2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 Review - Jeep In Excess
2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 Fast Facts
No one needs a V8 in a Jeep Wrangler. But sometimes brands do things just because they can. Which is the case with this particular Jeep – there’s a freakin’ Hemi underhood, for no other reason than Jeep can do it.
Well – there’s one other reason. The company can rake in some serious cash.
That’s because adding the 6.4-liter V8 adds a lot of heft to the price tag. My test vehicle stickered for nearly 80 grand.
Eighty grand for a Wrangler. One that outside of the V8 and the Rubicon off-road trim – something that is available with other powertrains – adds very little to the overall Wrangler experience.
That said, the extra power – and the exhaust burble, especially when the dual-mode exhaust system is set correctly – are appreciated. I’ve driven many a Wrangler, and the 392 is the first I’ve piloted that had true passing punch. It might be overkill, but who cares? At least until it’s time to refuel – which it will be often.
Editor’s note: Although we’re well into 2022, we’ll still be running reviews of some 2021 models, particularly models that don’t change significantly for 2022. That’s in part because these models are significant to the market, in part because yours truly had to back-burner some reviews while working on other internal projects, and in part because some 2021s are still in the press fleet. Indeed, I just recently tested a 2021 Bronco.
Picking this Wrangler with the Rubicon trim gets you the 6.4-liter V8 (470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, Fox shocks, water fording of up to 32.5 inches, 33-inch tires, 2-inch lift, eight-speed automatic transmission, and a 48:1 crawl ratio.
V8 aside, you have the bog-standard Wrangler experience, meaning a wandering highway ride that requires frequent steering corrections, plenty of road and wind noise intruding at speed, and a bouncy ride. It’s not all bad, of course – the modern Wrangler’s interior is a pleasant place to do business, Uconnect remains one of the better infotainment systems out there, and there are plenty of off-road goodies, especially in Rubicon models, that you can use should you like having off-pavement adventures.
This author had an adventure, all right. I took this Wrangler off-road and it acquitted itself as well as any other Wrangler would, though the extra torque seemed unnecessary on slicker surfaces (even 4WD engaged and axles locked appropriately). You might want the V8 for its burble, passing power, or wretched excess, but you probably won’t need the extra oomph off-road.
Here’s the point of this piece where I ‘fess up – just like with the Ford Raptor from a few years ago, I got stuck. Big time. It was a similar situation – went too slow into a water-filled hole and had no traction to get out. In my defense, part of the reason I didn’t just blast through was that the trail was slick and there were trees on each side – too much throttle would’ve likely resulted in fishtailing that could’ve bent sheetmetal.
I felt a little bit better about my dumbassery when the park ranger who winched me and my companion out told us that the same mud hole had killed a Mojave Gladiator the week before. Better, because the Mojave is just as capable as the Rubicon and this water hole took out two mean machines, but also worse, because the Gladiator was apparently heavily damaged.
As for this test rig, it got us home, with no obvious drivability issues while moving. That said it, it stopped running whenever it was placed in Park.
I dug around some forums after the incident and found that other Wrangler owners have reported the same issue occurring after off-roading if they got a bit too dirty. Perhaps rocks or dirt/mud got somewhere they shouldn’t and were causing trouble.
I also attempted to pick Jeep’s brain about the incident – after apologizing profusely, of course – but was told that while Jeep PR wouldn’t hold what happened against me (shit happens off-road, no sheetmetal was bent, I apologized, I was transparent, et cetera), they would prefer to keep any lessons learned internal. I did hear that perhaps the trans was replaced, though I could not confirm it.
To be clear, I am not saying the Jeep failed its off-road test – I am the one who failed. And the Jeep gets credit – it got us home. So if you have your eyes on this Jeep in Rubicon trim, rest assured it’s just as capable as any other Wrangler I’ve tested, and it fell victim to a bad decision. I’ll also give a shout-out to the air-intake system for keeping the Jeep running even when semi-submerged.
Bad days at the off-road park aside, the V8 Wrangler experience, especially in Rubicon trim, is much like the experience in most other Wranglers – you’re asked to sacrifice some comfort, as well as ride/handling, for off-road capability. Here you’re further asked for more sacrifice – a much larger cash outlay and even worse fuel economy. The trade-off is a serious increase in power that’s pretty useful on road, and may or may not help off-pavement, depending on the situation – sometimes, more power is helpful, sometimes it’s unnecessary or even counterproductive.
Other than the engine, what does 80 grand get you? Full-time four-wheel drive, of course, and a 3.73 rear-axle ratio. Other standard features include locking front and rear axles, remote start, tow hooks, keyless entry and starting, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, heated front seats, Uconnect, Alpine audio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, audio, USB ports, Bluetooth, 17-inch wheels, three-piece body-color hardtop, fender flares, and automatic temperature control.
Optional features included the Firecracker Red paint, a towing package, a cargo package, all-weather floor mats, off-road camera, and Jeep’s one-touch power top (replaces the body-color hardtop). The out-the-door price, including the $1,495 destination charge, was $78,545.
Those dismal fuel economy numbers I hinted at? 13/17/14. Yeesh.
Once I shook off the shame of getting stuck (again) and put the Wrangler in proper perspective, I walked away with mixed feelings. Putting a V8 in a Wrangler sounds good, and when you tromp the gas, you understand why Jeep did it. But the extra power is probably not necessary for most off-roading. I’m not even sure it’s all that helpful on-road – yes, I talked about how this Wrangler has much more passing punch than most, but the other powertrains on offer aren’t totally anemic. They can do most passing and merging work without much drama, especially if you’re patient.
Younger me would just, without much thought, say “screw it, V8 all the things”. Older, more experienced me says putting a V8 in a Wrangler is a lot like buying first-class airfare – it’s a lot more expensive and definitely more fun, but not strictly necessary.
What’s New for 2021
The availability of V8 power and upgraded off-road capability.
Who Should Buy It
Those who absolutely, positively need V8 power in their Wrangler – and can afford the payments. And the fuel.
[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]
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