2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 First Drive Review: A Powerhouse Off-Roader With Manners

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 First Drive Review: A Powerhouse Off Roader With Manners
Jeep
2021 Jeep Rubicon 392
Jeep finally delivered on a Wrangler powered by a V8 engine and loaded with the tough off-roading equipment for which the brand is known. Jeep

As I approach a tricky rock-filled trail, the sound of the American-build V8 under the hood of my Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 growls as it waits patiently to perform. I carefully weigh my options and tire positions, knowing that the rock crawler has enough power and finesse to work its way through any obstacle with ease.

Jeep fans have waited nearly four decades for a V8-equipped Wrangler Rubicon. For years they asked the automaker to give its venerable 4×4 more power. Finally, the automaker, which has been a pioneer in the off-roading and overlanding world for decades, delivered.

Sold only as a four-door, the new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 packs a powerful punch that lends to controlled on-pavement handling and unrelenting off-road prowess. It also has distinctive suspension tuning that both enhances its abilities and makes the cabin a comfortable place to be.

2021 Jeep Rubicon 392
Mercedes Lilienthal

High Horsepower

Boasting a 6.4-liter V8 with 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the Jeep Wrangler 392 on-road demeanor can deliver a zero-to-60 mph sprint in a sports car-like 4.5 seconds. That’s 40% faster than a standard V6 Wrangler. Its quad tailpipes and active dual-mode performance exhaust system grumbles across its entire power band, especially under full throttle.

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392’s eight-speed automatic—including steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and manual mode—changes gears smoothly with little hesitation. A traditional manual transmission option is not offered.

The V8-equipped 392 cruises confidently. It also feels planted at highway speeds with noteworthy passing ability. The 392 is EPA rated as 13 mpg in city driving, 17 mpg on the highway and 14 mpg combined, less than other Wranglers. However, for power-hungry adventurers, paying at the pump may not be an issue.

The Rubicon’s 392’s low-end capability is mated with compliant, evenly spaced mid-range gears. The new V8-equipped Wrangler offers quicker responses and more control than the other powertrains in the lineup.

Along with the measured character of its powerplant and transmission, the fully-equipped 392’s steering is evenly weighted and responsive to desired actions.

2021 Jeep Rubicon 392
Jeep

Traversing Moab

The eagerly anticipated Rubicon 392 showed off its chops in Moab, Utah, home to rocky canyons, orange-hued sand dunes and coral-colored rock formations that offer a variety of off-road tracks.

Its souped-up output helped it to precisely navigate the region’s Behind the Rocks trail, a near 30-mile loop reserved for expert off-roaders and adventurers.

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 also is equipped with Fox aluminum monotube shocks, which absorb choppy sand dunes with ease and solidly hold their ground when negotiating tricky trail sections.   

For passengers, the ride is comfortable yet firm. Even steep, rocky waterfalls and boulders don’t toss riders around in their seats.

That’s because the 392 has a “unique suspension tune on it,” said Scott Brown, a spokesman for Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. “The front shocks are stiffer; the rear shocks are softer, which has positively affected the harshness and handling of [the Wrangler].” 

Overall, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 offers up controlled manners and improved ride comfort in a variety of terrain. After a mix of pavement driving and off-road traversing through sandy whoops and slick rock tracks, there was little driver fatigue.

2021 Jeep Rubicon 392
Mercedes Lilienthal

Off-Road Capability

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 trudges through water crossings up to 32.5 inches deep and has 10.3 inches of ground clearance (half an inch less than the regular Rubicon). Additionally, the 392’s hood scoop (copied from the Jeep Gladiator Mojave) is fully functional. If its airway is constrained by debris, a secondary air allowance within the hood channels air to the V8, allowing it to drive at various speeds, albeit a bit slower.

Jeep improved the 392’s articulation with an approach angle of 44.5 degrees, a departure angle of 37.5 degrees, and a breakover of 22.6 degrees—perfect for traveling through off-camber and challenging terrain.

The high-horsepower 392 has a Selec-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system with an active transfer case showcasing a 2.72 low-range gear ratio. This transfer case includes a variety of driver-selectable modes: 4WD auto, 4WD high, neutral and 4WD low. It also has a revised transmission torque converter lockup control and a 48:1 crawl ratio (found on other automatic Rubicons).

In addition to its transfer case, Jeep offers specific driving modes—like Sand and Rock—to match like terrain, making it more capable. The Off-Road Plus mode lets drivers lock the rear axle at high speeds while in 4WD high. It’s a key feature when slashing through loose soil. With the push of a dash-mounted button, each mode regulates transmission shift points, throttle and traction control for exceptional off-pavement performance.

2021 Jeep Rubicon 392
Mercedes Lilienthal

Ample Upgrades

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 chassis includes heavy-duty components like upgraded frame rails, cast iron steering knuckles and front upper control arms. Upgraded front brakes are sourced from the Gladiator Mohave pickup whereas the rears are borrowed from the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid. This combination allowed us to quickly shift and accurately stop when spirited braking was necessary.

Furthermore, an electronic front sway-bar disconnect, also found on other Rubicons, increases suspension travel. Wide track, heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axles boast thicker axle tubes, along with Tru-Lok electronic locking differentials, for maximum off-road capability and durability.

Our tester 392 had 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels shod with off-road friendly Falken Wildpeak tires (Jeep’s standard tires are BF Goodrich KO2 All-Terrains). Additionally, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 showcases bronze accents. From decals and tow hooks to wheels and exterior badging, this color signifies the V8-equipped 392 Jeep.

2021 Jeep Rubicon 392
Jeep

Comfortable Cockpit

Once inside, the cockpit carries standard Wrangler features throughout its cabin. Bolsters attached to black leather seats showcase bolsters that hold in their place in situations with off-camber lean. Our 392 included the Sky One-Touch Power Top rag-top, a $2,000 option that slides backward to open nearly the entire roof, giving riders an open-air experience.  

Drivers can easily see from all angles (sans large rear passenger headrests). Additionally, there are ample driver seating adjustments, including height adjustability, so even vertically challenged off-roaders can drive with confidence.

2021 Jeep Rubicon 392
Mercedes Lilienthal

40 Years in the Making

The Jeep 392’s looks are distinctive. Available in nine colors, it’s the most expensive Jeep Wrangler to date with a starting price of price of $74,995 (including $1,495 destination). However, Jeep has earned a cult following over the last 80 years and enthusiasts have demonstrated they will pay for something distinct and special.

Jeep’s previous V8 delivered 125 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. The new 392 V8 generates three times the power and double the torque. It’s an off-roader’s dream come true.

“It’s been almost 40 years since we offered a V8 in a Wrangler,” said Brown. “It’s about time.” The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 392s are nearly sold out, with remaining stock at dealerships. As evidenced by previous years, Jeep doesn’t have the reputation for “one-and-done” models. Future iterations of this high-horsepower 4×4 may likely be offered.