2021 Jeep Wrangler 392

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Some of the highest-performing vehicles being offered lately are 4×4 trucks – and Jeeps, like this V8-powered Wrangler 392. They are quicker than all but a very few high-performance cars and can do things no high-performance car can, such as crawl over a boulder and ford through nearly three feet of water.

This Jeep also has a few other tricks up its sleeve – in addition to the 392 cubic inch V8 under its hood.

What It Is

Everyone knows what the Wrangler is.

Whether two or four door, it’s one of the most recognizable vehicles on the road – and off. Not just because they’ve been making them for decades but because the basic shape hasn’t changed much in decades.

But the goods have.

For the first time in 40-something years, the Wrangler is available with a V8 – one proudly called out by cubic inches instead of liters, though 6.4 liters (and 470 horsepower) is pretty impressive, regardless.

So also the ability to get to 60 in 4.5 seconds, making this Wrangler one of the quickest things on road, regardless of looks.

It also has everything the Wrangler Rubicon has: A two-inch lift over the standard Wrangler, heavier duty frame rails, decoupling front swaybar, front and rear Dana 44 axles, locking differentials, beadlock capable wheels, Fox off-road shocks, unique suspension geometry for off-road work, 33-inch A/T tires, plus a functional hood scoop with Hydro diverter to keep water out of the engine when rooster-tailing through creeks and an “active” exhaust system that lets you open up the V8’s pipes at the touch of a button.

About the only thing it doesn’t have is an engine block heater – which you can get for another $95.

But because it does come with almost literally everything the top-of-the-line Rubicon has plus that big V8 and related peripherals, it also comes with a price to match – $73,500. Which is more than twice the base price of a standard Wrangler ($28,900)

But then, some things are priceless.

What’s New

In addition to the newly available V8 – Rubicon trims only – other Wrangler trims can be equipped with a forward facing trail camera that lets you see where your wheels are about to go without you having to get out and look.

And for those who want the opposite of a 392 V8, Jeep is offering a Wrangler with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, the 4xe.

What’s Good

Goes very fast on-road.

Goes almost anywhere, off-road.

Big gas tank (21.5 gallons) equals fewer fill-ups.

What’s Not So Good

The big V8 is only available with four-door Rubicons.

No manual transmission option (it’s available in lesser-engined Wranglers).

Even with that big tank, you run dry fast.

Under The Hood

The last time Jeep put a V8 in a Wrangler, a Democrat was president, inflation was rampant and gas prices were skyrocketing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Well, except for one thing. Back in the declining days of disco, the Jeep’s 304 cubic inch V8 made 125 horsepower.

No, that’s not a typo.

Those were dark days for horsepower – and gas mileage. The 304 may have produced the horsepower of a four but it had the appetite of a V8: 15 city, 19 highway.

Fast forward 40-something years.

The 392 – that’s 6.4 liters in metric – produces 470 horsepower and while it does not have the appetite of a four, its mileage – 13 city, 17 highway – is phenomenal given how much horsepower it produces.

Also phenomenal is the performance it delivers.

Zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds is quick by any standard.

It is nearly as quick as a new V8 powered Mustang GT.

But a Mustang GT does not ride on 33-inch knobby tires. Nor does it ride almost a foot off the ground. A Mustang is not carrying around 4,449 pounds of boxed steel frame, twin differentials and a transfer case and does not have a wind-cheating shape to help it get up to speed.

Yet this two-tons-plus 4×4 will hang right on the bumper of a Mustang GT in an on-road drag race – and there is very little else on four wheels that can put much distance between itself and this Jeep when the race leaves the road behind.

The Jeep’s engine is essentially the same engine that powers the Scat Pack 392 version of the Dodge Charger/Challenger. It is even bigger than the 6.2 liter V8 that powers the Hellcat versions of the Charger and Challenger (as well as the Ram TRX pick-up I recently reviewed).

That engine has a supercharger to make up for it.

So why no supercharger, here?

The main reason is probably packaging. The supercharged 6.2 engine in the TRX and Hellcatted Charger/Challenger is bigger than the 6.4 engine in the Wrangler 392. Not in terms of its displacement. But bigger – in terms of the package – because of that blower sitting on top of it. There is plenty room for that under the hood of the TRX – which is a big truck – and also under the hoods of the Challenger and Charger.

All of them were designed to house physically big V8s.

The current Wrangler was made to house a V6, the engine that it normally comes standard with and which – until now – was the biggest engine it was available with (the other engines being a 2.0 liter turbo four and a 3.0 liter turbodiesel).

Getting the blown 6.2 to to fit in the Wrangler would have probably meant an even bigger hood scoop than the one you get with the 392 – and that would have obscured the forward view perhaps too much.

But the 6.4 doesn’t disappoint.

It is also specifically modified for Wrangler duty, with a rearset sump, high-mounted alternator (to avoid water) and a unique exhaust system that can be “opened up” by pushing a button. Instant straight pipe’d Harley.

Or not.

It also doesn’t have auto stop-start (ASS), the obnoxious “feature” most new vehicles come with that shuts off the engine every time the vehicle stops moving, ostensibly to “save gas.”

At the cost of much annoyance.

This Jeep probably doesn’t have ASS for two reasons.

Reason one being philosophical. It’s a Jeep – which is to say, a member of the Dodge/Ram/Jeep family of automotive heretics – vehicles built for people who care about performance and style, not “saving” a half gallon of gas.

None of the V8 magnificoes offered under those labels have ASS. They just kick it.

Reason two – ASS would be truly obnoxious in this thing. That big V8 clearing its throat at every light. Snowflakes would melt. The Woke would choke.

Maybe it’s not such a bad idea, after all.

On the Road

We are living in the best of times – and the worst of times.

This Jeep has more power – and outperforms – the V12 Ferraris that were available the last time Jeep put a V8 in a Wrangler. And this V8 – per above – doesn’t use appreciably more fuel than the 125 horsepower 304 V8 that was available in Wranglers some 40 years ago.

While producing nearly four times as much horsepower.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

On – or off – road.

Outrun Mad Max in his V8 Interceptor – and leave Wes and the Humungous far behind, if you happen to be out in the Wasteland. They’ll never get your gazzuline.

But you’ll need to get some. Often.

The 392 comes with a larger 21.5 gallon tank than the standard Wrangler, which gives it a potential 400 mile radius of action on a full one. But that assumes you drive it like someone who cares about gas mileage, an expectation as ludicrous as expecting your teenaged kid to not drink any beer at the keg party his friends are throwing. How does one resist pushing the button for the exhaust cutout to open – and then not push down on the gas pedal?

Also, this kind of fun isn’t cheap.

Which is the flip side of the times we live in.

Forty years ago, almost anyone could afford to buy a V8-powered Wrangler, which made feeding it less of a problem. Today, it is not feeding the Wrangler that’s the problem.

It’s affording it.

The Wrangler 392, itself.

Almost $74k – to start – which is probably less than what you’ll pay given what dealers are apt to charge. Even if you managed to get it for sticker, there’s no dickering with the tax man. Or the insurance mafia. I didn’t look – I couldn’t bear to look – but my bet is the cost of taxes and insurance on this thing will cost you more than a V8-powered Wrangler, itself, did 40 something years ago.

And that’s the tragedy.

This is a ride for the rich only.

And it’s not because of Jeep – which would probably love to sell as many 392 powered Wranglers as the market will bear but can’t afford to – because of the punishing “gas guzzler” fines affixed applied to vehicles like this by the government and the effect of the gas mileage of vehicles such as this on Jeep’s “corporate average fuel economy” (CAFE) average, which makes all Jeeps – including regular Wranglers – more expensive and so makes selling more of them harder.

This is why vehicles like the 392 Wrangler (and Ram TRX and Hellcatted Chargers and Challengers) are low-production models and high-priced models.

It is the best of times – and the worst of times.

But if you can afford it, forget about it. I found this thing more fun to drive than the TRX I recently reviewed. It sounds better – even without the blower – and if you mean to seriously go off-road, there is no better tool short of something with treads. The Jeep’s smaller footprint, both fore and aft as well as through the hips – it’s not as wide as the massive TRX – makes it more capable of squeezing past things, just as important off-road as being able to power through and over things.

Plus, you are experiencing more things. The sun and the wind, the moons shine. Even the rain. Things you cannot experience in a vehicle with doors that don’t come off and a roof that does not roll back.

You will also experience some axle bind in close-quarter maneuvering, but 4×4 people know all about this and it’s normal as well as part of the deal. What’s almost abnormal – almost unbelievable is better – is how mild-mannered this thing is on the road given how extremely capable it is off road.

Even in the curves. It’s not tipsy-feeling. The axles don’t hop. It’s comfortable.

Which is truly remarkable.

At The Curb

There are a few iconic names that have been around for decades – like Mustang. But there is only one Jeep.

The brand sells several  models, certainly. But that name calls up one image in most people’s minds – that of the Wrangler, which looks today very much like the Jeeps of 40-something years ago. And it’s more than just looks.

It is.

Just like then, you can take off the doors (or install the half-doors available over the counter at Jeep stores), fold the windshield forward and take off (or roll back) the top and leave the sides  on (SkyOne). There is a manual – a physically connected – lever you pull back on with your hand to engage the various 4WD ranges, high and low. Not a button that you push with your finger to engage things electronically.

Same thing for the pull-it-up, cable actuated emergency brake lever.

If you felt at home in a ’78 CJ you’ll feel at home here, too.

Once you climb in – which is also a lot like it was back in ’78.

There are, of course, a number of features that weren’t conceivable back in ’78 – including the 8.4 inch UConnect LCD touchscreen in the center stack that has Wrangler Rubicon-specific Off Road pages that digitally display yaw and pitch and forward and rear closed-circuit Trailcam views of your exterior perimeter – so you can crawl around off-road without having to leave your seat to know where your tires are about to go.

There are also heaters for the seats and the steering wheel, an excellent Alpine audio rig with booming speakers built into the roll bar above and multiple USB charge ports (both types) for devices only Captain Kirk had 40-something years ago.

But you can’t get it with just two doors.

The 392 might be just a touch too much engine for the short-wheelbase (96.8 inch) two-door Wrangler.

Though it would be even more fun – for just that reason.

The Rest

This Wrangler has some indirect competition in the form of the just-revived Ford Bronco. But that one, though also capable, is very much unlike its namesake.

There’s no V8, for openers, which is something that defined the original Bronco. And its twice-turbocharged 2.7 liter V6 is only half engine – and only makes about half the horsepower. It’s true there’s Raptor (or Warthog) version of the Bronco pending, but no matter how much horsepower they get that little V6 to make, it’ll never be a Bronco in the way that this Wrangler remains a Jeep.

The Mercedes Gelandewagen is a closer rival in that it is similarly laid out. It’s iconic. It has a V8 with a booming “active” exhaust system. And it is immensely capable.

It also has a base price of $133,859 – almost twice the asking price of this Jeep 392.

Maybe it’s not such bad times, after all!

The Bottom Line

Drop the windshield, peel back the roof, lose the doors – and lose anyone trying to follow you.

.  .  .

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13 COMMENTS

  1. This thing sure gives me a car-boner. I know it will never be, but just like other things that get me excited, I can always fantasize. 😉

  2. not much to say pretty bad ass. Take it over a bmw X6 any day. too bad about the manual sigh but man the rest of the package is unbeatable.

  3. Probably another of the last vehicles green lit by Sergio Marchionne. I wasn’t a big fan of Fiat taking over Chrysler, but getting Marchionne probably made it worthwhile. One of the few car guys that was left in the auto business, and taken too soon. I imagine he wished all these vehicles could have been mass market instead of 70k one off specials.

    These vehicles will be his legacy. And the few vehicles from this era that people will want to collect and keep around.

  4. I have been impressed with FCA or whatever their calling themselves today, for a while. My family has converted from all GM to all FCA over the past 5 years.
    It is obvious to me with their hemi variants, etc… that they are sticking to a model that is working for them, and good for us who enjoy these things. We haven’t been more car happy in a long time.
    The new Grand Cherokee coming out was a recent test to me if they were going to go down the smaller-turbo route like all else. They did not. Still can get the 5.7, not sure if the SRT will still be avail., we’ll see.
    My question Eric is, does their old owners, FCA, and their new owners, ??, leave the North American market offerings to the North American management/engineering/manufacturing people? Certainly looks like they do.

  5. ‘The 392 – that’s 6.4 liters in metric – produces 470 horsepower’ — EP

    Comparing the specific output of Jeep engines:

    2.0 liter I4 (turbo) … 270 hp … 135 hp/L
    3.6 liter V6 (VVT) … 285 hp … 79 hp/L
    6.4 liter V8 (pushrod) … 470 hp … 73 hp/L

    With no turbo and old-school pushrod valves, the 392 hemi V8 is somewhat of a throwback to the big but lazy V8s of the Chrysler land yacht era, not to mention the original Chargers, Challengers, Cudas, and such.

    Good for longevity, probably. But why not turbocharge the V6, to make the same power in a smaller package, and (maybe) with a manual tranny?

    Having owned a Grand Cherokee with a thirsty, rough-as-a-cob 4.7 liter V8, I’m a jaded skeptic when it comes to Jeep V8s.

    A $75K, 5,100-lb Jeep definitely reflects the big-dollar, brute-force sensibility of toys for the covid-enriched in 2021. But it likely will infuriate Pete Buttitwitch’s staff of ex-CARB Californians, whose first thought upon seeing the Rubicon 392 will be how to regulate it into early obsolescence.

    • Hi Jim,

      There are intangibles to consider, too. Power is not everything. The V8 sounds like no turbo four or six ever could. That alone makes all the difference. But also keep in mind how under-stressed this V8 is vs. the turbocharged four – or a turbocharged V6. Also, how much less complex it is. Fewer parts. Fewer things to go wrong.

    • The pentastar was intended to be turbocharged and have direct injection, but early testing with latter caused the program to be scrapped.

      Fca (stellantis) is actually working on a new Inline 6, based on the 2.0, that is expected to (with turbocharging) eventually replace the hemis. It’s expected to be about 3.0l to avoid European taxes on higher displacement engines.

      Rumor was that it may debut in the new Grand Cherokee, although things have been quiet lately. It was also pegged for the Grand Wagoneer/ Wagoneer, but thus far only the 5.7 and 6.4 have been announced.

  6. Informative review! I was in the Jeep culture for many years. My ’97’ wrangler had 187,000 on it when I let it go. 1997 was the return of the round headlights. My current 4Runner TRD Off-road is better in some areas than any Jeep I owned, however I do miss having top completely down, windows out, manual trans. The Yota has a sun roof so almost same, and fake hood scoop lol. Fox suspensions are legit though, up there with King and Icon.
    I’m hoping to get 200k because I think people are going to be forced into electric go-carts sooner than later and I ain’t having it! Eric’s writing pointed this out multiple times.
    https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/biden-test-drives-ford-f150-lightning-electric-pickup/

  7. Wow, I’m impressed. Not with just the Jeep, that was a really good vehicle review, it almost got me to forget a bit about the way the world is now.

    When I read, “This is a ride for the rich only.” I thought to myself,: Self, there was a time when I thought only the rich could afford a Jaguar. Then one day I noticed I could get an old used one for a few grand.
    I wonder how long it be before a used Jeep is in my price range. Probably not until long after I’ll be able to enjoy having one. …Unless, hmm there’s probably a few Richie rich kids getting one, they’ll abuse it, mangle it, or wreck it, so there’s a very slim chance (close to none) I could someday get a fixer upper. At least now, after reading that review, I’ll know to keep an eye out for that particular model vs. the V-6’s.

    • The other question is how many of these will actually get dirty? I’m sure there will be flippers who just hold it assuming it will increase in value due to the rarity. It would be a shame, but in a way these are like works of art, especially if the Greenies get their way.

  8. For those who want to own one, you can also buy a Jeep driver’s license over at ebay. The Popeye cartoon character Jeep, can’t really go wrong there.

    I’ll leave my well-stocked super-cool digs up in Aspen, fly to Denver, pick one or two of some Rubicons and go from there. Merely wishful thinking there. Cargurus has them somewhere around these parts.

    Army green, has to be.

    • The real Aspenites cruise the back country in old CJs or XJ Cherokees. And Toyota Tacos. Lots and lots of them everywhere. Of course that’s just one of the vehicles in the barn, alongside the old Daytona and the wife’s Merc Crossover.

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