Wrangler Rubicon 392, the sound alone leads to a more engaging, more enticing Jeep. Then you hit the road, and you learn that Hemi power is exactly what the Wrangler has always been missing.
Driving the Rubicon 392
When driving the Rubicon 392 gently in traffic, it feels a great deal like the non-V8 models, but it sounds better. However, when you put the hammer down, the acceleration forces of this Wrangler are awe-inspiring. Jeep claims that the Hemi-powered Wrangler will sprint from a stop to 60 in just 4.5 seconds, while covering the quarter mile in 13 seconds flat. Those are, by far, the best acceleration times for a factory Wrangler ever, and in an area where we may be jaded by the 3-second 0-to-60 times of the likes of the Hellcat-powered SUVs, we should keep in mind that the Rubicon 392 is nearly as quick as the Dodge Scat Pack cars, even though it is dramatically heavier.
The four-wheel-drive system, even with the off-road-rated 33-inch tires guarantees incredible traction on a hard launch, so it is pretty easy to pull off those mid-4-second 0-to-60 times on the street. With that regard, it is incredible to line up next to a friend’s 2010 Ford Mustang GT with a Jeep Wrangler, knowing that you are about to walk away from the lighter, smaller pony car with ease. The Rubicon 392 is a couple hundred pounds lighter than the Grand Cherokee or Durango with the same engine, so when coupled with the short wheelbase, the Hemi-powered Wrangler feels incredibly quick from a dig.
In fact, private owners have found that in stock form on a well-prepped drag strip, the 392 Wrangler will pull the front tires off of the ground on launch. That is insane for a 13-second vehicle, but the fact that this SUV will lift the front wheels with 33-inch off-road tires shows just how hard it leaves the line. It throws you back in the seat, the stuff from your pockets fly into the back seat, the tires spin a bit and it rockets down the road like no other Wrangler I’ve ever experienced.
Along similar lines, if you are playing in the mud, all of that low-end grunt leads to some serious mud-slinging fun. I didn’t go to a designated off-road area while driving the Rubicon 392, but I didn’t drive on many of my areas “natural beauty roads”. That is what the state of Michigan calls dirt roads that are barely cared-for, leading to public roads that are more like old horse paths from the pre-automotive days. They are lined with run-off trenches and pot holes that will destroy most SUVs and swallow up a small car, with deep puddles of mud on the sides of the road which engulf the whole road in some places. The Wrangler Rubicon 392 has no problem driving down these muddy, unmanicured roads under normal conditions, but more importantly, when you find an area that is deep with thick, runny mud, a hard launch will sling mud way up into the air with the sweet accompaniment of the 392 Hemi.
I have slung mud in lots of Jeeps and Ive always had fun doing so, but there is just something different about spinning those 33-inch mud tires with 470 lb-ft of torque and the proper roar of a modern Hemi.
Finally, while the Rubicon 392 is at its best from a dig on the pavement or when digging through the mud, all of that power leads to a surprisingly fast Wrangler on the open road. The aerodynamics and the tire rating lead to a relatively low top speed of just 99 miles per hour, but this Jeep gets up to that speed in a hurry, whether you are accelerating hard through the mid-range on the highway or making a long, full run from a dig. The 392 provides loads of passing power in the mid-range, effortlessly eclipsing any posted speed limit in the United States with just a quick stab of the loud pedal.
Due to the limited top speed, the Rubicon 392 isn’t quite as impressive on a long highway run as it is on a short stoplight sprint, but this Wrangler powers down the highway like no other Wrangler production model ever.
The Final Word
When talking about off-road-ready SUVs which are built for daily driving use, the modern Jeep Wrangler doesn’t have many shortcomings, but with the inclusion of the 392 cubic inch, 470 horsepower Hemi, this is truly the perfect version of the Wrangler. Hemi power is exactly what the Wrangler needed to be a complete package and the Rubicon 392 is truly the best off-road production vehicle Jeep has ever produced.
If you love the Jeep Wrangler and you enjoy the big power and performance of the modern Hemi family, the Rubicon 392 is flawless. It combines with on-road comforts and off-road capabilities with big power, making this the most engaging and entertaining Wrangler of the modern era. With a price tag starting in the mid-70s, it might be too expensive for some buyers, but when you consider the fact that the current Rubicon without the V8 can easily be optioned to price out north of $60,000, the added cost of the 392 package is a small price to pay for such an awesome all-around SUV.