Review: 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

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Cameron Neveu

During the mid-2000s, numerous recording artists infiltrated the pop charts with a similar schtick: Rather than composing an original piece of work, or even overlaying samples over original production, producers would layer a segment of one song on top of another. Take the guitar riff from, say, “Strange Brew,” and then throw verses from Notorious B.I.G. overtop. Boom, radio hit. Of the masher artists, the most popular was Girl Talk—a 20-something student named Greg Gillis who produced his first album while studying biomedical engineering. Girl Talk made music for parties. Indeed, dancing to your favorite Elton John piano track while rapping Outkast’s “Miss Jackson” after a few pours was a heart-pumping college pastime in the years leading up to 2010.

By 2012, the genre was wilting on the vine. Most mashup artists had moved on to producing original beats for pop artists. My suspicion was that people wanted to hear the actual song, rather than a bastardized clip with juxtaposed lyrics. Mashups were ultimately a short-lived gimmick. Of course, there is a certain brightness to such delights before they quickly burn out, which is why I was rather excited to spend a week with the Wrangler Rubicon 392.

Cameron Neveu

Like the best mixed track from back in the day, this Jeep-meets-Hemi mashup makes a startling first impression. Last year, we attended the media launch of the Wrangler 392 surmised that this Hemi Rubicon is ideal for rock crawlers and road rippers alike.  The question is, does it have staying power, or does the riff get old after a few plays?

If you haven’t been paying attention to the hot war between Ford and Jeep playing out since the Blue Oval debuted its Bronco, here’s a crash course. In the three short years since the first Bronco hit pay dirt, Jeep has fortified its Wrangler lineup with the hybrid Wrangler 4xe and the 29-mpg EcoDiesel, aiming to get ahead of Bronco’s impending expansion of offerings. With the Bronco Raptor set to smash the off-road performance segment, Jeep opted preemptive strike with the Rubicon 392 for 2021.

This 470-hp, 470 lb-ft 4×4 marks the first time Jeep has shoehorned a V-8 behind its seven slat grille since the CJ-7. Granted, your cousin Ricky may have performed a similar feat by swapping in a 350 cubic-inch small-block Chevy, but his shade-tree conversion likely didn’t boast 0-60 mph in under five seconds and a full factory warranty.

Our test rig, slathered in Firecracker Red paint ($395), also came equipped with the $3995 Xtreme Recon package, which sports a 1.5-inch lift to accommodate 35-inch bog-slaying rubber. Trail-ready cargo rails ($195), all-weather mats ($170), a hardtop headliner ($525), an off-road camera ($695), and destination fee contribute to a hefty MSRP of $84,665.

I set off by pointing the 392’s mammoth hoodscoop north and tore off down superhighway I-75. If you’ve never driven a Wrangler, expressway speeds will initially feel like reentry into earth’s atmosphere aboard a rowboat. Those who have put decent miles on any Jeep product will find the 392 positively quaint at 70 mph. The truck has been fortified through redesigned frame rails and regular Rubicon-sourced brakes. Whether stopping or going, the 392 feels just as approachable as my parents’ Gladiator. The Dana 44 axles and double-cheeseburger sidewalls eventually take their toll, however, and a half hour or so you begin to make subconscious micro-adjustments to the steering wheel to keep things linear.

Typical of any burly off-roader, this wandering behavior is the most significant difference a modern-day Cherokee owner would immediately notice. Road noise is the other one. That’s apples to oranges, of course, but assistant managing editor Grace Houghton sampled both Bronco Sasquatch and the Wrangler 392; she noted that the tire slap was actually worse in the Ford. Any noise that does enter cabin can be drowned out with Jeep’s dual-mode exhaust and a bit of ankle flexing. Under normal operation, the system routes exhaust through the entire muffler. With the push of a button on the dash, however, electronically controlled baffles open to allow straight flow through all four exhaust tips. (Or, if you prefer a more conventional road trip soundtrack, you could always upgrade to the Alpine sound system, which provides plenty of auditory punch.)

I imagine it’s quite a design challenge to make an interior arrangement as old as your grandparents appear fresh. That said, designers were able to cloak the cabin in plenty of stainless steel, exposed screwheads, rubber, and stitching to distract from the Truman-era layout. The upright seats are tractor-like but comfortable, and all the buttons needed to negotiate the cruise control, gauge cluster, and stereo adorn the chunky wheel in a logical configuration.

While toggling through the instrument cluster menus, I noticed the readout creeping up to a 17-mpg average, having reset the trip info prior to my freeway jaunt. Considering the 6.4-liter Hemi, wide tires, and a 5100-pound curb weight, this result is not at all terrible. Efficiency (a relative term, yes) is aided by cylinder deactivation that cuts out half of the engine under low strain. Still, given the state of gas prices, the fact that high-octane dino juice is required for the 392, and the Wrangler’s sail-like aerodynamics, dancing with this Jeep is an expensive date.

At the pump, expect to be approached by everyone who heard you pull in plus any other duck-carrying members of the Jeep tribe in the vicinity. The latter will likely take note of the bulging warthog-like nose and the 392 on the hood scoop, which are really the only big exterior differentiators from a regular Wrangler Rubicon.

Cameron Neveu

The pain incurred at (frequent) gas pump pit stops dissipates with each successive stoplight launch. Foot meets floor and the 392 immediately squats back on its haunches, all four wheels pulling forward like a clawed cat on carpet. Under hard cornering and on highway entrance ramps, the truck is surprisingly composed, though it is easy (read: fun) to squeal the tires with aggressive snaps of the steering wheel. Typically, oversized-engine-meets-unlikely-host means clunky jaunts through cityscape, and I’ve witnessed many bucking snorting steeds try to navigate Woodward traffic to no avail. Rolling through town in the 392, though, the truck never once wavered. The eight-speed auto smoothly shuffled cogs throughout, as well.

Highway, city, around town—the 392 is up to the task. That livability may make you occasionally suspicious of the value behind the Jeep’s lofty sticker price, but all it takes a hard right onto the next available two-track, where the off-road hardware—including a full-time two-speed transfer case, electric front and rear lockers, and aluminum Fox shocks—can prove their worth. The truck makes short work of any off-road obstacle, including water. A trio of tubes beyond the giant hood scoop divert the wet stuff away from the intake, allowing for nearly three feet of water fording depth. Inside, the 8.4-inch touchscreen, which looks like it was swallowed by a WeatherTech floor mat, provides trail time telemetry in Jeep’s Off-Road Pages and a forward-facing trail camera, while the seven-inch instrument cluster can display pitch and roll data.

Cameron Neveu

Despite the off-road focus, Wranglers, by and large, ordinarily serve as daily drivers. Selling a live-axle, ladder-frame 4×4 trail runner is inherently about balancing capability and comfort, as well as community cred. Even though much of the same can be said for the burgeoning Bronco, Ford has already made it clear that it intends to cap the factory cylinder number to six. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, on the other hand, knows what its most loyal customers want. The Hemi’s thrust and the Wrangler Rubicon’s proven platform make for a confidence-inspiring matrimony.

As much as I tried, I found nothing during the week-long loan to suggest this Wrangler 392 relies on mere novelty. In no way does the truck feel like a mashup. It’s a fully baked banger, a hit single that tops the charts above any dedicated off-roader on lots today. If only I could pop in a Girl Talk CD and blow the doors off.

 

 ***

 

2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

Price: $77,095 / $84,665 (base / as-tested)

Highs: Surprisingly easy to daily, incredible exhaust note, can go anywhere.

Lows: Fuel economy will make short work of your wallet, considerable road noise, lofty sticker price

Summary: A fully baked banger whose Hemi snarl will be music to Jeep fans’ ears.

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