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Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept First Drive: Jeep, Build This Now!

What the world needs now is love—and a tire-smoking, V-8-powered Wrangler.

Aaron GoldPhotographerManufacturercontributor

There are two things that Chrysler—or Fiat-Chrysler, or FCA, or Stellantis, or whatever the hell the company is calling itself this week—does particularly well: One is the go-anywhere Jeep Wrangler, and the other is the big honkin' V-8 engine as seen in the two-door Challenger and the four-door Charger. And yet for the thirty-four years the Wrangler has been in production, Jeep has steadfastly refused to put a V-8-powered Wrangler into production, despite the fact that aftermarket companies have been doing it for ages.

Is Jeep finally going to give in? Man, do we hope so. Because we've just driven a Wrangler with a factory-fitted V-8, and it's sick.

Earlier this summer Jeep introduced the Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept, and as the name implies it has a 392—as in the 392-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) naturally aspirated iron-block "Hemi" V-8. It's tuned for 450 horsepower and 450 lb-ft, a bit less than the 485/475 you get in a Challenger. It's fitted with the eight-speed automatic transmission and a full-time four-wheel-drive system.

What did it take to get a Hemi into the Wrangler? Not much aside from a shoehorn. Twist and weight were the big concerns. For the former, Jeep upgraded the frame and the motor mounts; for the latter, Jeep used upgraded Fox shock absorbers. Jeep also fitted a dual-mode exhaust, a red leather interior, and 37-inch tires. And then there's the hood, which bulges like a codpiece as it struggles to contain the bravado within.

Driving the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept

We got to take a brief drive in this creation, and it's every bit as insane as we'd hoped. Floor the throttle and the left-front corner jerks upwards like it's been lifted with a crane (we can see why the frame needed to be strengthened), the engine roars (the concept has no side or rear windows, the better to enjoy that V-8 bellow), and tires—one, some, or all, we couldn't quite tell—start breaking loose. When you get tired of wasting rubber, a quick lift of the accelerator lets it dig in, and away you go.

Alternatively you can just launch with traction control engaged. It'll lift, hiccup, then bam, you're off like the proverbial scalded dog. Jeep claims a 0-60-mph time of under five seconds, and that feels about right. Floor the pedal at any speed, and the V-8 powered Wrangler leaps towards the horizon exactly the way you'd expect it to do.

The concept features 37-inch wheels and a two-inch suspension lift, which Jeep says gives it 13.25 inches of ground clearance and the ability to drive through water nearly three feet deep. Jeep's point is that the V-8 wouldn't compromise the Wrangler's legendary off-road abilities.

Frankly we couldn't care less—we just want to hear the throaty yell of the exhaust and feel the seat slam us in the back like it's trying to work its way through our skin and down to the bone. Because, really, that's what the 392 does. It's not quite Hellcat-insane, but it's definitely on the same spectrum—the kind of thing your idiot brother-in-law might come up with when he's really drunk ("Hey! Let's put a big-block in a Jeep!"), but instead of being built in his backyard with a clapped-out 383, a sketchy engine hoist and a lot of Budweiser, it was assembled by real-life engineers. Sober ones.

The Best Stupid Idea … Headed to Production?

Those really are the two take-aways from our brief drive. First, this is a phenomenally stupid idea, and we use the word stupid in the most complimentary way possible. The Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept handles like—well, like a Wrangler. It's got big, floppy tires and doesn't exactly go where you point it, with the added bonus of a giant slab of iron above the front wheels. Going fast in it is a suicidal move of Kevorkian proportions, which is precisely why we love going fast in it.

Take-away number two is that the concept we drove seemed suspiciously well engineered. Most concepts are cobbled together and feel like it. They're made to show, not to go. The fact that Jeep let us drive this one—hell, the fact that Jeep even let us sit in it—is a big indicator of the marque's intent. This concept didn't just drive, it drove well. Okay, the fit of the leather was a little hinky and the doors felt suspiciously light (did someone, er, accidentally leave out the crash bars?), but from a mechanical perspective, this thing feels like it could have come off a production line.

Concept cars are ridiculously expensive no matter how sketchy they are, and automakers don't invest the sort of time, money and effort it takes to perfect something that's a one-off. If Chrysler Fiat-Chrysler FCA Stellantis Jeep announces a production version, the last emotion you'll see us display is surprise.

If and when a production V-8-powered Wrangler arrives, we'll be first in line to drive it again. Does anyone need a V-8 powered Wrangler? No, just as they don't need a supercharged full-size four-door or a Hellcat-powered desert-bashing pickup truck. What we do need in these troubled times is more things that put huge smiles on our faces. And that's exactly why Jeep needs to put the Wrangler Rubicon 392 into production. Now.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept highlights

  • 4-liter (392 cubic inch) Hemi V-8
  • 450 horsepower/450 lb-ft
  • Eight-speed automatic
  • Full-time four-wheel-drive
  • 73:1 final drive ratio
  • Fox shock absorbers
  • Mopar two-inch suspension lift
  • 35-inch tires

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept Specifications

  • ENGINE: 6.4L OHV 16-valve V-8/450 hp, 450 lb-ft
  • TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
  • LAYOUT: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
  • WHEELBASE: 118.4 in
  • 0-60 MPH: < 5.0 sec (est)