It’s been a long time since Jeep has fielded a contender in the full-size SUV lineup. With the ill-fated Jeep Commander best left as a forgotten historical cul-de-sac, one must go all the way back to the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer which were once key cogs in the long-defunct American Motors Corporation, as well as Chryslers for a brief period after the company completed its acquisition of AMC with the last being built in the early 1990s. But Stellantis hopes a new generation of full-size SUV buyers will be able to breathe new life into this iconic nameplate. But is it enough to re-establish the Grand Wagoneer in the lexicon of luxury buyers?
A name from the past enters the future
Looking around the marketplace, it has quickly transformed into a very different place compared to what it was in 1990. Back then, luxury SUVs were still largely an afterthought and the Range Rover and other European offerings were more niche offerings. That condition allowed the Grand Wagoneer to be a unique proposition for most buyers, especially with its all-American charm. Here in this century, the Grand Wagoneer is no longer a unique breed and has to battle for sales with the latest version of the Range Rover and a much larger pool of rivals.
The exterior styling of our Series III tester certainly ditches many of the boxes people have come to expect from a full-size luxury SUV. there’s plenty of chrome detailing scattered about and the Grand Wagoneer loves to make full use of its massive size. The old Wagoneer was a functional beast of burden but this new one suffers from some awkward angles when viewed by observers. The flowing front end and the large chromate grille are contrasted by a rather narrow and rectangular rear end which makes the design look cluttered. The odd shape of the windows also makes you feel like you’re in a bunker, especially with the rear window, which provides terrible rearward visibility thanks in part to the thick rear pillars.
It seems like Jeep was hoping the massive 22-inch wheels would do a good job of distracting the masses, but spoiler alert, they don’t. But look past all that and there are some positives that stand out when you look at the finer things. Details (no matter how small) were important here and we loved the chrome American flag badge, as well as a massive plaque in the engine bay that adds a nice, stylish touch. Those details are missing from rivals like the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, but it also means the big Jeep is still a step behind the Range Rover when it comes to making an impression on the runway.
The Grand Wagoneer doubles the opulence of the interior
With the exterior’s flaws, we were very happy to see that the interior is a shining diamond here and there is a lot to see and touch. The cabin is filled with genuine matte-finished wood that combines nicely with high-end leather and metal accents to create a truly premium experience. The seats themselves were extremely comfortable and they provided plenty of support for all types of passengers. The theme here makes you feel like you’ve walked into a fancy 1970s night lounge, and the second and third row seats weren’t lacking in abundance either.
Jeep engineers also made sure to add plenty of screens to the Grand Wagoneer and in addition to the massive 12.0-inch touchscreen in the front, the passenger also gets a smaller (and we use that term sarcastically) 10.3-inch infotainment screen while the second row gets a set of optional 12.0-inch rear entertainment screens. This impressive amount of digital real estate is currently unmatched in the segment, and our tester’s screens did a good job with crisp feedback and clarity. We did notice some minor software hiccups but they went away in time for a night drinking hot chocolate in front of the digital fireplace with my wife. The controls just avoid crossing the border of button overload but the layout here is ergonomically friendly and easy to master.
One notable caveat is that while the Grand Wagoneer supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, screen mirroring isn’t included, meaning parents must formally connect a device to the rear screen to keep their kids entertained on long road trips. Here’s hoping Jeep eventually fixes this quirk in the near future. As a whole, the Grand Wagoneers cabin is a noticeable step up from GM’s offerings, but unfortunately the Lincoln Navigator still gets a slight nod in our eyes as it trades in some of the more gimmicky elements for a more confident artistic interpretation, especially in Black Label shine.
The Grand Wagoneer’s 6.4 liter V8 is a powerful but thirsty beast
Jeep claims the Wagoneer family will eventually have more engines to choose from, but for now, Grand Wagoneer owners will only have one engine to work with, a naturally aspirated 6.4 liter Hemi V8. The engine is good for 471 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough to get this massive rolling luxury suite going. The exhaust may not have any of the SRT’s frantic growl but it’s still a very confident tone that you hear through the cabin.
A 10-speed automatic is the only gearbox on hand and there were times when it was almost invisible as it went through the motions with barely a hint of fuss. The Grand Wagoneer is a heavy vehicle, though, and with over 6,400 pounds to lug around, it’s no surprise that the EPA rates the Jeep at a rather paltry 13 mpg in the city while its combined rating is an equally eye-popping 15 mpg. Highway economy is the only bright spot, although 18 mpg in this category is nothing to write home about either. The engine also prefers a diet of premium fuel and in a world where inflation and high fuel prices rule the economy, this diet may be unsustainable for some households.
Handling in the Grand Wagoneer is about what you’d expect for a full-size luxury yacht, with our tester delivering copious amounts of body roll when cornering but glassy feedback when going straight. The GW comes with a built-in Sport mode but it’s best to leave it in Normal or Comfort for most treks as this is where the Grand Wagoneer feels at home. The Grand Wagoneer can also do light trail running but due to its size it will be forced to leave some expeditions to smaller enterprise teammates like the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. Braking is quite solid, and the Jeep’s 9,850 lb towing capacity surpasses the 8,200 lb rating offered by the Cadillac Escalade.
Walk into a Jeep dealership and you’ll be greeted with a different shopping experience. Jeep pulled out all the stops in replicating a truly unique buying experience for Wagoneer buyers that includes specially trained salespeople authorized to sell the model as well as other benefits and features exclusive to the Wagoneer customer. Look past all that and you’ll be greeted with a base sticker of $90,640 for a Series I Grand Wagoneer. Our Series III-equipped rig had a base price of $109,995, but options and other extras helped push the price to a whopping $115,770, which is right at the bottom of rivals from Mercedes and Land Rover (among others)
The biggest hurdle the Grand Wagoneer has to overcome (barring factors beyond its control) is to establish itself as a player in the elite SUV segment. Jeep and the Grand Wagoneer have been out of the game for a long time, and that has allowed Cadillac, Lincoln and others to not only create their entries but also refine and perfect them so they can make a bigger cultural impact among well-heeled buyers.
It will take time and it will be interesting to see if the Grand Wagoneer will manage to meet this challenge head on. The Wagoneer family is also defined by a standard non-“Grand” Wagoneer that starts at just over $60,000 but comes with standard leather seats and is a more functionally focused challenger to the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition.
Carl Malek has been a car journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before transitioning to writing in college, his work has appeared on many automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a huge fan of British vehicles and the bulk of his devotion goes to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG and Caterham. When not writing about cars, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.