This will be the first time in almost 40 years that the Wrangler or its predecessor, the Jeep CJ, has been offered with a V8 engine. The last V8-powered Jeep CJ, with 124-horsepower, was offered for the 1981 model year. At the time, Jeep was owned by American Motors Corporation, which was later acquired by Chrysler.
“Why are we doing it?” said Scott Tallon, director of Jeep brand marketing for the US. “Because our customers are doing it anyway.”
Some Wrangler owners have modified their Jeeps by fitting V8 engines into them. Many more have asked when Fiat Chysler would offer a V8 engine option, he said.
The Wrangler’s basic design had to be modified somewhat to fit the bigger engine. The Wrangler Rubicon 392 rides two inches higher off the ground than a base model Wrangler. Besides allowing more room for the engine, the higher ride height also allows for better off-road performance since the Wrangler can better clear obstacles and drive up steeper slopes. It can also wade through 2.7 feet of water.
The Rubicon 392 has a bulging air scoop in the hood. The air scoop was engineered with a secondary path for air to get into the engine so that, even if the scoop’s opening becomes clogged with mud or snow, the engine can still provide provide full power.
Besides 470 horsepower, the V8 engine can also produce 470 pound feet of torque, a measure of raw pulling power irrespective of speed. It’s all controlled through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted using paddles behind the steering wheel.
Because it’s still a Jeep Wrangler, Fiat Chrysler engineers were able to openly test drive prototypes of the Rubicon 392 on public trails alongside other off-road enthusiasts without attracting attention or questions.
They also tested its acceleration on drag strips. They did not, however, test it on race tracks because, they said, taking curves at high speeds is just never a priority for any Wrangler, including this one.
To save gas, the V8 engine has a cylinder deactivation system that shuts down four of the cylinders when not much power is needed. Fiat Chrysler has not released fuel economy estimates for the Rubicon 392, though. Pricing for the new Jeep will be announced closer to when it goes on sale in early 2021.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Scott Tallon’s name.