BOZEMAN, Mont. — For years, the luxury full-size SUV market has been dominated by the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade.
There was an ebb and flow over which one was best, but the black car of choice in Manhattan (the actual test of the luxury SUV) has been one of these two for years.
But Jeep, which has been absent from this particular conflict, has joined with a vengeance with the new one Wagonera new family of full-size SUVs to compete with everything from the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon to the aforementioned Navi and Caddy.
Confusingly, there are four different flavors of the full-size Jeep SUV: WagonerGrand Wagoner, Wagoner L and Grand Wagoner L.
One would believe Wagoner against Grand Wagoner would denote the Tahoe-sized vs. Suburban-sized SUV, but it doesn’t. Instead Wagoner is the Tahoe/Expedition mainstream spec, while the Grand Wagoner is Navi/Escalade luxury spec. Adding the L stretches the truck another 12 inches, primarily dedicated to storage behind the third row.
And big is the operative word. These SUVs are huge, even when parked next to the competition. Climb in and you have a commanding seating position, spacious storage and technical and luxury features for days.
A fully equipped Grand Wagoner The L has four huge screens across the front cabin, a dashboard for the driver, two touchscreens in the middle for infotainment, climate and vehicle controls, and a fourth touchscreen in the passenger panel where they can watch streaming content via the Amazon Fire TV you’re driving.
That, combined with the two rear-seat screens, which can also stream Netflix or YouTube or whatever, makes the Grand Wagoner the ultimate road trip SUV. Gorgeous wood accents, quilted leather, and beautiful stitching are everywhere you look, and it easily rivals the Navigator and Escalade. The Tupelo Honey leather interior option is a sublime tan borrowed from the company’s cousin Ferrari.
A pair of new next-generation 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 “Hurricane” engines power the large SUVs, a standard version producing 420 horsepower in Wagoner and a high-output option that delivers 510 horsepower that comes in the Grand Wagoner. Having driven both, I can say that the high power motor is completely unnecessary. The standard engine, which makes 468 lb-ft of torque, turns the massive Wagoner into a rocket ship, especially at 50-to-70 (or 80 or 90) mph passing sprints.
The big Wagoners high-output engine delivers 500 lb-ft of torque thanks to several fine-tuned components and a premium claim on fuel alone. The engines are a little more efficient, in terms of fuel, but basically only on the highway.
The big SUV handles much better than you’d expect, even on the hilly, twisty roads around Bozeman. There’s surprisingly little body roll, especially compared to an expedition I followed on a back road.
Perhaps my favorite feature is the McIntosh stereo system, the first implementation in a car. It sounds great, but first you need to get your music in the right way. I use Apple Music, which has a higher quality lossless audio option – but if you use Bluetooth (or wireless CarPlay) the quality is significantly reduced. To get higher quality, you need to connect your iPhone to USB.
It makes a difference. I tested Taylor Swift’s “The 1” from the Folklore album, and the quality between Bluetooth and USB was immediately noticeable. The warmth of Taylor’s voice and the individual notes on the piano were easily discernible with the lossless USB iPhone plugged in.
I love listening to music on long road trips, and that Wagoner make any expedition relaxing between the tunes and the massage chairs. You can also dump audio from any of the three screens playing Amazon Fire TV streaming apps to the car stereo, so your passenger can watch a Taylor Tomlinson comedy special on Netflix, and both can listen through the McIntosh stereo.
Between the impressive sound, the buttery-smooth turbocharged “Hurricane” engines, the cavernous and endless storage, the commanding and impressive exterior design (it really is massive) and seating for 7 (or 8!), the Grand Wagoner The L is up to the task of challenging Lincoln and Cadillac for full-size luxury SUV dominance.