Multiplex-level entertainment, comfort and capacity
Choppy ride on broken surfaces; subjective design
What is it?
The Jeep Grand Wagoneer set the standard for US-built luxury SUVs until it was discontinued in the early 1990s. Big, boxy with a rumbling V8 and faux wood paneling, it defined a generation. And then, with petrol prices and safety standards rising, it slipped away and died. Plans for its resurrection and reinvention swirled for years, then decades, as Chrysler went through a couple of abusive relationships and almost disappeared during the 2008 recession.
But now, finally, almost 30 years to the day later, the Grand Wagoneer has rejoined the Jeep range alongside its identical, just less luxurious, twin, the Wagoneer. And while it used to have little to no competition, now the world has changed. GM has the all-new Escalade, Ford the bang up-to-date Lincoln Navigator – and there are all manner of other full size, three-row - and very good - SUVs from Europe and Asia to contend with.
Is the Jeep Grand Wagoneer a body-on-frame SUV?
Sensibly Jeep has borrowed the best from the Stellantis parts bin and created a convincing, capable and luxurious body-on-frame giant that still offers its own distinctly Jeep flavour of full-size SUV. The air-suspended chassis – with an IRS instead of a solid rear axle - is from the Ram 1500 pick up, the engines from the SRT performance division, the seating flexibility from Chrysler, the tuning and design from Jeep’s own.
The end result is a vehicle with the interior quality that’s a match for the Lincoln Navigator, has the tech – and then some – of a Cadillac Escalade, yet still has the off-road chops and all-purpose functionality of a Jeep. But it’s not just those two it has to beat. By packing it with features, the price has crested $100k in top spec, so it’s in direct competition with Range Rovers and all the German brands, too.
Has the Grand Wagoneer got enough brand equity and unique ability to warrant that price and win 30 years after it left the market? Here’s what we found on the first drive in New York.
What's the verdict?
Jeep might have taken 30 years to give us the new Grand Wagoneer, but it’s pulled out all the stops to make the best vehicle it could. It doesn’t set a new high bar for anything in particular – other than maybe the best-sounding stereo system in an SUV – but then the competition is so strong, that would be next to impossible.
What it does do that no other SUV can do is be a luxury three-row Jeep, and for a lot of people that will end the conversation right there. For Jeep loyalists nothing else could be better in this class than the Grand Wagoneer, despite its occasionally unsettled ride and those subjective love it or hate it design cues.
The only problem might not be the external competition, but other vehicles in the Jeep line up. The new three-row Grand Cherokee L which offers pretty much all of the Wagoneer’s features just without the colossal bulk, V8 engines and major price tag.
When we drove that recently, it felt far more alert and wieldy on the road, had performance to spare and oozed creature comforts – including the prized McIntosh stereo system – in the higher spec versions. So, unless you absolutely need the Grand Wagoneer’s somewhat marginal extra space, towing capacity or bling, the Grand Cherokee L might make quite a lot more sense.