2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 First Drive Review | Tackling Moab with 470 horses

MOAB, Utah — The long-awaited 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, outfitted with a 6.4-liter V8, made its bold appearance at the 2021 Easter Jeep Safari. An off-roader’s play space, Moab is home to tons of trails set among the famous red slick rock and outlying orange-colored sand dunes. Jeep enthusiasts trek to Moab all year for off-roading fun – especially during the Easter Jeep Safari (otherwise known as EJS). Jeep invited us to test its new high-powered beast on the trails to experience its capability for ourselves on rocky terrain, hard-packed dirt, loose sand and slick rock, plus a bit of the open road.

The Wrangler Rubicon 392 marks the return of factory V8 power in a traditional Jeep-style vehicle. Offered only in the four-door Rubicon model and with an eight-speed automatic, the new 392 arrives packing 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. It obviously has plenty of giddy-up, doing 0 to 60 mph in an un-Wrangler-like 4.5 seconds. That’s 40% quicker than a V6-powered Wrangler. From a dead stop to full-bore speed, its dual-mode exhaust with quad tailpipes growl deeply and braaaps loudly under full throttle. Passing ability is not surprisingly exceptional when on road, and in the sand, it flew through dunes throwing rooster tails. We couldn’t wipe smiles off our faces, but watch speeds as it’s easy to take all those horses above speed limits. Also watch your pocketbook: the 392 returns an EPA-estimated 13 mpg city, 17 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined.

The obligatory eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly, effortlessly and very quickly, with well-spaced mid-range gears that pair well with the V8’s low-end capability. It’s good that it comes with responsive paddle shifters for a more engaging and fun drive (the first for a Wrangler), but it would be better if they were mounted to the steering column and therefore fixed in place for easy shifting during off-camber or tight turns. Additionally, unrelated push-buttons adorn the bottom-most shifter point, which are easy to accidentally press when in technical off-pavement situations.

The 392 has a different four-wheel-drive system than other Wranglers, the Selec-Trac full-time system with an active transfer case and a 2.72 low-range gear ratio. Rather than operating in 2WD most of the time with driver-selectable 4WD high, neutral and 4WD low at the ready as needed, Selec-Trac runs in a 4WD Auto mode that constantly sends power to the front and rear wheels. Otherwise, and particularly while off-roading, the system acts as you’d expect. The 392 also features a revised transmission torque converter lockup control and the same 48:1 crawl ratio as other automatic-equipped Rubicons. 

There’s more to the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 than its powertrain, however. The chassis features beefed-up components including upgraded frame rails, front upper control arms, and cast iron steering knuckles. Upgraded front brakes are borrowed from the Gladiator Mojave. The rears are identical to those of the new Wrangler 4xe. This heavy-hitting combo quickly halts this high-horsepower beast in a variety of terrain, providing precise control for quick braking.

Wide-track, heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axles include thicker axle tubes along with Tru-Lok electronic locking differentials. As it does in regular Rubicons, an electronic front sway-bar disconnect maximizes suspension travel, perfect for boulder crawling in Moab. Specifically tuned high-performance Fox aluminum monotube shocks absorb sandy whoops and trail obstacles in an orderly fashion, providing little driver fatigue after hours of off-road testing. This setup allows for defined behavior and increased ride comfort.

In wetter environments than southeast Utah, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 can traverse water up to 32.5 inches deep. Its 10.3 inches of ground clearance is a half-inch lower than the regular Rubicon, but still a bit loftier than other Wranglers. Its approach (44.5 degrees) and departure angles (37.5) are greater than the regular Rubicon, however, with the same breakover of 22.6 degrees. Additionally, the 392’s hood scoop (which was taken from the Jeep Gladiator Mojave) isn’t merely for looks, it’s fully functional. If it becomes restricted by mud, debris or snow, a second air allowance within the hood feeds the powerplant, allowing this trail titan to reach top speeds even with a blocked air path (although it may take longer to get there).

There are also more advanced off-roading features, including terrain-specific driving modes. This includes a driver-selectable Off-road Plus mode that lets drivers lock the rear axle at high speeds while in 4WD high. This lets it claw through Moab’s sand dunes with ease. The settings also offer sand and rock modes. As is the case with such systems in various other off-roaders, these adjust throttle, transmission shift points, and traction control for superior off-road performance.

Visibility is adequate on all sides (with the exception of over the oversized rear passenger headrests). The seats provide plentiful adjustments, including a wide range of height adjustability so even short-torso drivers can see over the hood easily. The black leather seats showcase hefty bolsters that hold occupants in place in off-camber situations. With a press of a button, the Sky One-Touch Power Top, a $2,000 option, slides back allowing for an airy off-road experience – perfect for taking in the scenery or when greater interior airflow is desired.  

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392’s looks are defined and bold. The hood is another donation from the Gladiator Mojave, and there are 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels. The standard tires are BF Goodrich KO2 All-Terrains measuring LT285/70R17, but our 392 had the optional Falken Wildpeaks of the same size that gripped a variety of terrain with ease, their pronounced sidewall design proving a solid match for rock crawling in tight spaces. And just in case those fat tires and body modifications aren’t enough of a tell, the signature of the 392 model is the bronze accents, from the front and rear tow hooks and exterior badges, to the springs and the beadlock-capable wheels. Bronze is better.

This undoubtedly is the most expensive Wrangler the company has sold to date. With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $74,995 (including $1,495 destination) it’s a premium price tag to match its features and capability. However, with the brand’s prolific popularity, they should have no problem selling every single one of them. The V8 of yesteryear showcased a 304-cubic-inch powerplant that generated 125 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. This is obviously an improvement. If the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 is as well received by the masses as it was here in Moab, Jeep will have another yet winner on its hands.

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