It's been decades since another manufacturer dared to encroach on Jeep's money-making off-road SUV segment. Now, as Ford prepares to officially roll out the 2021 Bronco on Monday, the long-reigning king of rock crawling simply must do something to prove it's still around for the long haul. Say hello to the answer that nobody in their right mind expected: a JL Wrangler Rubicon with a snarling, factory-installed V8 under the hood.
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept, if you couldn't guess from the name, sports a V8 engine with 392 cubic inches of displacement. It sits predominantly under the hood, sucking air from a large ram-air duct carved into the bodywork. Jeep says the powerplant is good for 450 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque—a significant power boost over the current 285-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6.
Given Chrysler's history with gigantic power-hungry V8s, it's not exactly surprising that the automaker finally came clean about their secret project. It's not like dealerships haven't stuffed something with two extra cylinders into a similar platform. But as you may recall, former Jeep boss Tim Kuniskis spoke to this very question just last year, indicating that the automaker had not pursued a V8 Wrangler due to engine bay space constraints posing a potential safety hazard in crashes. Apparently life has found a way because the Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept is very much alive.
Jeep managed to modify the frame in such a way that allows the 392 to fit and still provide ample crush space in the event of an accident. It also upgraded the engine mounts, suspension, and added locking differentials on both ends of the Wrangler's drivetrain. Couple that with a two-inch lift, beefier axles, and new bead-lock wheels, and you've got something that can not only tear up the trails, but also the streets.
Speaking of which, let's take a moment to discuss speed. From a dig, the Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept can sprint to 60 miles per hour in under five seconds. And while that number isn't what it used to be, it's surprisingly quick for something with knobby tires that you'd expect to see thriving in rocks and dirt rather than on stretches of highway.
While this might get die-hard Jeep fans excited, it's important to remember two things:
First, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept is exactly what it sounds like—an example of what a V8-powered JL could be. The automaker's press release does make it seem like it could reach production one day, though. "Jeep enthusiasts have been clamoring for a V8-powered production Wrangler in recent years and the new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept is an indication they may soon get their wish," it reads.
Second, and perhaps most critical, is that Jeep has never offered a factory V8 in the Wrangler since its inception in 1987. Even its most recent offerings simply pack the rock-solid V6 Pentastar. Two extra cylinders is a big deal, especially in the age of tiny turbo four-cylinders and the infancy of electrification.
Perhaps this giant pennant is Chrysler's way of telling Ford don't mess with us on the Bronco's big reveal day. Or maybe it's more of a white flag.
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