► A Jeep with the heart of a muscle car
► 470bhp, 470lb ft, 4.5sec 0-60mph
► Clive Sutton specialists will import one to the UK
Just like Bill Murray being cast in the latest Ghostbusters movie, introducing a V8 version in Jeep’s iconic Wrangler feels like fan service for the most power-hungry Baja brawlers that proudly call themselves Jeep fanatics. It’s done so in the past, so why not now too?
And, since Jeep is investing in electrification (including a Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid that’s currently the best-selling PHEV in the USA), this new Wrangler Rubicon 392 is designed to keep the faithful, er… faithful as the iconic off-roading brand also looks beyond the combustion engine.
So, what’s special about the 392?
Well, the engine is the most crucial part of this recipe. It’s a 6.4-litre naturally-aspirated HEMI V8 from a Dodge Challenger, allowing this Wrangler to sprint to 60mph in 4.5 seconds. Jeep has to limit its top speed to 112mph – likely to save the off-road tyres – and it claims this off-road brute can do a quarter-mile drag race in 13 seconds. Madness.
But Jeep doesn’t do things by halves, so it hasn’t just crammed in an enormous engine and called it a day. The 392 is the first Wrangler to come with an active sports exhaust that’s switchable via a button on the dashboard (which, funnily enough replaces the start/stop button we get in its place on European Wranglers); keep it off and the flaps’ll only open if you hoof it, or you can have it on all the time for maximum noise.
The 392 (named so after the size of the engine in cubic inches) is available as a four-door only and based on the already heavily off-road biased Rubicon spec available across the pond as well as here in Europe. It still has the Rubicon’s detachable front rollbar, knobbly tyres and low-range transfer case, but the 392 is two inches higher off the ground, and there’s a bonnet scoop with a system that directs water away from the engine bay (called HydroGuide) if you’re wading through deep water. The tyres are fatter, too, and Jeep’s installed Fox shock absorbers here to handle the extra oomph.
And, unlike other Wranglers, the 392 is four-wheel drive by default; with other versions you can switch to just the rears providing power for normal road use but, with the extra power the 392 has under the bonnet, Jeep’s been shrewd enough to know that’s probably not a good idea.
Other than that, it’s standard Wrangler fare: properly utilitarian and chunky-feeling cockpit, thickly padded seats (albeit with ‘Rubicon 392’ embroidered on the seat backs), the ability to take the doors off and lower the windscreen and the same sense that you could go anywhere in one.
And they can be imported to the UK?
Well, plenty of cars can, really. But if you want to save yourself a lot of the faff, Clive Sutton – automotive specialists based in London – lists the Wrangler 392 as one of the US-market cars it’s more than happy to import here in the UK for an interested buyer – which is how we managed to test one in the UK. The team’s also working on bringing the Ford Bronco here, among other Americana usually off limits to us.
All of the importation paperwork is done by the team, a two-year (or 30,000-mile) warranty is provided, for the sum of £105,000 all in. They’ll even convert it to right-hand drive as an option. That price tag makes the Rubicon 392 much cheaper than a Mercedes-AMG G63 that offers almost the same sprint time but, more interestingly, roughly on price parity with a Defender V8.
So does it feel like a muscle car?
Well, let’s treat it like one straight from the off to find out. Press the squidgy rubberised starter and a small, localised earthquake can be felt through the seat of your pants as that muscular V8 awakens.
Switch on that performance exhaust, left-foot brake, stamp on the throttle, lift off the brake and BOOM – the whole chassis bucks and tenses as those enormous off-road tyres claw into the road. You’re kicked back into your seat as the 392 launches into the middle distance with a soundtrack akin to a collapsing star.
The power just surges you forward, with such linear delivery you can only truly expect from an engine without forced induction. It definitely feels quick, but the epic noise – one that absolutely has to be rattling windows and felling trees behind you – feels as if it desensitises you a little bit to all of that shove. Still, it’s hilarious fun – in a very lewd and childish kind of way – and hugely addictive. Just one hit and you’re hooked.
It’s eye-popping, as the eight-speed automatic is slurring the gearchanges so smoothly you barely feel them. It’s best to let the ‘box do its thing here; Jeep has kindly provided a manual mode with a couple of metal fingertip-sized paddles on the steering wheel. But if you want to shift gears yourself, it’s almost like you’re interrupting the gearbox’s hard work, with lurchy shifts being accompanied by razzberry farts from the exhaust. It’s also, as you’d expect, hugely thirsty – our drives ranged anywhere from 13-16mpg.
Then when you get to a corner?
Ah, yes – forgot about those. It’s a mostly similar story to a regular Wrangler Rubicon here, even with the odd performance part addition to the 392’s recipe. The enormous tyres, whirring away on tarmac pretty much permanently on the move, make the steering woollier than a Boris Johnson speech.
It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s very much as if you’re driving one of those cars on movie sets – lots of sawing at the wheel just to remain straight ahead. Get brave with your cornering speeds and you can initiate lift-off four-wheel drifts, particularly in the wet.
It’s also not very refined. Again, as you’d expect for a Jeep with a whomping V8. The throttle’s twitchy and, if you combine that tyre noise with the Wrangler’s blocky structure and it brings up all kinds of wind noise from various components, as well as crosswinds. Drive this on a motorway on a remotely breezy day and it’s like you’re sat in a greenhouse during a storm.
That being said, those Fox shock absorbers do their work. A Wrangler Rubicon can feel tremendously jittery on UK tarmac, but the addition of these more sophisticated shocks mean the 392 is able to quell ruts and potholes with more decency.
Of course, this is a predominantly off-road machine so, while the 392’s shape and parts compromise on-road handling, it gives it proper prowess off it. We threw the 392 at some boggy Cambridgeshire green lanes and it just ploughed through them as if it was nothing.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392: verdict
Rationally speaking, the Rubicon 392 is pig-headed and bulky to drive, thirsty, obscenely loud and utterly obnoxious to passers-by – somehow even more so than a G63 ever could be.
But let’s be honest, the Rubicon 392 is also just a toy – something to be wheeled out when the mood takes you – rather than a daily driver. It’s capable of traversing any terrain – perhaps to the point you don’t even realise you’ve ventured off the beaten track – and it’s full of character.
The Wrangler Rubicon 392 is daft by any reasonable measure, but some of the most fun cars out there are.