First drive review: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 excels as a big-boy toy

My dad had a trinket that now sits in my display case among a collection of diecast cars. The small wood plaque says, “The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.” For Dad, those toys were Pontiac muscle cars and drag cars.

I haven’t been as fanatical about big-boy toys as he was, but the vehicle I drove this week may be the ultimate big-boy toy. It was the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, which amounts to an adult Tonka truck, and it came decked out with quite a few toys of its own.

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 is outfitted like it was concocted in a bull session between a couple of car-crazy preteens:

“Dude, what if we took a Wrangler and jacked it up and stuck some big, knobby tires on it.”

“Yeah, with beadlock wheels.”

“Totally, what if we shoved a V-8 in it?”

“Yeah, but not that wussy 370-hp 5.7-liter V-8. Let’s go big, bruh, with the 6.4-liter version and its killer 470 hp!”

“And all the off-road goodies, like a disconnecting sway bar, and front and rear lockers, and a super slow crawl ratio.”

“Dude, that would be the ultimate Mad Max off-roader.”

“We will ride eternal, shiny and chrome!”

More like muddy and badass, but you get the point.

The Wrangler Rubicon 392 lives up to all that bluster and more.

Just the act of climbing into the Rubicon 392 shows it’s built for serious duty. In the interest of improved off-roading, the 392 lacks running boards, and with 10.3 inches of ground clearance getting in requires a high leg kick and a strong core.

Next, a press of the start button triggers your inner car geek. It fires up with an unmistakable American thrum and burble that signals its intention to go fast and tackle any terrain, perhaps at the same time.

Out on the road, it’s tempting to play with the throttle to bounce the exhaust note off nearby buildings and feel the Jeep rear up on its haunches and raise the front end like a boat in the water. A push of the dual-mode exhaust button opens more baffles to rumble a bass soundtrack and alert your neighbors to every fit of joyous acceleration.

The Rubicon 392 comes standard with Jeep’s Selec-Trac four-wheel-drive system, which works full time, has a 2-speed transfer case, and is teamed with front and rear locking differentials. Even though the knobby tires are made more for off-road than on-road traction, four-wheel drive won’t let the Rubicon 392 spin its 285/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires. 

All that traction made the engine bog down in the few instances when I brake torqued it for a hard launch. It requires the right throttle input to achieve Jeep’s quoted 4.5-second 0-60 mph time, and by extension, the quoted 13.0-second quarter-mile time.

I remember when my dad’s gutted drag car ran 13s, so it’s crazy to think a Wrangler is that quick. However, once I feel the pull as the Rubicon 392 climbs up through the gears, it’s more believable. Still, it shouldn’t be possible for a vehicle that sits this high to be this fast.

Jeep does what it can to prevent bogging with a torque reserve strategy that manages fuel flow and controls spark advance and retard to balance output for max power and launch situations. Without it, the bogging could be worse. The transmission also features AMAx shifting that manages engine torque and coordinates shift timing so the engine can throw as much power into the transmission as it can handle when shifting.

The suspension, frame, and brakes are also beefed up to handle the power. The front frame rails, front upper control arms, and cast-iron knuckles are stiffer; heavy duty widetrack Dana 44 axles are mounted front and rear; the suspension geometry is tweaked to accommodate the heavier engine; and performance Fox shocks are used to improve durability and handling on- and off-road. The brakes are slightly larger than those in regular Rubicons as well.

Twenty years ago, putting this much power into a Wrangler would have been irresponsible. The high ride height, short wheelbase, and prodigious power would have created a tip-happy SUV and a class-action lawsuit. Now, however, Jeep has the four-door body style that increases the wheelbase by 21.6 inches, the Fox shocks help wrangle all that height and weight, and overall suspension technology has come a long way since the TJ Wrangler.

Despite its ready power, the Rubicon 392 doesn’t ask to be driven hard into corners, at least not on the road. It still drives like a Wrangler, and that means vague recirculating ball steering, lots of body lean, and a jiggly ride. However, the crazy power and heavy-duty suspension had me dreaming of high-speed desert runs and wicked off-road jumps. It has the suspension to handle that type of beating and the power to make the beating even worse.

Jeep says the Rubicon 392 is the most capable Wrangler yet. While that’s certainly true in terms of power, the Rubicon 392’s off-road capability beats the standard Rubicon in some ways and can’t match it in others. It’s approach and departure angles of 44.5 and 37 degrees best the standard Rubicon by 0.6 and 0.5 degrees, respectively, and its 22.6-degree breakover angle is a match despite sitting a half inch lower.

The Rubicon 392 can also ford 32.5 inches of water, which is especially impressive because the hood features a functional scoop to help that monster motor breathe. To achieve this, Jeep utilizes what it calls its Hydro-Guide air intake system that has three levels of ducting and a series of drains. The system can separate 15 gallons of water per minute from the engine’s incoming air. It can even work if a bow wake flows over the hood or if the hood scoop is blocked by debris as it can use air from an alternate path.

Among the Rubicon 392’s other off-road toys are an electronic disconnecting front sway bar, an Off-Road Plus drive mode that engages the rear locker at speed like in the Gladiator Mojave, 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels that mount 33-inch tires, and a 48:1 crawl ratio. The latter isn’t as low as the standard Rubicon’s 77.2:1 ratio, but it will team with the engine’s amazing grunt to improve low-speed rock crawling.

Jeep charges a big-boy price for all that power and capability. The Wrangler Rubicon starts at $74,995 and my Firecracker Red tester came to $78,545 thanks in part to the $2,000 Sky One-Touch Power-Top. That’s also a far cry from the Wrangler TJ, which started at just over $15,000 in 2001.

Other than a gravel road, I didn’t test the Rubicon 392’s off-road prowess. I know it’s there, though, based on my experience in other Wranglers. I did, however, enjoy goosing the V-8, even though it’s almost obnoxiously loud. It’s also properly quick and appeals to the 12-year-old car fan in me. I can understand wanting one on the street and the trail, but I can’t understand spending that much money on a big-boy toy.

Jeep provided a week in the 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 392 for this editor to burn gas and annoy his neighbors.