Car Review: Family-Friendly Jeep Wagoneer L Explores America’s Frontier

BRIDGER, Montana — Out here in the land of the big sky, the only thing bigger than bison pickup trucks and three-row SUVs. I pulled my 6,326-pound, 6-foot-6-inch Jeep Wagoner L off Route 86 next to a herd of bison grazing in the golden landscape behind a steel fence.

American bison, meet American SUV icon. The bison didn’t flinch. A rancher pulled up next to my 2023 Jeep Wagoneer in his pickup truck.

“Hello.”

“Hello,” I replied. “I stopped to take some pictures. We don’t see many bison in Detroit.”

“No problem. Just stay on this side of the fence … and the center wire is hot.”

Good to know. I have been to the corner of Montana/Wyoming many times, but my family visit to this amazing landscape in 2001 will always be the most memorable. We saw bison, moose, grizzlies, bald eagles, you name it. But we saw no Wagoneers.

Jeep’s famed SUV brand had been extinct since 1991, only to return last year—remade and ready to do battle with the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. For its 2023 encore, Jeep has introduced the long-wheelbase version to compete against the Chevy Suburban and Expedition L.

As with bison and cattle, America’s vast interior is the mega-SUV’s natural habitat—the breed’s roomy seats, cargo space, high-tech interior, and tall seating are perfect for long family trips. At a whopping $87,000, my Wagoneer L is far more expensive than our ’01 Hertz sedan family rental. But as a cruise ship to Alaska, it’s a first-class way to see Montana.

Since the original Wagoneer disappeared, the class has been dominated by GM’s quadfecta of Chevy Tahoe/Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon/GMC Yukon XL. Both GM and Ford have developed their mega-utes with mega-tech features. Crucially, both automakers have evolved these family vehicles beyond their pickup siblings with third-row seating plus independent rear suspensions to improve ride quality.

A formidable class to break into, isn’t it? Wagoneer was born for this.

Along with its rich heritage (the Jeep brand is a global icon, which the Wagoneer embraces with American flags tattooed on its flanks), the Wagoneer is based on the Ram 1500, already hailed as the best-riding pickup in the class, thanks to its independent rear end. suspension.

The Wagoneer embraces this advantage by creating a substantial bench in the third row. I’m a 6-foot-5-inch ex-college basketball player and could sit behind myself in the second row. Light headroom, light legroom.

Pack your family of four rugrats for a cross-country trip to Yellowstone and they’ll have plenty of real estate in the back. You need to set some rules so that the children can rotate places. The second row throne offers Amazon Fire TV screens with all their favorite shows, for goodness sake.

The third row lacks screens but it is hardly the basement. Each seat gets its own USB port, a cubby that can hold small computing devices, and (I love this) its own sunroof. So when parents decide to close the panoramic sunroof, coach class passengers in the third row can still sun worship if they want.

With this cabin of airline space, cargo space in the standard Wagoneer could become tight. So the 2023 Wagoneer L. L for looooong.

My tester added 7 inches of wheelbase and a foot of length to claim a best-in-class 44 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row (up 16 cubic feet from the standard SUV). Like the Suburban and Expedition MAX, the Wagoneer L offers plenty of room for a family of six (and the two rear rows flatten out, providing generous space when you need to move, say, a big-screen TV).

The Wagoneer L is supersized – but with its coveted seven-slot grille, sculpted bodywork and new black-trimmed Carbide trim, it has instant cred.

That cred attracts both ordinary buyers and luxury buyers. For the luxury buyer, Jeep offers the Grand Wagoneer (which I reviewed separately last year) with more bling than Beyoncé at the Grammys.

The Wagoneer enters the mainstream class with standard leather seats. With up to three fully digital instrument panels, head-up display, best-in-class Uconnect 5 infotainment, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, stylish switchgear (including jewel-like rotary controls and push-button starter) and optional air suspension, Jeep is a captain’s delight.

For all its exclusive technology, however, the Wagoneer Loooong can fall short.

Automakers such as GM (Super Cruise) and Ford (Blue Cruise) are now making long-distance driving easier with semi-autonomous systems. Once the domain of luxury wagons like the Cadillac Escalade, they are now available in Suburban and Expedition models. Heck, I even drove a Kia Sportage — at $38,000, half the cost of those mega-ute behemoths — hands-free from Gaylord to Detroit recently.

My $87K Wagoneer had no such technology, its average adaptive cruise system offering only forward detection for a long freeway trip.

But when you get to your hotel, the Wagoneer offers parallel and perpendicular self-parking — one of my favorite features for large patios where the rear C-pillar is in a different zip code. Modern applications – such as the system in e.g. The Ford Explorer I recently drove – is fully autonomous, brakes accurately and steers backwards into your designated parking space.

Wagoneer bought the bargain system off the shelf. Parallel parking in Bozeman spun the steering wheel around in front of me, but I had to keep a close eye on the rearview camera as I braked into the parking lot so I didn’t run over the VW Jetta behind me like a buffalo flattening a squirrel.

The Wagoneer L makes a major investment in its all-new twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 ​​Hurricane engine that boasts 420 horses and swallowed slower two-lane traffic on country roads like a whale ingesting krill. Hurricane complements the off-road capability that is the brand’s signature. Determined to play with its Wrangler and Trailhawk relatives, the L comes with multiple riding modes like ROCK and a transfer case so you can shift into four-low, hike the floor to 10 inches off the ground, and keep going when the tarmac runs out.

In the crazy mountain range of the Rockies, my crazy Wagoneer was dodging cattle on dusty trails. Ask the kids to take a break from “Sonic the Hedgehog” on Fire TV and enjoy it.

They’ll also enjoy the ATVs you bring with you—thanks to the L’s 10,000-pound towing capacity—when you bring them back to Montana as teenagers. Just outside of Yellowstone in Big Sky, you’ll find the formidable Buck Ridge Trail, which winds 15 miles to 9,000 feet for breathtaking mountain views.

Park the Wagoneer and then charge up Buck Ridge’s scenic trails. And there’s no need to worry about crossing fences—or hot center wires.

Henry Payne is the auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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