Mountain Wheels: Hemi-powered Jeep Wrangler Rubicon goes power mad |

Mountain Wheels: Hemi-powered Jeep Wrangler Rubicon goes power mad

Those crazy folks actually did it. They massaged a 6.4-liter Hemi under the hood of America’s most capable off-road vehicle. The results are as weird as you might anticipate.
Photo by Andy Stonehouse / Mountain Wheels

Recognizing that there are legions of Jeep fans who have already modified their newfangled Wranglers’ under-hood metal with jury-rigged, salvaged V-8 engines — as you know, the output on V-6 Wranglers of a recent vintage has occasionally felt a little short, especially on steep highway climbs — along comes the Wrangler 392.

It is, as promised, a high-end Rubicon model with a 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter, V-8 Hemi lovingly wedged into the engine bay — the first time you’ve been able to get a factory V-8 in about 40 years. That means that the world’s least-likely drag-racing machine will now do zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds, roaring with an exhaust howl that is wicked and wonderful.

And, if you’re wondering, it also raises the sticker of a traditional four-door Unlimited Rubicon by about the price of an entire two-door, base-model Wrangler. My test vehicle, with the Sky Power-Top and even chunkier off-road tires, topped out at an astonishing $78,740.

Happily — except maybe for your neighbors, cyclists or the folks who normally love to pass Wranglers as they fly up to the tunnel in their German cars — that monster engine really puts out the power, including 470 pound-feet of torque.

It literally hauls along, jarringly so, until at such time you encounter corners, and then, well, it’s still a four-door Rubicon riding on 33-inch mud tires and a two-inch factory lift, so you have to reel things in considerably.

The combined on-road effect is pretty startling, especially in traffic or on those long, steep highway stretches. The juxtaposition of form versus function is a dream come true, I guess, for a certain portion of the Jeeping family.

The other positive, minus the cash outlay, is the fact that it has not really altered the Wrangler’s, and certainly not the Rubicon model’s, unbeatable off-road chops. Minus a minor hump on the hood (I would have loved a full blower scoop, but there’s only a discrete but very necessary breather slot up front), the only visible changes in the Wrangler Rubicon 392 are a massive muffler can under the tail with quad pipes, some subtle badging on the hood and a bunch of bronze highlights, especially the tow hooks. In that sense, it is the ultimate sleeper, until you light it up.

And as a full-fledged Rubicon — with exposed Fox monotube shocks, 17-inch beadlock-ready wheels, rock rails and ruggedness galore — you can get to your favorite mining trails and off-road sites at lightning speed. But then you have to go really slow while you’re fording streams, crawling over boulders and traversing hazards. Physics still apply.

In that sense, the nearly 200 extra horsepower here (Wrangler’s other standard engine choices top out at 285 horsepower, minus the new 375-horsepower plug-in electric hybrid Wrangler 4xe) is a bit of a showboating feature, if you didn’t get that already.

I cruised the still-snowy mining trails around Idaho Springs on Wednesday and was glad that the Rubicon 392 still had its sophisticated 2.72:1 Selec-Trac four-wheel drive system, integrated hill-descent control, electrically uncoupling sway bars and a new Off-Road Plus system to control brakes, throttle and transmission while literally crawling over boulders. Just always, always keep your hands on the wheel in a Wrangler, no matter the engine. That short wheelbase and high center of gravity makes a Yukon seem like a Formula One car by comparison.

As I did all of the impressive off-road Rubicon stuff, the Hemi under the hood also made a hell of a lot of fan and rumbling noises, like a 1970s Grand Wagoneer. You recognize how insanely overpowered the vehicle is for that kind of stuff.

Sand dunes or Baja 1000-styled cavorting, sure, but this thing is overcompensating when it comes to precision trail work. Towing is also still limited to the 3,500-pound limit on standard Wrangler models, though I see it being much less of a chore.

For that nearly $80,000 price point, it does indeed have everything in Wrangler-land, including the useful fore-and-aft video cameras and that full-cabin, accordion-style power roof. If you have six hearty friends, you can unbolt the entire roof system (a wrench is now included in the console box), and pull off the doors and drop the front glass, and you still have a built-in, full-cabin roll cage with speakers and such.

Rear passengers even get air vents, and the level of civility is high, with Jeep Easter Egg-filled floormats, plush leather seating, reversible carpeting and that full center stack of controls.

Andy Stonehouse

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