2023 Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer L First Drive – Spacing It Out
We heard them before we saw them.
Our merry band of journalists and PR folks were walking to dinner in Bozeman, Montana on the second night of the 2023 Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer L press launch when we crossed paths with a bunch of college-aged folks who were walking the opposite way shouting “hi-ho, hi-ho, fossil fuels have got to go!”
If only they could lay eyes on this particular Jeep, which caused one colleague to tweet out a reference to The Simpsons' Canyonero.
Jeep folks will tell you that the long-wheelbase Wagoneer has moved towards turbocharged six-cylinder power in part to improve fuel economy, and they’ll also remind you that the EPA-estimated fuel-economy numbers are into the mid-20s for highway MPGs, at least on one version of this rig, which isn’t bad considering the size of this beast.
If they deigned to ask, I’d tell the protesters that the Wagoneer, despite some wonky exterior design, is quite nice inside, and rides like a dream on smooth Montana roads. I’d also point out that both of the Hurricane turbo sixes pull this large barge up to highway speeds surprisingly quickly, with smoothness and little drama.
Finally, I’d point out that making an extra-large, three-row SUV about a foot longer means the third row will be spacious (and relatively easily accessible) even for larger adults and that the cargo area will swallow a lot of stuff.
That probably wouldn’t be enough to put them at ease – SUVs of this size are the poster vehicles for excessive consumption, whether of fuel or money. But maybe, just maybe, these folks would understand, as I begrudgingly do, that some folks need three rows, lots of interior/cargo space, and some solid towing chops, and that whatever I may think of the wretched excess at hand, or the design my eyes must gaze upon, at least these Jeeps do what they’re asked to do with an ease borne of general competence.
(Full disclosure: Jeep flew me to Bozeman, Montana, and housed and fed me for two nights so that I could review these Jeeps. I think they offered a hat, I did not take it.)
Right before I departed for Big Sky country, I published a review of the standard-wheelbase Grand Wagoneer. It wasn’t my best work – I struggled to get across the point that I find the Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer’s exterior design to be oddly proportioned and not flattering while I also believe the cabin to be well-styled and comfortable – and I also find the driving dynamics to be just fine.
I partly blame a case of writer’s block, and I also have an existential struggle when it comes to behemoth SUVs such as the Wagoneer and its competition (Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition, et cetera). As noted above, some folks have a use case that requires them to shell out for the biggest SUVs on the market. And I can’t begrudge anyone with the means who wants to be pampered. But I also shudder at the excess involved here, though that might just be my own bias as someone who prefers compact sports sedans and pony-car-type muscle cars over the rest of the automotive landscape.
I mention this because the addition of a foot of overall length (226.7 inches now) and seven inches of wheelbase (130 inches for the L) don’t really change my overall impression of the Wagoneer family, even if that means 15.8 additional cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row. I think the L has the same stylistic problems as its standard-wheelbase brethren – it looks pretty decent right up until the C-pillar before a large rear overhang ruins the proportions. Shifting the rear-wheel arch doesn't change that. I still think small details need tweaking. I still think the interior is a pretty dang good place to be.
Outside of the wheelbase extension, the biggest news is that the long-wheelbase Wagoneer family moves away from V8 power (the standard-wheelbase vehicles still offer eight-cylinder options). The Hurricane sixes are both sized 3.0 liters and have twin turbos. One – standard in the Wagoneer – makes 420 horsepower and 468 lb-ft of torque, while the other, which is standard in the Grand Wagoneer and dubbed Hurricane 510 to help folks differentiate, makes 510 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque.
I drove both and found both to be appropriately smooth, as luxo-barge engines are supposed to be. Passing punch was surprising, given the heft of these Wagoneers – Jeep lists the curb weight of a Grand Wagoneer Series III at 6,704 pounds, which is more than 2.5 times the weight of a Miata. I managed to get around a few slowpokes with relative ease.
Jeep took us off-road, too, but the test involved a standard-wheelbase Wagoneer, not the L, and it mostly involved a trail that wasn’t particularly challenging. If you have enough space to work with, the Wagoneer L will likely do just fine in light-duty off-roading – but its abilities are limited.
Our test units were pre-production models, which could explain why when I swapped vehicles with another scribe, he reported back to me that the infotainment screen, which to that point had worked flawlessly, was now showing a blank/black screen. It might also explain why, after said swap, Apple CarPlay also went blank in my new ride, though the Uconnect system continued to work just fine. Or why the rig I went off-road in started burping up warning lights after the four-wheel drive was disengaged, yet there was no sign of mechanical issues and it got me back to base with no drama.
Certainly, the use of pre-pro vehicles explains why I noticed a few fit-and-finish issues.
Back to that infotainment system for a moment – Uconnect remains the standard for factory systems. It’s intuitive and easy to use, though it did occasionally, and uncharacteristically, lag a bit when switching menus. Perhaps another pre-production issue.
I also liked the available swing-down screen that houses climate-control functions. Tap a button and it disappears, giving you access to USB ports and a wireless cell-phone charger. You can hide your phone there, and charge it. On the other hand, I shudder to think about the out-of-warranty replacement costs for said screen.
The cabin design is slightly different from regular to Grand Wagoneer – the latter has a two-piece instrument panel while the former is just a one-piece. Both use customizable digital gauges, and both have materials that mostly feel class/price appropriate, though occasionally a touch point feels or looks a bit too downmarket – though just a bit. Piano black is also a big part of the interior experience on certain trims, so prepare your fingerprint wipes.
The excellent McIntosh audio system is available – and it sounds great when rocking some satellite radio while working a rural Montana two-lane. There’s an available screen for passengers. The only really “bad” thing here is that some buttons are haptic touch, but they generally work well.
Space is plentiful – I stuffed myself in the third row with ease, and I had some legroom to spare. Even getting back there wasn’t super awkward, as it can be in some three-row vehicles. That’s why you pay more for the extra foot. Oh, and the third row reclines.
One expects a compliant ride from a vehicle like this, and one will not be disappointed, though Montana’s roads, at least the ones we drove, are smooth. The Wagoneer L comforts without being soft. Semi-active damping and a Quadra-Lift air suspension are available. I can’t wait to see how the Wagoneer L handles pock-marked Midwest roads.
The Wagoneer is pretty good for its size when it comes to gentle cornering, though the steering needs a bit of correcting. That applies when the road is straight, as well. It's not obnoxious but it is noticeable.
Both the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer L are available in three different Series (I, II, III). There’s also an available Carbide package (blacked-out wheels, grille, fascias, and other exterior trim bits, with more of the theme continuing inside). The available features list is long, so we’ll hit some highlights here, noting that some features are bundled into options packages. Buyers can get things such as a tri-pane panoramic sunroof, adjustable roof-rail crossbars, a cargo-management system, a head-up display, a 360-degree camera, drowsy-driver detection, window sunshades, heated second-row seats, rear entertainment screens, Amazon Fire TV, 18-inch wheels, 20-inch wheels, 22-inch wheels, a power liftgate, trailer-brake control, and heavy-duty engine cooling.
That’s not all. Other standard or available features include tri-zone or quad-zone climate control, leather seats, heated and cooled front seats, cooled second-row seats, heated steering wheel, second-row captain’s chairs, eight USB ports (up to 11), Bluetooth, satellite radio, wireless cell-phone charging, navigation, Alpine audio, McIntosh audio, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, active-lane management, forward-collision warning with active braking, intersection-collision assist, and hill-start assist.
There’s even more: Adaptive cruise control, digital rearview mirror, off-road package with tow hooks and skid plates, and traffic-sign recognition. There’s even more that’s not listed here, in the interest of brevity. As-tested prices were $87,000 ($71,080 base) for an options-laden Wagoneer L Carbide I tested and $116,185 ($110,995 base) for a Grand Wagoneer L Series III I drove. Destination is $2,000.
On the whole, the L version costs $3K over a standard-wheelbase Wagoneer of the same trim, with base pricing ranging from $65-$75K for the Wagoneer L and $91K-$111K for the Grand.
Fuel economy is listed at 17/24/20 (city/highway/combined) for two-wheel-drive models and 16/23/19 for four-wheel-drive models of the Wagoneer L, the Grand Wagoneer L is listed at 14/19/16 for 4x4 models. It should be noted that buyers of four-wheel drive Wagoneer Ls can get either a one-speed or two-speed transfer case. The max towing capacity is up to 10,000 pounds.
One can find the existence of such large SUVs objectionable – although there’s no denying there is a use case. There are well-heeled buyers out there who need three rows of space and/or towing capability. These folks want to be coddled, both in terms of luxury and at the dealership. I can’t speak to the success of the latter, though Jeep folks struck an optimistic tone when I queried them, but I can speak to the former.
The Wagoneer L and its Grand Wagoneer L sibling fulfill the mission well. Perhaps they don’t make the statement of a Cadillac Escalade, and perhaps the styling isn’t as eye-pleasing as what’s on offer from the other Detroit-based competition. But if one can deal with the awkward looks from the C-pillar back, the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer L are competent.
Hence my mixed feelings. Competence is nice, and so is the interior. But the exterior design is a turn-off. The MSRP is a bit eye-watering, too, at least for the Grand model. And the fuel economy, especially in the Grand, is a bit eye-popping in a bad way, especially with the choice to lop two cylinders off (V8 power is still available in the standard-wheelbase vehicles, at least for now).
Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. If you feel differently about the Wagoneer family’s looks than I do, you will find yourself in a capable large luxury SUV with an inviting interior, smooth six-cylinder power, and an unobjectionable ride.
The question is, is that enough? The protesters I saw in Bozeman won’t be swayed, that’s for sure. For the rest of the market, answering that question is the key to Jeep’s ambitions.
[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC, Jeep]
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Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.
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