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Jeep parks a hardcore, V8-powered tank slap bang on the Ford Bronco’s lawn. The shock-and-awe factor is high, but beneath the battle gear is a very authentic and versatile car
18 November 2021

What is it?

You might well wonder why Jeep chose 2021 to launch its first headbanging, V8-engined Wrangler in more than three decades.

Today’s airwaves brim with debate about how best to reduce our carbon footprints, and Jeep already toes the environmental line to some extent: it currently offers a Wrangler plug-in hybrid, with a four-pot engine and 20 or so miles of electric range, and a Wrangler EV is expected to arrive soon. So surely the whole big-boned V8 thing is just a little passé?

Perhaps. But sometimes one needs to discard the gloves, and for Jeep that meant announcing the flagship Wrangler Rubicon 392 (that number being 6.4 litres in cubic inches) on the same morning last year that Ford revealed its reinvented Bronco.

This wasn’t so much stealing the limelight as declaring war, and you can see why. The Bronco comes in trim levels with names like Big Bend and Badlands. It’s characterful and capable, and the factory is lining up a fruity V6-engined Raptor variant.

In short, the new Ford is the biggest commercial threat that the modern Wrangler has yet faced, and that’s why the Rubicon 392 is here – not to sell in big volumes but just to remind us that when it comes to cartoonishly likeable and phenomenally tough off-roaders, nobody does it like Jeep.

What's it like?

The 392 is quite the showpiece. That mammoth engine is the same naturally aspirated Hemi unit found in the Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack, making 470bhp and 470lb ft. It sounds gravelly and archaic, rather than woofly and smooth like the twin-turbocharged V8s we get here in Europe, but it seriously bombastic (yes, there's even a sports exhaust) and exciting and it certainly gets the job done, firing the heavy Rubicon 392 to 60mph in less than 5.0sec.

Top speed is limited to 99mph to protect the all-terrain tyres, although in truth the main benefit of the V8 over the standard four- and six-cylinder engines is its throttle response and torque output during recreational crawl-speed off-roading. 

The engine is mated to an automatic eight-speed gearbox and, as in any other Rubicon, you have the ability to lock the differentials and disconnect the front anti-roll bar for extra suspension travel on the boulder fields these cars seem to love.

It’s a toy, the 392, but a very serious one, and on British country lanes you never quite shake the subliminal desire to suddenly turn hard left, vault the ditch, put a perfectly square-shaped hole in the hedgerow and then go full-throttle across the fields, V8 roaring and the tyres launching rooster-trails of mud and grass in your wake. And I'm sure the car would do just that. 

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The main difference between a regular Rubicon and the 392 is that – as is apparent when you get near the latter’s monolithic form – the ride height is increased by two inches. This is courtesy of new Fox dampers, which gleam from within the recesses between the tops of the 33in tyres and the signature box arches.

The increase improves the Rubicon’s already excellent approach, departure and breakover angles, for even greater off-road dexterity. At the back lurk four functional-looking exhaust tips, which, along with the new wade-friendly bonnet scoop and bronze detailing, mean you’re not going to mistake the 392 for some lesser Wrangler derivative. With its electrically folding canvas roof slid back and all four doors taken off, this is unadulterated Mad Max.

That said, most impressive about the 392 is that which applies to all JL-generation Wranglers. For a body-on-frame, rigid-axle 4x4 that will make light work of truly evil trails, it’s miraculously easy-going on the road. The steering is slow but light and passably accurate, body roll is acceptable, the ride pliant-ish and the gearbox is not only smooth-acting but has neatly tuned shift points.

Admittedly, the 392’s breeze-block proportions mean wind roar is loud at speed, and on greasy B-roads the knobblies mean it will understeer like a pig, with plenty of tread shuffle to spike your heart rate. However, you’ve really got to go looking for this kind of thing, and by virtue of the 392 being a ten-tenths car off road, you need to treat it like a six-tenths car on road. Otherwise, get a Mercedes-AMG G63.

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Should I buy one?

It’s clearly a fan favourite, the 392: the most extreme, most capable, fastest and most likeable Wrangler. Some statement. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the most expensive. Jeep UK offers the four-cylinder Rubicon for £52,450, but the US-only 392 is being imported by London dealer Clive Sutton via Sweden, where its lights are made homologation-friendly for UK type-approval, and will cost you £105,000.

Yes, that’s a lot of money, but it’s not terrible value. The Land Rover Defender 110 V8 costs £101,000 and the G63 £162,000, and while the 392 isn’t quite so car-like and reassuringly laid-back to drive as them, it’s not far off. It will also happily trundle down trails that you daren’t take with the Europeans.

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Join the debate

Comments
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jer 22 November 2021

So a quick look shows these cost 78 thousand dollars in the US... mid 50s pounds. Here they're attempting to sell to the UK for 105k. Hmmm I know taxes blah blah but Apple sells an IPhone (or any other device) for the same dollar pound. So this would be 78k. Shouldn't this type of pricing be called out for what it is? 

Tim Oldland 23 November 2021

Import taxes, shipping costs, changes to make it road legal here, IVA costs, plus all their costs for doing all that with staff to pay. If you want one cheaper, try doing it yourself and I'm sure you'll save probably £20k. Sutton offers the easy route.

artill 18 November 2021

Love it. But not at that price. 

nickbowman 18 November 2021

I'm on my third Wrangler...so count me as a fan....my 80th Anniversary has the turbocharged four cyclinder which is simply not as nice as the 6 cylinder of my last one.  This looks great...but I'm simply not going to pay £100,000+ for a left-hand drive...if only Jeep UK would do the decent thing....