Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: October 7, 2022
It’s offputting at first, hearing a Jeep Wrangler scream and howl like a Dodge Charger SRT. We’re used to these modernized army trucks coarsely roaring with the sound of an agricultural diesel, or that of a naturally aspirated Pentastar V6. But a bass-filled, heart-thumping V8? Not something we would have imagined. You can blame Ford for that, for reviving the Bronco to give the Wrangler a proper rival. Competition breeds competition, and who wins in the end? We, the consumers. As they say, a rising tide raises all ships.
This is the Wrangler Rubicon 392 and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a Wrangler with a 6.4-litre HEMI V8 stashed up front that delivers 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine the Stellantis group uses in their SRT models. And it’s kind of ironic, no? With the recent uprise of electric vehicles and the stark push for zero-emission mobility, some manufacturers are still getting the green light to plop their thirstiest fossil-fuel-burning engines into their SUVs. The Wrangler isn’t the only one, it’s just following suit. Cadillac just debuted its most powerful Escalade V with a 682-hp V8 engine, and even the Land Rover Defender now comes with a supercharged V8.
We never thought the Wrangler needed more power but who are we to complain? We are just glad they didn’t supercharge it or the Jeep might actually take flight. But Jeep didn’t just insert that eight-cylinder and call it a day. They also reinforced the Wrangler’s frames to deal with the higher torque loads, added a two-inch lift kit with FOX dampers so it actually sits higher than your standard Rubicon, and also fitted larger rear brakes to pull you back into sane speeds. The 392 does not come with a transfer case that allows for two-wheel-drive - it’s full-time 4WD only. The 8-speed automatic has also been beefed up, sending that power through to the 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires. The front hood scoop is functional to help cool the engine, and quad exhaust tailpipes help distinguish this V8 model, as do the 392 badges.
What’s it like to drive? The sound alone is enough to summon goosebumps. There’s a dedicated exhaust button on the center stack that controls it and when the valves are opened, the ignition bark is loud, sharp, and actually more aggressive in tone than many of the Dodge SRTs. It sounds different than the Hellcat supercharged engine too - more focused, deliberately thunderous, and it seems to physically vibrate the entire Jeep almost on purpose. The noise is more of a chainsaw-ripping Jaguar or Range Rover SVR rather than an SRT. But this is one of the only factory exhausts on the market where ON and OFF make such a huge difference. When off, it’s docile and quiet, and its hushed acoustics could even pass off as a V6.
The resulting acceleration is hilarious. The nose raises to the sky when you hammer down the throttle, as the wheels claw into the ground and search for as much grip and tarmac as possible. It feels like the V8 offers more torque than the chassis can handle, but it’s still wickedly quick when the road is dry and straight, and speedier than any Wrangler really has the right to be going. Let’s just say that 470 hp feels more than enough, even for the heavy-footed driver. It’s odd to see paddle shifters in a Wrangler - a first for the model - but the 392 enjoys being manually rowed. You can make the most of the V8’s broad torqueband, and it downshifts rather quickly too, barking on each pull of the paddle.
Handling was never the Wrangler’s forte and it’s not something that has changed with added cylinders. In fact, the newfound power exacerbates its unwillingness to turn. The front wheels will constantly wander about on the road forcing you to micro-correct your trajectory every few seconds. It can become tiresome, especially on the highway at triple-digit speeds. We can blame the large off-roading tires for that, but we also don’t always want an arm workout on the commute home. On the flip side, the Ford Bronco provides a much more compliant and tolerable journey, as does the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro.
The same goes for damping, as the Wrangler quickly becomes nervous when negotiating pockmarked roads and broken pavement. Waiting for it to settle after a hard vertical oscillation is frightening, as we never know which way the wheels are going to be pointed when it does land. Here, higher velocities are unproportional to driver confidence. Best to always be awake when piloting the 392 at speed, and with this kind of V8 at your disposal, chances of that are mighty high.
Then we get to the price. The 392 doesn’t come cheap. In fact, it costs nearly $40,000 then the second-most-expensive Wrangler. Listing at $101,445, and with our test vehicle’s as-tested price of $114,795 you can buy two Unlimited Sahara models with change leftover. We’re not used to a Wrangler with a six-figure price tag but then again we aren’t used to one with a snorting V8 either.
The wicked acceleration the 392 provides along with its thrilling acoustics provide the iconic Wrangler with a unique and distinctive character. Whether it’s up your alley or not depends on what you’re looking for, but it’s safe to say that even with heightened emission regulations, some car companies haven’t forgotten what makes our souls stir. In fact, they seem to be taking advantage of the market’s slow adoption rate of electric vehicles. We might look back a decade from now and call this the golden age of V8s, and the Wrangler 392 is a part of it.
Model: 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited 392
Paint Type: Hydro Blue Pearl
Base Price: $101,445
Price as Tested: $114,795
Engine: 6.4-litre HEMI V8
Horsepower: 470 hp
Torque: 470 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 18.5
Tires: BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2; LT315/70R17C 113/110S