It has been a long time since Jeep has fielded a competitor in the full-size SUV ranks. With the ill-fated Jeep Commander best being left as a forgotten historical dead end, one has to go all the way back to the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer which were once key cogs in the long-departed American Motors Corporation, as well as Chrysler’s for a brief period after the company, completed its acquisition of AMC with the last ones being built in the early 1990s. But Stellantis is hoping that a new generation of full-size SUV buyers will be able to breathe some 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
When you look around at the marketplace, it has rapidly transformed into a very different place versus 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 state of affairs allowed the Grand Wagoneer to be a unique offering 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 fight for sales with the latest iteration of the Range Rover and a much larger pool of rivals.
The exterior styling of our Series III grade tester certainly checks off alot of the boxes that people have come to expect from a full-size luxury SUV. there’s plenty of chrome trim 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 chrome grille is contrasted by a rather squat and rectangular rear end which causes the design to look jumbled. The odd shape of the windows also makes you feel like you’re in a bunker with the rear window, in particular, delivering awful rear visibility thanks in part to the chunky rear pillars.
It would seem that Jeep was hoping that the massive 22-inch wheels would do a good job distracting the masses, but spoiler alert they don’t. However, look past all of this and there’s some positives that stick out when you look at the finer things. Details (no matter how small) were important here and we loved the American flag chrome badging, as well as a massive plaque in the engine bay that adds a nice stylish touch. These details are missing from rivals like the Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator but that also means the big Jeep is still a step behind the Range Rover in terms of wowing the fashion runway.
Grand Wagoneer Doubles Down On Interior Opulence
With the exterior’s flaws, we were very glad to see that the interior is a shining diamond here and there’s plenty to be seen and touched. The cabin is filled with real matte-finished wood which is paired nicely with high-end leather and metal accents to create a truly first-class experience. The seats themselves were extremely comfortable and they provided ample amounts of support for all kinds of occupants. The theme here makes you feel you entered a swanky 1970’s era nighttime lounge and the second and third-row seats were not lacking in opulence 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 displays did a good job providing crisp feedback and clarity. We did notice some minor software hiccups but they went away just in time for a night of sipping hot chocolate in front of the digital fireplace with my wife. The controls just avoid crossing the boundary of button overload but the layout here is ergonomically friendly and easy to master.
A notable caveat is that while the Grand Wagoneer does support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, screen mirroring is not included which means parents will have to formally hook up a device to the rear screen to keep their kids entertained on long jaunts. Here’s hoping that 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 alas the Lincoln Navigator still gets a slight nod in our eyes since it trades in some of the more gimmicky elements for a more assertive artistic interpretation, especially in Black Label guise.
Grand Wagoneer’s 6.4 liter V8 Is A Powerful But Thirsty Beast
Jeep claims that 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 up and rolling. The exhaust might not have some of the SRT’s frenzied snarl but it’s still a very assertive tone that you hear through the cabin.
A 10-speed automatic is the sole transmission 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 lbs of weight 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-watering 15 mpg. Freeway economy is the lone bright spot though 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 are commanding the economy, this diet may be unsustainable for some households.
Handling in the Grand Wagoneer is roughly what you would expect for a full-size luxury yacht with our tester delivering copious amounts of body roll when tasked with cornering but glass-smooth feedback when being driven straight. The GW does come with a built-in sport mode but its best to leave it in normal or comfort for most treks since 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 corporate teammates like the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. Braking is pretty stable and the Jeep’s 9,850 lb towing capacity outguns the 8,200 lb rating offered by the Cadillac Escalade.
Walk into a Jeep dealership and you will be greeted with a different buying experience. Jeep pulled out all the stops when it came to replicating a true one of a kind buying experience for Wagoneer buyers and that includes specially trained sales personnel that are authorized to sell the model as well as other perks 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 in the thick of things with rivals from Mercedes and Land Rover (among others)
The main obstacle that the Grand Wagoneer has to overcome (besides factors beyond its control) is establishing 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’s allowed Cadillac, Lincoln, and others to not only create their entries but also refine and perfect them so that they can make a bigger cultural impact among well-heeled buyers.
That takes time and it will be interesting to see if the Grand Wagoneer will be able to succeed in meeting this challenge head-on. The Wagoneer family is also defined by a standard non “Grand” Wagoneer which starts at just over $60,000 but comes with standard leather seating and is a more functionally focused contender to the Chevrolet Suburban and the Ford Expedition.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.