Remarkably, Jeep has been considered a vital cash source for all those who have owned it over the years, but the brand has not participated profitably in the full-size SUV segment of the US car market. Ford has been the most prominent challenger. Even Nissan and Toyota have entries. The Wagoneer name is back on the largest Jeep, almost 30 years after being taken away from the last vehicle to sport the badge. Can it match its cross-town competitors?
Jeep marks its 80th anniversary in 2021. It is a brand that has a complex and long history. Jeep was not even a brand when it launched in World War II as a general-purpose vehicle. After the war, it passed through many of the owners, including Willies and American Motors, before finally becoming Chrysler. Chrysler has also been transformed many times over the last three decades, from Daimler Chrysler’s to Fiat Chrysler to Stellaris.
The first luxury SUV was the Wagoneer, which debuted in 1962. But it’s still not full-sized by modern standards. At 186.4 inches, it is 3.4 inches shorter than the 2021 Grand Cherokee. The new 2022 Wagoneer & Grand Wagoneer measures 214.7 inches stem to stern. They are about 4 inches longer than standard models from GM or Ford but a foot shorter than the Suburban and its siblings. The new big Jeep has two versions: the standard Wagoneer (which isn’t too sparse in its features) and the Grand Wagoneer (which is more for Lincoln Navigator and Escalade customers). Both versions were tested on a route that ran from Manhattan’s meatpacking zone to the northeastern ortion of Westchester County and back to Hudson Yards.
Contrary to most current unibody Jeeps, the Wagoneers have a body-on-frame design like the Wranglers and Gladiators. This is similar to the Ram 1500 pickups but significantly modified. The rear suspension features a fully independent multilink system. All four corners are equipped with coil springs. Grand Wagoneers have the option of adaptive dampers or air springs. Air suspension can lower vehicles by 1.6 inches, which allows for easier entry and departure and improved aerodynamics at highway speeds. For off-roading, it can raise the vehicle’s body by 2 inches. With the correct tire combination, the suspension can reach 10-inches of ground clearance.
Like most modern SUVs and trucks, the frame is wholly boxed and made out of a combination of several high-strength and low-stress steels. This provides maximum rigidity as well as crash performance. Jeep added a standard-class four trailer hitch to the rear. The hitch bar attaches to the mainframe rails and provides durability. It also supports the best-in-class (for now) 10,000-pound towing ability. At launch, V8 gas engines are the only options. Wagoners will get the 392-hp 5.7 liters Hemi with 48V mild-hybrid eTorque. The mild-hybrid recovers energy when the vehicle stops. This is done through a belted starter and lithium-ion batteries. It can also provide up to 130 lb-ft of torque boost and keep the engine running for several minutes while the vehicle is stationary. Grand Wagoneers can get the 6.4-liter Hemi engine with cylinder activation. Although the Grand Wagoneer concept was presented last summer, it featured the same plug-in hybrid powertrain used on the Wrangler 4XE; Jeep officials have refused to say when this will become a production model. Stellaris confirmed that the plug-in Wagoneer would be available in the Grand Cherokee by the end of this year. Most likely in 2022. All Wagoneer variants have the same eight-speed automatic transmission as the Stellantis range. As always, it is well-behaved. The SUV’s V8 engine is powerful, and it moves effortlessly. Even in New York, it does not have any problems merging onto the highway. All Wagoneers will have one of three 4-wheel-drive systems, but rear-wheel-drive models will be available later.
Quadra-Trac 1, a full-time 4WD, is included in the Wagoneer Series II. The transfer case has a single speed. Quadra-Trac II, which consists of a two-speed transmission case and hill descent control, is included in Series III. Quadra-Drive II is an optional feature on the Grand Wagoneer. To provide the best torque and traction, this top-end system features an electronic limited-slip rear diff to deliver torque to the wheel. Quadra-Trac II & Quadra-Drive II have a Selec-Terrain that allows drivers to select between Auto, Sport, and Snow modes. Similar to similar ways on other off-road-capable vehicles, they adjust slip thresholds and suspension heights. The two-speed transfer case can also provide a crawl ratio as high as 48:1. Our lunch stop allowed us to do a bit more off-roading. The Jeep was able to handle rock crawling, twist moguls, and other challenges with ease. A Wagoneer is not the same size as a Wrangler, so you won’t find it going to as many places as you would with a Wrangler. But, it will be able to get to cabins in the woods if they aren’t too close together. It is 83.6 inches in width, making it less suitable for commuting to Manhattan every day. It fills the lane very well, and I could drive down the Hudson Parkway without any problems. There is a concrete barrier at one end and traffic on the other, so I had to be careful not to come in contact with either. In suburbia, it is okay. Grand Wagoneers also include a digital rearview reflector in the cabin (optional for Series I, standard on all models), which significantly improves the view to the rear.
The Wagoneers feel very spacious inside, despite being a little too large for narrower roads. The Wagoneers have plenty of head, shoulder, hip, and legroom. Even the third row is large enough to accommodate this writer at 5’11”. Stellaris has taken that to another level with their Wagoneer family. Wagoneers, Grand Wagoneer Series I, and Wagoneers come with standard Nappa leathers. Other GW trims can get even better Palermo Leathers. Non-prefixed models receive 12-way power adjustments in the front row, while GWs get 24-way. All front chairs are heated and ventilated. This feature is also available in the second and third rows.
Chrysler began to introduce cup holders to its minivans back in 1980. This was when the market for cupholders exploded. That competition will continue in 2021 for USB ports. There should be at least eight ports and possibly more, including USB A and B ports in all three rows. There are 3 HDMI ports, one in the first row and one on the screens if rear-seat entertainment is added. Grand Wagoneer offers up to seven screens. Standard models come with a 10.25-inch instrument cluster and a 10.1-inch center touchscreen. This increases to 12.3 inches and 12-inches for the Grands. Grand Wagoneer also comes with a pair of 10.25-inch touchscreens for climate control in the first row and second row. The front row display is articulated to access the storage container behind it.
Grand Wagoneer Series III has a 10.25-inch screen for the front passengers. This display is optional on other trims. This display has a polarizing lens that blocks the driver’s view. This allows the passenger to interact with navigation or other apps and watch videos. All Wagoneers will receive the Uconnect 5 system, which is based upon Android Automotive. It is full-featured and responsive, with an easy-to-use interface. TomTom provides default navigation maps. However, the system can also be connected to Android Auto or Apple AAPL CarPlay wired or wirelessly so that you can access the media apps and messages as well as navigation. I used a combination of the TomTom navigation’s drive route and PocketCasts to listen to some podcasts in Android Auto. The instrument cluster and head-up displays also mirror the navigation prompts. You can find a wireless charging station in the storage box at the top of the center console.
Jeep’s premium audio system, branded McIntosh Labs, is another feature first introduced in the Grand Wagoneer. A McIntosh system is already available on the Grand Cherokee L, and it’s also available on both Wagoneer versions. The Wagoneer Series III offers a 19-speaker, 950W system. This option is also available on the Grand Wagoneer Series II & III. The 1375W system includes 23 speakers, including a 12-inch Subwoofer. It is optional on the GW Series II. Each version comes with a Uconnect app which displays a virtual McIntosh’s blue-backlit meters. This is a minor, neat feature that does not add any functionality, but McIntosh lovers will appreciate it.McIntosh Audio on the Grand Wagoneer and Jeep Wagoneer 2022 Jeep Wagoneers features an app where the same premium audio systems are all based on sound. I will admit that my 55-year old ears have been exposed over the years to a lot of rock concerts and race cars to hear the subtleties in audio. Despite that, I still have a relatively wide range of hearing, from lows to highs. Both systems sounded clear and without distortion when listening to different music (from Vivaldi cello concertos through to AC/DC to The Clash). Are they better than other premium systems? It’s impossible to say without back-to-back comparisons. Even then, most likely not. But I doubt Wagoneer owners will feel disappointed.
Driving dynamics are another feature that the Wagoneer will be a delight to use. Although the Wagoneers can carry 6,200-6,000 lbs empty, the large footprint makes them feel agile and light on the road. Our route took us from the streets of Manhattan to the Hudson Valley parkways to rural roads. It was all handled by the Wagoneers with astonishing ease.
The road’s most prominent contours can be seen through your ears and behind, but the body’s movements were well ignored. Both flavors felt comfortable and were never floy. Without a back-to-back, it’s difficult for us to determine if this is better than GMs new big SUVs. However, those are certainly a step above the current Ford/Lincoln generation. It isn’t easy to pick between Navigator, Escalade, or Grand Wagoneer for the interiors. While Lincoln’s contemporary interior is more traditional, that could soon change. The Escalade is a modern car with stunning OLED displays. Jeep offers an outstanding balance and features not available in competitors. The Jeep also has Jeep off-road capabilities with the available two-speed transmission cases. Super Cruise hands-free highway driving is possible with the Escalade. At launch, the Wagoneers included an active drive aid that combined adaptive cruise control with lanes centering. As with Super Cruise, the hands-on Jeep system uses capacitive sensors to detect when the driver is on the wheel. This is much better than other torque sensors. Jeep hasn’t yet revealed when it will be available, but it will be similar to Super Cruise. Current vehicles won’t have all the required sensors, so that they won’t get an upgrade.
If fuel economy is your concern, you won’t be impressed by the current V8 engines. The combined fuel economy of the 5.7-liter and the 6.4l is 17 mpg. Although the 4XE should perform significantly better, eventually, there will be a battery-electric model. As the first full-size SUV made by Chrysler after the death of Dodge Ramcharger twenty years ago, the Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer is a worthy entry. They are fully compliant with other established players and have features and capabilities that none offer. Jeep has been steadily moving upmarket in the last decade. With the new Grand Cherokee and now Wagoneer, Jeep seems ready to compete with luxury brands from the UK.
Jeep’s biggest challenge is the arrival of electric competitors like Rivian R1S, BMW iX, and entries from Mercedes-Benz. Wagoneers and Grand Wagoneers can be ordered now. They start at $72,500 for Series II 4WD and go up to $105,000 for Series III loaded Grand Wagoneer Series III. Later in the model year, a rear-drive Series I Wagoneer will sell starting at below $60,000.