2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer Concept First Look: Worth the Wait?
Pros: Jeep enters premium full-size three-row SUV space; plug-in hybrid; innovative passenger screen.
Cons: Slightly underwhelming first impression after years of hype; not enough wood in modern interpretation.
“It’s the boss’s car. We can’t mess it up.”
That has been whispered in the halls of Fiat Chrysler’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, where the return of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer has been underway for at least a dozen years. And for most of that waiting period, Mike Manley has been both head of Jeep and the GW’s longtime proponent. Today, Manley is the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles—the boss. And the world is getting its first look at Jeep’s latest project, one that is probably second only to the Jeep Wrangler in importance to the brand.
FCA has been promising the return of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, a premium full-size three-row SUV to take on high-end Land Rovers, Lincolns, and Cadillacs for so long it was getting hard to believe it would ever really happen. The Wagoneer danced around in the five-year product plans laid out by former FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne. As plans expired and were replaced by new ones, the Wagoneer always remained. Only it kept being pushed down the priority list. We shudder to think how many concepts Ralph Gilles, FCA’s head of design, had his team conjure up for the Wagoneer over the years.
Finally! A Peek At the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer!
And now, finally, we have our first look at the concept directly previewing the production model, a taste of what a short-wheelbase 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer will look like. There will also be a long-wheelbase Grand Wagoneer and a more mainstream, less luxurious 2022 Jeep Wagoneer, also in two sizes.
The first members of the new Wagoneer family will arrive in the summer of 2021, starting with the regular-sized SUVs. The stretched versions (analogous to the Cadillac Escalade ESV, Lincoln Navigator L, and the long-wheelbase Range Rover) will follow later as production swells at the plant in Warren, Michigan, which also makes the Ram full-size pickup.
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That is no coincidence: The Wagoneer family uses a modified version of the Ram 1500 pickup truck architecture. That startling twist was confirmed in 2016, changing Marchionne’s original plans from years earlier to stretch the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee platform to accommodate the Grand Wagoneer.
Body-on-Frame Luxury Enough?
There were concerns that using a body-on-frame truck platform would limit the Grand Wagoneer’s ability to breathe the richer air of competitors above the $100,000 range. But Christian Meunier, global Jeep chief, says the Wagoneer family still has the breadth originally envisioned. The (non-Grand) Wagoneer will start at about $60,000 to take on the likes of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition in its short-wheelbase form and the Suburban and Expedition L when stretched. A loaded Grand Wagoneer will easily top six figures and tackle the long and short variants of the Cadillac Escalade, Navigator Black Label, and, yes, the original target, Land Rover’s Range Rover.
All of which raises some big questions. Is the Grand Wagoneer worth the wait and the money? And will it hearten or disappoint the legions of Wagoneer fans?
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Bear in mind the Grand Wagoneer pictured here is a concept, so FCA is holding off on a lot of key details, such as its final powertrains. The concept is a plug-in hybrid, and that advanced powertrain will make it to production with a cool plug door in front of the A-pillar that lights up and shows the level of charge available. We expect a range of less complex gasoline and diesel powertrains will be offered, as well. After all, the Ram 1500s running through the same plant are fitted with a choice of a 305-hp 3.6-liter V-6 with the eTorque mild hybrid system, a 395-hp 5.7-liter V-8 with or without eTorque assistance, and the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 with 480 lb-ft of torque, which would come in handy for a Wagoneer owner with something to tow. And, of course, the new Ram 1500 TRX has the 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat V-8 pumping out 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. It’d be perfect for a performance version of the Grand Wagoneer in the future, provided it can pass muster with evaporative emissions laws, an issue the same engine is having in the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat.
Retro in Retrograde
Then there’s the Grand Wagoneer’s look. Gilles and his design team could have gone one of two ways. The first would have been retro—true to the original with its signature wood panels, the route taken by the new 2021 Ford Bronco, which has received rave reviews. Or Jeep could reimagine the SUV and envision what a modern Wagoneer would look like.
FCA (daringly) checked the second box. The mandate was to come up with a modern vision of an American classic that captured the heart and soul of road-tripping families. “It is the rebirth of Wagoneer and our vision of what it can be,” Meunier says. And by that he means not just recapturing the soul of Americana from the original Wagoneer but also the gold standard established with the 1984 Grand Wagoneer.
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The concept was designed to evoke the spirit of a Grand Wagoneer with some vintage cues and materials, but it is far from a carbon copy of the SUV that was in production (in various little-changed forms) from 1962 to 1991. “The Grand Wagoneer concept is inspired by the original, but with a modern interpretation of luxury and freedom,” Gilles says, describing the concept as having a timeless silhouette.
We recognize there are limitations to what you can do with a giant three-row SUV. The Escalade and Navigator rely more on their interiors to wow customers. But our first impression of the concept’s exterior leaves us a bit flat after all the hype leading to this moment. Any homage it pays to previous generations is subtle. The large glass windows harken to the large greenhouse of the original Grand Wagoneer, but to call them similar is a stretch. And even though there is a bit of wood on the exterior, you need a cheat sheet to find it.
The concept has an Obsidian (glass formed from molten lava) Black-accented grille, and the seven slots have intricate latticework and LED lighting to create an intricate design. The front skidplate and tow hooks are also glossy Obsidian Black, contrasting the Arctic Ice paint created for the concept. Above the grille, “Wagoneer” is spelled out in raised, illuminated letters. “Grand Wagoneer” is also spelled out on the bottom of each front door along with an American flag.
But, Uh, Where’s the Wood?
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One of the few bits of wood on the exterior is found, weirdly, in the headlights. There is a splash of teak in those. The other bit—more teak—is embedded in the four tie-down loop openings on each side of the roof rack, which sits on the glass roof; it’s a little like the faux wood trim on old Grand Wagoneers’ roof rack rails.
The concept is at least big and looks it. The sides are not sculpted to look leaner; rather, the line below the greenhouse extends, uninterrupted, around the car to accentuate its girth. The side profile is dominated by the trapezoidal wheel arches making room for 24-inch multispoke aluminum wheels with an Obsidian finish. First rule of concepts: overly large wheels that get toned down for production. The wheel inserts have a lot of detail, knurling, and latticework, some of which was 3-D-printed for the concept, so the final look could be simplified. The latticework theme continues in the side mirrors.
The roof pillars are body-colored; the team did not want to follow the herd with blacked-out pillars for a “floating” roof look. “If we made blacked-out C- and D-pillars, it would be like everybody else’s vehicle,” says Tim Anness, who led the exterior design. “The C- and D-pillars are color-keyed. They’re not any thicker than they need to be. Believe me, I think we’ve got class-leading visibility.” Gilles says it is one of his favorite features, kind of a U-shaped pillar that he feels redefines the SUV: “That will be a memorable part of this design for years to come.”
Count ’em: Three 4×4 Systems for Off-Roading
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The original Wagoneer introduced consumers to an American SUV with carlike niceties such as an automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. When the 1984 Grand Wagoneer arrived, it signaled to the world that customers could get those things in a premium SUV with standard leather, air conditioning, and a stereo, too. It can’t be overstated how much the original helped push SUVs out of the rugged fringe of the automotive canon and into the mainstream—and even into the genteel luxury space, without sacrificing their capability.
The revived Wagoneer portfolio will straddle those two worlds just like the original, with the off-road capability Jeep is known for. In fact, there will be three 4×4 systems, including the ability to rock crawl while running on electric power. In the silence, you can hear the tires crawl over boulders on the Rubicon trail (an aural experience Jeep plays up in ads for its new Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid). Jeep also will equip the 2022 Grand Wagoneer with an air suspension—independent front and rear, unlike the Ram it’s based on, which has a live rear axle—and Jeep is promising unmatched towing capacity. We eagerly await full specs.
Inside the Seven-Passenger SUV
Inside, the artistry is amped up—and much of it will make it to production.
The reinvented Grand Wagoneer is a seven-passenger SUV that offers a third row for the first time, with lots of legroom, amenities, and hidden storage cubbies. There are captain’s chairs in the first two rows and a bench in the third. The ventilated seats have a diamond pattern running down the center, and there are diamond tips on the piping. Like in the original Grand Wagoneer, a lot of effort has gone into making all the seats exceptionally comfortable. Driver and passenger have individual armrests, and with such a wide vehicle, there is a seriously large center console.
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Chris Benjamin, head of interior design, says the team studied the original 1963 model and emulated some of the elements, such as the two-spoke steering wheel. Opening the front driver-side door reveals the outer edge of the instrument panel with the inscription “EST. 1963,” the first model year of the original Wagoneer.
The instrument panel is in a black glass canopy that looks like it’s floating above a giant aluminum wing with slim vents at each end. Talk about your turducken. Under the wing is the expansive center console.
There is much more wood inside than out, with wood inlays on the instrument panel and front door. The wood was heat-treated for a black, almost cracked look, which also gives it a unique texture. In the lacewood in front of the passenger, “Grand Wagoneer” is inscribed in aluminum. The starter button has a knurled texture and carved indentations, like the face of a watch, and accent stitching around it. There is more knurling on the rotary shifter. Overhead is a sustainable suede headliner made of Dinamica, a recyclable microfiber.
Screens: The Modern Measurement
Jeep’s modern design interpretation includes a full digital cockpit with a lot of screens, haptic controls, and limited buttons. There are 44 inches of screens spanning the length of the instrument panel. They are nicely integrated in black glass casing, rather than stuck into the dash.
The cavalcade of screens includes a 12.3-inch driver display, a 12.1-inch center touchscreen, and a 10.3-inch screen below it with comfort controls for temperature and seats. That bottom screen articulates out of the way to reveal hidden storage underneath. The final screen is a novelty. It is a 10.3-inch passenger touchscreen with a privacy film integrated into the glass so the driver cannot watch the movies or other content playing on the passenger screen. Second-row passengers have individual entertainment screens, and a third screen in the center console between them has their comfort controls for heating, cooling, and airflow, and for the seat heat, ventilation, and massage. There are no screens in the third row.
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Infotainment is powered by FCA’s Uconnect 5 system, claimed to be five times faster than the previous system. The setup can be customized, and there are even “relax” modes that include a crackling fireplace and an image of gliding over the earth.
For the audio system, Jeep paired with luxury home audio maker McIntosh. The Grand Wagoneer has 23 speakers and a 24-channel amplifier, everything in aluminum and gloss black. Whether the McIntosh system makes it into production is part of ongoing discussions, but it’d be a standout feature in the luxury space based on the name alone.
Overall, designers went for the contrast of glossy black glass, faded wood, bright aluminum, and subtle colors. It is a palette designed to take the Jeep brand upmarket into a whole new segment, bigger and more luxurious than anything else in the lineup, with plans to pair it with “unprecedented customer experience,” executives say.
“It is a level of premium never done before,” Gilles says, in a fitting present to a brand about to turn 80. And make no mistake, the Grand Wagoneer was not designed to look Jeep’s age. Whether that is what customers were looking for will be determined when the final product arrives soon.
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