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Jeep Wrangler gets first V-8 in nearly 40 years

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Jeep's concept of powering its flagship Wrangler SUV with a V-8 engine for the first time in nearly 40 years just became a reality.

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV brand said Tuesday it will produce the four-door 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 392 for sale with the 6.4-liter V-8 engine after teasing the possible product in July just hours ahead of Ford Motor Co.'s reintroduction of the new Bronco to the off-road SUV segment that Jeep dominates.

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 packs a 6.4-liter V-8 engine, delivering 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque.

The 392 production model offers 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque for a 40% faster 0-60 mph time than the V-6 Rubicon at 4.5 seconds, surpassing even the concept version's figures. Pricing is not yet available on the vehicle that will hit dealerships early next year.

"Why are we doing it?" Micky Bly, Fiat Chrysler's head of global propulsion systems, said during a virtual preview of the vehicle. "Why are we putting a V-8 in here? The reason why is that’s what our customers want. That is what Wrangler fans have been asking for over and over and over."

A 10.3-inch ground clearance, an extra inch over the V-6 Rubicon, gives it Wrangler's best 32½ inches of water traversing. The 392 also gets the desert-rated Jeep Gladiator Mojave hood for a cold-air scoop to keep the engine cool. The Toledo-built vehicle includes a dual-mode exhaust.

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 features the Jeep Galidator Mojave hood scoop for increased airflow.

The eight-speed automatic transmission enables the driver to change gears via steering-wheel-mounted aluminum paddle shifters, the first for the Wrangler, or the electronic range select shifter. Bronze badging, interior stitching and 33-inch tires are standard. New half-doors are available.

"This is just more clear messaging that Jeep is not going to stay still," said Karl Brauer, executive analyst of auto research website iSeeCars.com. "Ford has made a massive incursion into traditional Jeep territory, and Jeep will be defending its grounds as aggressively as it can."

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 features a standard 8.4-inch screen running the Uconnect infotainment system.

The 392 is not the only signal Jeep has sent that it intends to give the Bronco a fight. Last month, the company's aftermarket parts division Mopar announced a new kit for Wrangler and Gladiator owners to attach side mirrors to their vehicles after taking off their doors. The Bronco comes equipped with the side mirrors mounted to the SUV's A-pillars, keeping them in place when the doors are removed.

Nearly 200,000 people had placed $100 reservations for the Bronco, Ford said last month. Sales of the Wrangler for the first nine months of the year are down 15% year-over-year to more than 150,200.

Bronze badging, stitching and tires differentiate the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392.

Jeep would have continued to make improvements to the Wrangler without the Bronco to keep up the brand's excitement and momentum, said Stephanie Brinley, auto analyst for IHS Markit, but the competition provides even more incentive to mine through consumer requests.

"Wrangler's owned that race," she said. "They’re not going to give any ground if they don’t have to. At the end of the day, that's good for the customers. They have choice."

The Jeep CJ, the predecessor to the Wrangler, last had a V-8 in 1981, offering 125 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. The V-8 Wrangler likely won't be a large volume vehicle, Brauer noted, but by offering Jeep's fastest Wrangler to date, it may be pulling a card from the recent success of Dodge, which earned a top score in J.D. Power's surveys for initial satisfaction and quality ratings.

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 packs a 6.4-liter V-8 engine, delivering 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque.

"Dodge has been one of the biggest success stories in the last five years," Brauer said. "They've gotten creative in using existing parts and engines already existing and putting them into their different vehicles with cool names, cool graphics and a cool marketing campaign. Jeep is wisely starting to leverage more of that after it worked so well for Dodge."

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 packs a 6.4-liter V-8 engine, delivering 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble