Jeep has a knack for building fantastic off-roaders that can hit the trails straight off the showroom floor, if the buyers so choose. It also tends to give its buyers what they ask for, even if the process takes a while. The four-door Wrangler was teased in a number of concepts, as was the return of a Jeep pickup, and each was eventually offered for sale. After much pleading from the cult of compression-ignition, Jeep also offered the Wrangler and Gladiator with a diesel engine. There’s really only one thing left on the solid-axle-fanatic’s wish list: a Hemi V-8. Well, Jeep finally built a Hemi-powered Wrangler, a 450-hp beast meant for the Easter Jeep Safari—and they let us drive it.
We took the concept on a quick trip through some southern California canyon roads to get a feel for the Hemi V-8’s capability. No surprise here—it hauls, delivering a 0–60 mph run in under five seconds. Jeep seems to borrow heavily from the other vehicles that use the 392 and eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic combination; the engine sings to its redline and makes the 1–2 shift with a loud brap from the exhaust, just as you’d expect from a Challenger.
With its two-inch lift and two extra inches of ground clearance thanks to four-inch-taller rubber, the Wrangler 392 doesn’t feel as nimble as its factory cohorts with their 33-inch tires. Still, canyon roads were no problem, and the 392 handled curves with just a tad more body roll due to its increased height.
The 285-hp Pentastar V-6 is perfectly up the task of shuttling even a four-door Rubicon up the trail and accelerating it to freeway speed with reasonable urgency. However, it’s a different story when owners fit their Jeeps with heavy steel bumpers, body armor, tire carriers, Jerry cans, and then bolt-on lift kits and their accompanying taller tires. The 392 Hemi could solve those issues handily, but the larger engine may also push the limits of the Wrangler’s cooling abilities.
Jeep’s recent addition of the EcoDiesel to the Gladiator lineup showed that the airflow required by the turbocharged mill strained the Gladiator’s cooling system, which draws air through the same seven-slot grille as the Wrangler. Despite its extra torque and almost equal horsepower, the EcoDiesel’s towing capacity tops out at 6000 pounds in the Gladiator; the 3.6-liter Pentastar is fine towing 7650 pounds.
The big, powerful Hemi would surely have no trouble getting a heavy trailer in motion, but we wouldn’t expect much improvement in its towing capacity. The mechanical horses used to haul a trailer have to breathe somehow, and there’s just not enough real estate in the Wrangler’s narrow grille for a full-size truck’s worth of airflow. Considering that tow ratings have never been a priority for Wrangler buyers, we wouldn’t count out a V-8, especially knowing Mopar’s fondness for overkill.
Cooling aside, the Gladiator’s engine bay doesn’t seem terribly cramped with the V-8 and its wide cylinder heads. It looks a lot like any other modern engine bay—the 392 doesn’t seem to suffer too much in the transplant. Output, at 450 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, is down slightly from its other SRT SUV applications (the Hemi makes 475 hp and 470 lb-ft in the Durango). Chalk up the discrepancy to the slightly compromised intake and exhaust routing.
In addition to the new powertrain, the Wrangler 392 shows off concept half doors that open and close effortlessly thanks to their remarkably low weight. Tossing the side glass—and the corresponding motor tracks and upper frame—doesn’t leave a whole lot behind. The 392 also does away with the rear and rear side glass, leaving just a roof and the Sky One-Touch top. The modifications highlight how customizable a Wrangler can be without any permanent modifications.
Jeep hasn’t promised a production version of the Wrangler 392 just yet. It’s simply watching and waiting for the response to this concept before making a commitment. The 4xe may offer some of the extra power that Wrangler fans crave, but the allure of a 6.4-liter Hemi is irreplaceable. From where we sit, a V-8 Wrangler is long overdue.