Winner of the four-wheeled SUV of the year

If hearing the name Wagoneer evokes certain nostalgic feelings within you, that’s because it should. The Jeep Wagoneer was the original full-size SUV, with production starting for the 1963 model year. The full-size, body-on-frame Wagoneer remained in production for 29 years, and Jeep finally discontinued it after the 1991 model year. Versions of the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer nameplates existed within the XJ Cherokee and ZJ Grand Cherokee lineups until the name was retired for good in 1994.

Last year, the Wagoneer entered our 2022 Four-Wheel SUV of the Year test competition and finished a respectable, if disappointing, fifth place behind a pair of Wranglers, Ford’s new Bronco and GMC’s Yukon AT4. It was a stacked field full of some of the best players. For 2023, the Wagoneer returned for another shot at the top spot on the podium, thanks to the introduction of the company’s all-new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter I-6 Hurricane engine.

Was the Wagoneer’s new powerplant enough to propel it to victory against its other 2023 SUV of the Year rivals, and make it the 18th Jeep vehicle to win our coveted SUV of the Year trophy? Read on to find out!

On banana

The 2023 Wagoneer still comes standard with the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine with eTorque. New for 2023, however, is the optional all-new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter Hurricane six-cylinder engine. When fitted to the Wagoneer, this engine pumps out 420 hp and 468 lb-ft of torque. This improves the 5.7-liter HEMI’s numbers by 28 hp and 64 lb-ft. Peak horsepower and torque also come at about 400 fewer rpm than the V-8, improving acceleration feel. Backing up both engines is the company’s proven TorqueFlite 8HP75 eight-speed automatic transmission. You’re probably thinking, “Doesn’t the new engine make 510 hp?” Unfortunately, the high-output version of the Hurricane I-6 is only available in the Grand Wagoneer.

On the track, the 2023 Wagoneer performed significantly better than the year before, thanks in part to a lower curb weight and more powerful engine. The Wagoneer put down the second-fastest 0-60 mph time, taking 5.85 seconds, losing the top spot to the smaller Grand Cherokee by just 2 hundredths of a second. The Wagoneer outscored the trio of similar three-row SUVs by nearly a second. In the quarter mile, the Wagoneer ran through the finish line in 14.45 seconds at a speed of 97.0 mph. Bringing the nearly three-ton Wagoneer to a stop from 60 mph took 143.82 feet.

Interior comfort and exterior design

It should come as no surprise that the 2023 Wagoneer Series II scored highest in our four-wheel SUV of the Year test when it came to the interior. Moving down from the Series III Wagoneer we tested in 2022 meant giving up some of the more lavish trimmings, but our judges didn’t seem to mind. Thanks in part to the comfortable Nappa leather seats, elegant interior, and powerful 506-watt, 9-speaker Alpine sound system, it was hard to get our judges to leave the Wagoneer at the end of their driving segment.

The Wagoneer’s interior was noted by our judges as comfortable in all positions, even in the back, for all sizes of adults. The Wagoneer also won a lot of praise for its implementation of the company’s latest Uconnect 5 infotainment software, large 10.1-inch center touchscreen and implementation of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Although our judges had some gripes with the trim choices for last year’s Series III Wagoneer, the Series II won near-unanimous praise for its interior embellishments, calling it “simple, elegant, logical and very well designed.”

Unlike the unanimous love for the Wagoneer’s interior, the vehicle’s exterior design continues to be far more polarizing. Generally speaking, the front design of the Wagoneer was viewed favorably by the group. But when it came to the back, opinions quickly shifted. Most didn’t care for the square and boxy design from the C-pillar back through the rear hatch. It was also noted by several judges that the many chrome accents scream luxury more than off-road, but that’s the arena the Wagoneer plays in, so that can be forgiven. The Wagoneer Series II also won praise for the inclusion of a rather classy 18-inch wheel with the Advanced All-Terrain Group. Large plastic side steps were included on this Wagoneer, but thankfully they are easily removed.

The Wagoneers Jeep pedigree continues to show through where it counts, offering a pair of large and useful (albeit chrome) front towbars. Out back, the Wagoneer had a standard 2-inch receiver unit, but as is standard for the class these days, it was hidden behind a shutter panel, which some judges took issue with. In another thoughtful touch, the Wagoneer came with a clutch receiver recovery hook located with the spare tire and tools. It’s the little things like this that make all the difference.

On the highway

In addition to earning incredibly high marks for interior comfort, the Wagoneer tied for the top spot with the much more expensive Lexus LX 600 when it came to highway handling and handling. Our judges swooned over the silky smooth power delivery from the big SUV’s new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre engine and loved the extra-fine shifting of the 8-speed automatic gearbox. The Wagoneer was considered easy to drive and very nimble going down the highway. The interior is bunker-quiet, which, if you’ve driven any SUV lately, you know isn’t common. Some judges noted that the Wagoneer appeared to have larger rear blind spots than normal. And the Wagoneer was equipped with a host of driving aids that received mixed reviews. This isn’t as much of a knock against the Wagoneer though, as they can all be disabled if desired.

When the sidewalk ends

Helping the Wagoneer along the trail was the company’s Advanced All-Terrain Group ($2,295) package. This off-road package provided the Wagoneer with 3.92:1 axle ratios, a two-speed transmission, an electronic limited-slip rear differential, Quadra-Lift air suspension, cruise control, front tow hooks, 18-inch wheels, off-road tires, and skid plates for the front axle, fuel tank, and transmission—in basically everything you need to take the Wagoneer off-road.

The Wagoneer really shined on graded dirt roads and in the quick sand washes, although it performed admirably on our rutted hill test as well. The Wagoneer’s suspension performed well in almost all situations and didn’t suffer from the noises typically associated with adjustable air suspension systems, although some judges noted that the adjustment speed didn’t quite match the competition. The Wagoneer’s semi-active suspension gave the SUV an off-road ride that was generally comfortable traversing any type of rough terrain. The Wagoneer’s electronic limited-slip rear differential also won praise from our judges for its smooth operation and positive engagement. The power from the new engine and its linear delivery was appreciated in all off-road situations, but was especially appreciated in ice and snow.

Although the Wagoneer has a seven-slot grill, our judges noted that it still suffers from the same off-road handicap as others in its size class. All of our judges commented on the Wagoneer’s size and lack of real body protection when traversing obstacles in the trail, and the large plastic side steps were a constant concern. Thankfully, moving to an 18-inch wheel, rather than 20 or larger, provided more tire sidewall which in turn made for a more comfortable ride while reducing the risk of pinch-offs.

Conclusion

It’s almost as if the 2023 Quad of the Year test event was the redemption tour for the Wagoneer. Almost all of our judges’ quibbles with the vehicle from the 2022 test have been resolved. And the addition of the new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter I-6 engine piles icing on top of the proverbial cake. The Wagoneer is incredibly comfortable on the highway, has a stylish cabin that isn’t over the top, and has a gorgeous exterior design. Best of all, the 2023 Wagoneer has the off-road chops to confidently venture deep into the backcountry while carrying the whole family and their gear. With this, we are proud to give the 2023 Wagoneer Series II Off-Road the title of our 2023 ATV of the Year.

What is hot

Powerful and smooth six-cylinder in-line engine, comfortable and quiet interior, surprising off-road agility, elegant exterior styling

What it is not

Bland rear styling, air suspension that reacts slowly, confusing (for some) shift knob

Log book offers

  • “I’m pretty sure I could drive this vehicle all day and well into the night and not tire of it.”
  • “This new engine is so incredibly quiet and smooth that sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s even running.”
  • “The interior is surprisingly simple until you dive into all the technology. Then it’s like an iPhone – lots of features with minimal buttons.”
  • “The third row sunroof is really a neat feature.”
  • “I love that even though I have a super nice touchscreen in the middle, there’s still an honest-to-goodness analog volume knob.”
  • “In a word, this interior is crisp!”
  • “Why does this $80,000 SUV have such large plastic side steps and not retractable running boards?”

2023 Wagoneer Series II: Specifications and Details

  • Base price: $68,080
  • Price as tested: $82,100
  • EPA Fuel Econ (City/Hwy/Comb): 16/23/19
  • Tested fuel economy (average/best): 16.49/20.30
  • Engine: 3.0L twin-turbocharged I-6
  • Power: 420 hp at 5,200 rpm
  • Torque: 468 lb-ft @ 3,500 RPM
  • Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
  • Acceleration 0-60 MPH: 5.85 seconds
  • ¼-Mile: 14.45 seconds @ 97.0 mph
  • Braking 60-0 MPH: 143.82 feet

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