When Jeep announced the return of the Grand Wagoneer, I fervently hoped it'd be one thing: an American Range Rover. To my mind, there is no better, more complete luxury vehicle on the planet. It's excellent to drive, better to sit in, and is as smart and comfortable as anything out there. Cadillac and Lincoln build fantastic luxury SUVs, but they've never had an answer for the Range Rover's total competence on road and absolute capability off.
After driving the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, neither does Stellantis. Despite similar pedigrees and the fact that the Jeep brand knows as much or more about getting down a rocky, muddy path, this is not America's answer to the Range Rover. In fact, in a few crucial ways, the Grand Wagoneer lags behind its American counterparts. But as a first effort and the long overdue expansion into the three-row, full-size luxury SUV space, Jeep is showing promise. It's just not there yet.
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Good, Great, Or Grand?
By now, you should know that the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer don't shake out in the usual way of smaller and bigger that you see with Jeep's own Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. Rather than the “Grand” designation indicating increased size, these two vehicles are fraternal twins, both riding atop a 123.0-inch wheelbase and offering similar interior measurements. Instead, “Grand” here indicates the vehicle's aspirations, taking the already plush Wagoneer and adding more of everything but size: tinsel, power, technology, and comfort.
For the multi-hour drive from Manhattan's posh Chelsea neighborhood to the relative wilderness outside the Big Apple, I wanted all that the Grand designation offered, selecting a well-equipped Series II trim. But immediately apparent as I set out on the West Side Highway was how small this 214.7-inch chunk of rugged Americana felt.
This Jeep has the worst ride in the class by a healthy margin.
At 83.6 inches wide, this Jeep is 2.6 inches wider than a Cadillac Escalade and 3.7 inches girthier than a Lincoln Navigator (all measurements are sans mirrors). It has several inches on the short-wheelbase versions of each, too. But predictable and well-isolated steering, with an appropriately sized dead zone and natural-feeling weight make managing the tight lanes easy. And despite that long hood and upright nose, forward visibility is good.
The road that rings Manhattan is far from silky, though. Expansion joints and potholes are common, and while the Grand Wagoneer one-ups the Navigator and matches the Escalade with an available air suspension, this Jeep has the worst ride in the class by a healthy margin. There's somehow too much vertical motion and a substantial amount of harshness over imperfections. Bigger bumps reverberate through the body while low-amplitude hits still send an unpleasant shudder directly to your backside. It'd be a catastrophe on rough roads were the steering not so well isolated.
The only thing I can think happened is that Jeep sacrificed some on-road manners for the brand's trademark off-road capability. And that's a fine sacrifice at most price points, but the Grand Wagoneer is playing in a far different realm than a Compass or Cherokee. Its $88,000 starting price is a mere $4,000 off that of a Range Rover and it's slightly more than the outgoing, Toyota Land Cruiser-based Lexus LX demands. Both of those vehicles are as capable off road, but they're dramatically more poised and polished in the real world.
Making matters all the worse is that the poor ride clashes with a cabin that's spookily quiet. There is no wind noise. Zilch. Tire roar is rare and even the slap that comes from driving over an expansion joint in a vehicle with 22-inch wheels is negligible. Jeep even did what I thought it couldn't, taking a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 from the Dodge Challenger muscle car and somehow tuning it for luxury duties.
The cabin is spookily quiet. There is no wind noise. Zilch.
A thrum on startup and a pleasant bellow under heavy throttle are the only times its presence is obvious from behind the wheel. With 471 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque from that 6.4-liter V8, paired with a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic, you'd be forgiven for imagining performance that bears at least a passing resemblance to the Challenger 392.
But faced with my Series II's immense 6,400-pound curb weight – 600 pounds more than either the Cadillac or Lincoln – the straight-line pull is merely adequate. The engine's pleasant mid-range shove, combined with the whip-smart gearbox, which engages quickly off the line and knows its business at speed, help the GW get out of its own way. But for sheer thrust, either of its domestic competitors feels brisker. And more efficient, too.
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That weight makes itself noticed even more in the bends, not that cornering is a high priority among three-row luxury SUV shoppers. This is a big, heavy vehicle to throw around – even though the suspension keeps a good handle on unpleasant body motions, there's so much mass to manage that your corner entry speeds need to remain low, lest you carry more momentum than you intended and need to call in the so-so brakes to arrest things.
You'll mostly forgive those shortcomings after a few minutes in the expansive and beautiful cabin, which features arguably the finest material quality of any Chrysler product in years.
Swing the big, bank-vault-like door open, hop inside, and proceed to drown in soft, supple leather. The seats, door panels, dash, and sides of the center console all wear the stuff, and what isn't cow is likely hewn from metal or carved from a tree. The wood in the Grand Wagoneer is the real deal (regular Wagoneers get faux veneers), with a matte appearance perfectly tailored to the GW's sense of restrained and understated luxury. The aluminum accents on the gear selector dial and the two rocker switches that flank it give a sense of heft and reliability – playing with any one of those elements is a treat.
The seats, door panels, dash, and sides of the center console all wear hide, and what isn't cow is likely hewn from metal or carved from a tree.
My material critiques are modest. There's a fair amount of piano black trim, which cheapens the cabin to a degree, but by and large designers managed to reserve it for small splashes here and there. Also, the Grand Wagoneer wordmark on the passenger's side dash mars the otherwise attractive trim. Were I taking delivery of this beast, job one would be figuring out how to remove the cheap-looking decal.
The front seats are the best place to observe the cabin's good and bad, with the GW's standard 24-way chairs packing a killer massage function, in addition to the usual heating and ventilation. The thrones themselves are wide and the bottom cushion is rather flat, though, and I struggled to find a comfortable position during my hours at the helm. While the Wagoneer comes standard in an eight-passenger configuration with a seven-passenger arrangement available as an option, the Grand Wagoneer flips the script with second-row captain's chairs the default.
These chairs feel better bolstered than the front seats, oddly, and although they lack the same wide range of adjustability (or power controls, for that matter), I was immediately more comfortable sitting in back. There's more legroom in the GW's middle seats, 42.7 inches, than in either the Lincoln or Cadillac (41.1 and 41.7, respectively), and there's similar good news in the far back seats.
That three-abreast bench would be a bit tight fully loaded, although the Jeep does enjoy the most third-row hip room in the class at 51.6 to 49.4 in the Cadillac and 51.4 in the Lincoln. A pair of adults will find the conditions plenty roomy, though – there's as much legroom as a long-wheelbase Cadillac Escalade (36.6 inches), and more shoulder room than either rival, although foot space is at a premium. The bench positioning is good and high, so the GW avoids the knees-in-the-chest feel you get with something like an Infiniti QX80.
On the tech front, the third row is a penalty box compared to any other seat, offering just USB inputs. Front-row passengers will enjoy up to four units, including USB-C ports, and up to five in the second row. You can get up to 75 inches of display space in this cabin, although only about 45 of it is standard on the Grand Wagoneer. I'd happily trade the 10.3-inch passenger display and the 10.3-inch touchscreen controller in the second row for at least one screen dedicated to the third-row seats.
If wishes were horses, though. As it stands, the software on these screens is excellent. Jeep's Uconnect 5 infotainment suite is both attractive and easy to learn, and the addition of Amazon Fire TV connectivity brings streaming to the back seats, the passenger display, and when parked, the main 12.0-inch touchscreen. I watched a snippet of The Grand Tour, with the dulcet tones of Clarkson, Hammond, and May echoing out over the stunning 23-speaker McIntosh audio system (optional and equipped on my Series II tester, standard on the Obsidian and Series III).
Wondering While Wagoneering
It's difficult to state how close the Grand Wagoneer is to being great. The cabin is a match for anything Cadillac or Lincoln are doing from a materials and design standpoint, and like the Range Rover, the interior design feels inextricably tied to the brand's character. Much as you climb behind the wheel of a Range Rover and immediately know you're in a British vehicle, it takes but a minute surrounded by the Grand Wagoneer's warm woods and soft leather to pick out the American design.
The technology borders on overwhelming, but it feels well integrated to the overall design. That Stellantis' software engineers executed it so well doesn't hurt. And of course, I can't ignore the library-like quiet of this vehicle. Close the door and the Grand Wagoneer becomes an isolation chamber, cutting you off from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
It's difficult to state how close the Grand Wagoneer is to being great.
But it's all let down by the ride. Despite the air suspension, despite the excellent sound control, despite the capability, the Grand Wagoneer's ride is unbecoming of a luxury product. It lacks the isolation or composure over bumps you'll find in an Escalade, let alone a Range Rover. And while we have little doubt that Jeep will find many happy customers eager to park the Grand Wagoneer in their driveway, until there's a solution for the unbecoming way it manages rough roads, I can't recommend this latest Jeep.
Grand Wagoneer Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer: First Drive
2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer Series II