Thrill rides are, by design, not supposed to make sense. Strapping into the Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland is a sure-fire ticket to questioning one’s life choices, especially on a hot August night after consuming three corn dogs with mustard. Same goes for bungee jumping off a bridge in Whistler or donning a parachute and throwing oneself out of a perfectly good plane.
Know what else resides on this terrifying but thrilling plateau, making absolutely no sense yet flushing a gearhead’s brain with feel-good endorphins? The new-for-‘21 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, featuring brawny off-road chops and a rip-snorting V8 engine stuffed up its square nose. Far from being some sort of homebrew creation hammered together in someone’s backyard, this is the first Wrangler in about four decades to be offered with eight cylinders living in its engine bay. This HEMI V8 displaces 6.4L, cranking out 470 horsepower and a like amount of torque; you’ll recognize it as doing duty in stern versions of the Challenger and Ram pickup trucks, to name just two of its hairier applications.
Thumbing the 392’s starter button brings the big V8 to liFe with a bark, the kind which gets your attention like a drill sergeant yelling your last name at morning inspection. A button for the active-mode dual exhaust sprouts from the vertical dashboard as if it were your bad-influence grade school buddy offering smokes at recess time. Taking the offer – like you did thirty years ago – uncorks even more aural assault that, like those cigarettes, quickly becomes addictive. Considering the 392’s thirst for fuel and today’s prices, it’ll be an equally expensive habit.
Scientists say the shape of a bumble bee, with its round body and stubby wings, should preclude that creature from taking flight. The same theory can be applied to this V8-equipped Wrangler. The proportions of this rig – narrow body and a centre of gravity like the Empire State Building – are not conducive to the successful on-pavement deployment of 470 horsepower. A simple flex of the driver’s bog toe is enough to bark the rear tires on dry macadam, and any sudden movements are met with the same lack of stability exhibited by that naughty co-ed you dated in college. This is not a machine in which you floor the accelerator when the steering wheel is pointed anywhere but dead ahead.
So let’s leave the pavement and head off-road. Jeep has built its brand on providing towering capability in this area, especially with the Wrangler. The 392 is constructed upon the bones of a Rubicon trim, meaning it is endowed with locking diffs, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, and heavy-duty wide track Dana 44 axles. Added to the mix are upgraded frame rails (presumably so the engine torque doesn’t twist the thing into the shape of Cheez Doodles) and a factory two-inch lift. Those are 33-inch mud-terrain tires on beadlock-capable wheels, if you’re wondering.
Traversing a set of severely off-camber obstacles proved what makes the Wrangler 392 such a handful on pavement – solid front axle, tiptoe ground clearance, and knobby tires – provide the chops required to vanquish off-road hurdles. With the front sway bar disconnected at the flip of a switch, the Wrangler used the most of its wheel travel to tuck and dip its way through tough parts of the course. Its suspension flexes more than Schwarzenegger at Muscle Beach and the extra ground clearance (now 10.2 inches) provided by the factory lift and bigger tires simply take this mountain goat’s capability to an even higher level.
Interestingly, and worth mentioning even though this article isn’t a comparison test, sampling a Ford Bronco Badlands Sasquatch (which is also equipped with disconnecting sway bar and jumbo tires) back-to-back with this Wrangler Rubicon 392 revealed the Jeep to be much more composed off-road with less head-tossing action over large bumps. This is likely down to the Ford’s independent front suspension compared to the Jeep’s solid log since both were packing similar off-road tools with the Ford having a few more tricks up its sleeve. On a ten-point scale, we’d give this Bronco and this Wrangler scores of 9 and 10 off-road respectively but reverse that (with an extra edge to the Bronco) on pavement. We are including this observation as there will likely be a lot of cross-shopping between Bronco and Wrangler.
The 392’s cabin is standard Wrangler fare, which is to say upright and utilitarian. There’s little clue as to the world-destroying power lurking underhood save for the active exhaust button and pair of shifter paddles sprouting from behind the steering wheel. Oh, and the bronze-coloured ‘392’ embroidery on the seats. Wrangler’s occasionally confusing control placement remains, as if Jeep engineers put all the dashboard switches in their mouth and sneezed, then simply installed them wherever they landed. At least the seats are comfortable.
Peering over the hood reveals an aggressively flared forward-facing single nostril, a device behind which resides a functional scoop which gulps atmosphere but whose HydroGuide system is capable of funnelling over 55 litres of water per minute away from the engine. Sightlines provide a great view of the ground you’re about to flatten, and a forward-facing camera is capable of piping video to the 8.4-inch infotainment screen thanks to a slick Off Road Pages function. This is very handy for tight off-road maneuvers or even close quarters at the, ahem, shopping mall. There’s even a washer nozzle to spritz windshield fluid on the lens should it get covered by dirt during exuberant throttle applications.
After all, this delinquent exudes testosterone from every pore of its squared-off sheetmetal. In fact, it would surprise your author if Jeep didn’t start issuing plaid flannel shirts with every purchase and equip the thing with a beard in the glovebox. In the Wrangler Rubicon 392, Jeep has created an absurdly powerful and off-road capable machine with an equally absurd price tag. It terrifies and entertains in equal measures, but you can be sure every occupant will exit the thing wild-eyed and wearing a grin.
Thrill ride, indeed.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.