JEEP: FOR THE OFF-ROADERS LIFESTYLE
Jeep has shoehorned Dodge’s massive 6.4-litre Hemi V8 into the Wrangler’s engine bay. The result is one of the craziest off-roaders to ever hit the road/trail/dunes.
Ever since Elon Musk invested most of his $100 million PayPal payout into Tesla, the car market has been steadily heading towards electric power. Manufacturers have been busy measuring up engine bays for electric motors, or at the very least, looking at hybrid options. That is, most manufacturers apart from Stellantis.
Dodge is one of the 15 brands housed under the Stellantis umbrella and its engineers clearly missed the electric/hybrid memo. While their counterparts across the automotive world have been looking at more economical ways of powering their products, Dodge has been shoehorning its massive Hemi V8 into any engine bay big enough, and that just happens to be most of the range – even the ‘family favourite’ Durango has been given the Hemi treatment. For the UAE, we get both the crazy 797 hp Charger and Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye models, too.
IF IT FITS
Jeep’s Cherokee has always had the under-bonnet space for a V8, so Dodge’s 392 naturally made it into the old Grand Cherokee in both SRT (475 hp) and Trackhawk (707 hp) specifications.
However, there was one major model missing from the Hemi blitz. Jeep hasn’t made a V8 Wrangler since the 1980 CJ7 Golden Eagle and after 40 years it was looking unlikely that it would ever happen – that was until the day before Ford Announced its Bronco on July 12th, 2020, when Jeep teased its Wrangler Rubicon 392. It was a brutal move by Jeep, and one that definitely rained on the Bronco’s bonfire, but the excited social media chatter was enough for the iconic brand to give the Wrangler Rubicon 392 the green light and the production model that Altitudes has just driven, was the first to arrive in the UAE.
THE WRANGLER 392
We get our first glimpse of the Wrangler Rubicon 392 when we join Jeep’s representatives at Bab al Shams. Outwardly, it’s relatively subtle with only a bonnet scoop, a quad exhaust system, Fox shock absorbers and an uprated drivetrain hiding behind 17-inch bead-lock-capable wheels covered in 33-inch BF Goodrich tyres. For the uninitiated, it looks similar to any of the modified Wranglers heading out into the desert on any given Saturday, but the excitement really starts when you press the start button.
All about the engine: The 392 may well be realtively subtle looking, but all that changes once you press the starter button.
FEEL THE NOISE
Sitting in the bolstered leather seats it all feels very JL-like, that is apart from the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. More of those in a bit, as all I’m interested in, is getting the Hemi fired up.
A quick press and the big V8 purrs into life. For the sake of the neighbours and small children, there’s a button on the dash that controls the dual-mode exhaust system. In quiet mode, a pair of valves direct the exhaust flow through the entire silencer, leading to a pleasant, even mellow V8 sound emitting from the two inner exhaust tips. However press the button and the valves close and bypass the silencer completely – essentially relying on a small resonator fitted earlier in the exhaust system to do the silencing. And it doesn’t.
Revving the engine in loud mode is therapeutic. The noise coming out of those outer exhaust tips is 100% angry 1960s muscle car. It’s deep, loud and aggressive, the total opposite of Mercedes and BMW whose V8s are loud, but modernly melodic.
Ideal off-roader: How good is the 470 hp 392 in the dirt? Well, it’s not as if the ‘ordinary’ 285 hp, Pentastar V6 powered Wrangler couldn’t handle any terrain thrown at it.
If you’re more Smokey and the Bandit than Fast and Furious, then the 392 is the Jeep for you. There’s no supercharger or turbo helping it create 470 hp and 470 lb/ft of torque – just 6.4 litres of naturally aspirated beef.
The 392’s standing start is just ridiculous. Lining up on an empty stretch of desert road, you hold the Jeep on the brakes, bring the revs up, and then simultaneously come off the brake and stomp on the gas. Unlike other Wranglers that can switch between RWD and 4WD, the 392 understandably comes in full-time four-wheel drive only and all four chunky tyres squirm under the onslaught of 470 ponies. It’s not often BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres are subjected to these sort of accelerative forces but the high-walled 33s are pliable enough to put all the power down to the tarmac with only the smallest chirps of rubber. In manual mode, you can bang the 392 through its 8 gears with the paddle shifters and the changes are almost instantaneous, leading to a 0 to 100km/h time of only 4.5 seconds. Even more impressive is the big Wrangler can cover the standing quarter-mile in 13 seconds flat – although unofficially, bog-standard 392s have broken the 12-second barrier on the drag strip. To put those numbers into context, the 2020 Porsche 911 Targa 4 can cover the standing quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds.
Top speed is limited to 180 km/h, which again is more than enough for any off-road tyre. Big, chunky sidewalls are great for acceleration, but not ideal for race track cornering, or braking. The 392 is definitely best enjoyed at sensible road speeds and that brings us to its off-road capabilities.
Every single variation of the Wrangler ever made has been supremely competent off-road. That’s the whole point of them. Bulletproof on-frame chassis and old-school solid axles can take on any rock formation, or dune with ease. Then the JL Series Rubicon came along in 2017, changing the Wrangler off-road game with a host of electronics including an electronically disconnecting front roll bar and Tru-Lok front and rear electronic locking differentials. It was unstoppable and now it’s Hemi powered.
A quick jaunt in the Al Qudra desert highlighted the 392s capabilities. On normal dusty tracks, it’s effortless; the Jeep’s barely inconvenienced. On slightly more challenging sand/soft sand it’s again completely effortless – you can spot the softer patches coming, give it a tad more throttle and the JL just cruises through/ over them. The V8’s hardly doing any work, but if you need it, it’s there. It’s almost too easy to drive in the desert and we didn’t even have time to deflate – all our off-roading was done with ‘fast road’ tyre pressures.
ALL THE JEEP YOU’LL EVER NEED
The Rubicon 392 is not just the best Jeep ever made, it’s also one of the best off-roaders. Wranglers are supreme fun and packed with character: the roof and doors can be removed easily and even the windscreen can be dropped down. Add a gloriously evil V8 soundtrack and you have one of the most smile-inducing machines on the planet, on or off-road.