First drive: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 proves just how fun nonsense can be

When I was a kid on family road trips, and I wasn’t getting yelled at to stop playing with the damn door lock, I’d daydream of a vehicle that could handle all the terrain passing by my window. One that could trundle through dale and dell, shred the roadside cornfields, launch over hills and splash through rivers, and even rocket off ramps into oblivion. It could be a monster truck, an ATV, Grandpa’s pickup, the General Lee, a hovercraft, a watercar, anything but our Chevy Caprice Classic station wagon. 

Little did I know, decades later, that this fantasy would blend into a reality known as the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392. This $78,000 Jeep has the V-8 power of a muscle car, the go-anywhere attitude of a Wrangler, the topless freedom of a convertible with the bonus of removable doors, and the on-road steadiness of drunken Jenga. 

During my short weekend tooling around the suburbs, the Rubicon 392 satisfied all my youthful fantasies while ignoring all practical realities. It is awesome; it is absurd. It’s selling out so quickly dealers are adding $5,000 to the already steep price, and not only does it defy most properties of physics it also defies all logic.

I wasn’t able to test all its capabilities, but I got to experience what it’s like to live with, from barely sneaking under the garage door to loading up hockey bags and hitting the highway on a particularly blustery weekend. It was a blast...and I’m glad it’s gone.

Painted Firecracker Red with a hood scoop lording over that lovable seven-slot grille and round headlights, the Rubicon 392 is a Jeep gone bad. The hood scoop has a three-level duct that includes a drain that can suck in up to 15 gallons of water a minute so you can ford 32.5 inches of water, without affecting air to the engine. Once back on terra firma, if mud or snow or zombie guts block the scoop, a secondary duct feeds the 392 cubic inches of American muscle.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

The 6.4-liter V-8 engine makes 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. Yeah. It’s nuts, in a way only Dodge and Jeep can be nuts. The last time a Jeep came with a V-8 from a factory it made 124 hp and Reagan was being elected to his first term. The only time that Jeep CJ went to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds was when it tumbled off a cliff. Talk about evolution. That maths out to four times the output in 40 years. 

The 392 snarls like a beast, rears back on its beefy tires so it almost feels like it’ll pop a wheelie. To reach 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, or a quarter mile in 13 seconds, in a muscle car is mildly stirring in these high-horsepower days. But to do it that high up on such wobbly legs with no roof is like those GoPro videos of the loons mountain biking on a single track ridge up in the clouds. It’s exhilarating, and kinda terrifying. You feel like the words embossed on Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules’s wallet in “Pulp Fiction.”

Jeep says it borrows an engine strategy called torque reserve from drag racers to manage fuel flow to the cylinders to optimize power delivery at launch. OK, the wizardry works, and when you press the button to open the dual-pipe exhaust the whole neighborhood knows something’s working.

The quad exhaust pipes are somewhat hidden by a rear tow hook, an optional $350 Class II receiver hitch on my tester, and a chunky skid plate, so the rear lacks the same menace as the front. But the Rubicon 392 also has a 2-inch lift on standard 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires with 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels that look almost as impressive as how they function over the roughest terrain. 

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

Interestingly, the 10.3 inches of ground clearance is 0.5 inch less than the regular Rubicon, and lower still than the Ford Bronco, but the lack of running boards means I still needed the pull handles to get in. The approach angle increases from 43.9 degrees in the regular Rubicon to 44.5 degrees, and the departure angle increases about the same amount from 37 to 37.5 degrees. The breakover angle remains the same at 22.6 degrees.  

I didn’t get to test any of this except for how it drives on the road. Aside from the beastly acceleration, it’s exhausting. 

With the Rubicon 392, Jeep makes drivers work full time, like its four-wheel-drive system. On the highway, it bounces all over the place, skipping over road seams like a grade schooler on summer break. 

The play in the recirculating ball steering means constant corrections are needed, waxing on, waxing off, just to keep a straight line at speed. As fun as the prodigious power is lurking beneath that hood scoop, it also creates a dissonance that comes from riding so high, moving so quickly, and having to turn so deliberately. Imagine, as I did in the station wagon prison cell of my youth, strapping a rocket booster on your back while wearing old-school roller skates, then flying into a hairpin turn. 

Jeep stiffened the frame and suspension to handle the engine’s power and weight, and used heavy duty widetrack Dana 44 axles with performance Fox shocks for better on- and off-road responses. It doesn’t help on the highway.

Driving a Jeep with this kind of power and pluck over whoops and sand dunes would fulfill every childhood daydream. It might be work to get there, but peeling back the optional Sky power top on my tester and hitting the gas in a straight line, makes it fun. For a little while. 

Jeep provided a Wrangler Rubicon 392 in my suburban driveway to bring you this firsthand review.

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