If you’ve scrolled through the listings on our sister site ClassicCars.com, you’ve probably noticed that ‘90s nostalgia is a powerful force. Asking prices for 1990s Broncos have climbed to dizzying heights over the past several years. Restored Grand Wagoneers from the 1980s and 1990s are perennially Instagram-able status symbols and priced accordingly.
Automakers certainly have been paying attention. After discontinuing the Supra in the U.S. market at the end of the 1998 model year, Toyota finally brought it back for 2020, albeit with a BMW engine and transmission. The next year, Ford released the first all-new Bronco in a quarter century. The world had been waiting 30 years since the debut of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer Final Edition for its successor. Instead of merely making a new version of it, Jeep built an entire two-line Wagoneer sub-brand around it. Not only is it capitalizing on the fond memories of the nameplate, but for the first time since the Commander, it’s offering a full-size three-row SUV.
Pricing for the entry-level Wagoneer model, which comes in Series I, II, and III trim, starts at $58,995.* The flagship Grand Wagoneer has an MSRP of $88,640* and the same model range as the Wagoneer, plus a blacked-out Obsidian variant. The $106,990 (when evaluated) Bright White Series III press loaner that Jeep sent me to test out during a family vacation came equipped with a Heavy-Duty Trailer-Tow Package, which added features such as upgraded engine cooling and a trailer brake controller.
The all-new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models share the same general design and dimensions, so it takes more than just a casual glance to distinguish them from one another. Jeep sets the Grand Wagoneer apart in several, mostly subtle, ways. At the front, it swaps out the Wagoneer’s LED headlights for model-specific units and places the “WAGONEER” lettering above the laser-etched rings in the special seven-slot grille; it spells out “GRAND WAGONEER” on the front doors and across the rear liftgate. One of the Grand Wagoneer’s biggest visual giveaways is its blacked-out A-pillars and roof. Further down, body-color fender flares arch over standard 20-inch or optional 22-inch wheels available in four different finishes and textures. Those book-end power-retractable side steps that make the Grand Wagoneer’s 21.1-inch sill step height less of a climb for shorter travelers.
Inside, the Grand Wagoneer can be identified by its two-piece instrument panel, Satin American Walnut wood trim, and aluminum door speaker grilles and HVAC vent bezels. Properly equipped, the Grand Wagoneer trumps the Nappa leather seating of the Wagoneer with quilted Palermo leather seats and more leather on the instrument panel, consoles, and door panels. Both models offer room for up to eight passengers in three rows, but only the Grand Wagoneer comes standard with first- and second-row captain’s chairs. Those lucky travelers can enjoy the comfort of four-zone climate control and dial in their preferred settings on the 10.25-inch articulating front and 10.25-inch fixed rear control screens.
BEAST OF BROOD
The Grand Wagoneer Series III turned out to be the right vehicle at the right time. My fiancé (now wife) Eli and I flew into Orlando so we could go to Disney World with her parents, Hugo and Elizabeth, and her cousin Peter. My old soul was excited about using the newest version of one of Jeep’s most iconic family haulers to go to a beloved destination that people have made the trek to for more than 50 years. My inner nerd loved that I was going to have people riding in all three rows and using some of the 27.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats to carry tote bags and a backpack.
All that time shuttling back and forth and time at the park meant I wasn’t going to be able to test out the Quadra-Trac II’s two-speed transfer case or engage any of the Selec-Terrain traction control system’s off-road modes. However, every trip in Jeep’s largest family truckster was going to give me and my loved ones a chance to enjoy the Quadra-Lift four-corner air suspension, which offers five height settings and up to 10 inches of ground clearance to give the Grand Wagoneer the right stance for easy entrances and exits, low-profile highway cruising, regular driving, and traversing the great outdoors.
I must admit that I was initially more excited about the Grand Wagoneer’s interior amenities than its outer appearance. When I was at a media event in October of 2020 and first laid eyes on the concept that led to its production, I was underwhelmed. It looked awkward and blocky, particularly at the rear. I had the same reaction when I picked the Series III up at the Orlando airport, but my harsh opinion softened as I spent more time in and around it. I soon began to look it at it not in terms of automotive design, but in terms of architecture. Yes, that was partly due to its sheer size. With nearly 18 feet of bodywork standing more than six feet tall on a 10-foot wheelbase, the Wagoneer is large enough to be used for residential or commercial space. The rest I put down to its ample brightwork and several square feet of nearly vertical glass. Everywhere we stopped in the Wagoneer, it was a popular landmark. Even at “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” where constellations of brilliantly colored, kaleidoscopic bursts of light fill the sky above Cinderella Castle every night, people couldn’t help but look at and ask about the Wagoneer.
When the Grand Wagoneer debuted, Jeep stated it had best-in-class overall passenger volume, second- and third-row legroom, third-row headroom, and other figures. At the time, I remember reading the press release and glossing over the dimensions because they were just numbers on a screen. I can now say from personal experience that they’re impressive in the real world.
The initial plan was that Eli, Hugo, Elizabeth, Peter, and I would make two trips to and from Disney World in two days. We ended up making an extra couple of excursions there just to have dinner and see the fireworks again. Given that the house where we were staying was an hour away from the park, comfort was going to be crucial, especially for my 6’5” future father-in-law. Standing 5’10”, I had no problem situating myself comfortably in the driver’s seat, especially once I engaged one of the front row’s five available massage modes and cranked the seat ventilation to the max. Hugo was not so fortunate riding shotgun, but I attribute some of that to the fact that he wanted to maximize Elizabeth’s comfort in the captain’s chair directly behind him and moved his seat up further than he otherwise would have.
In the second row, the ladies had more than enough legroom, heated and ventilated captain’s chairs, B-pillar-mounted HVAC vents, and a touchscreen command center that enabled them to dial in their preferred climate control settings.
All Peter had to do to access the third row was press a button on the back of one of the captain’s chairs to make it pop and tilt forward. He’s shorter than I am, so I know he had plenty of space in front of and above him. I was shocked at how generous the dimensions were back there for someone my height. We didn’t have to carry much in the rear cargo area, so Peter was able to maximize his relaxation by electrically tilting his seat back.
Months before I flew out to Florida, I had tested a Grand Cherokee L Overland on- and off-road. I’d also racked up dozens of hours behind the wheel of current-generation Ram 1500s with air suspensions. The Grand Wagoneer’s general size and polished road dynamics quickly felt familiar, although I couldn’t decide if it felt like a beefed-up Grand Cherokee L or a Ram truck with an extended roof. Either way, its ride quality was the perfect complement to its ample space and high-end furnishings.
Like all great family road trips, our drives to Disney World were filled with conversation, jokes, and plenty of music. We played a mix of modern pop and – to hype us up even more for our destination – songs from the Disney movie catalog. Whether it was Adele or Aladdin, it sounded great coming out of the top-of-the-line McIntosh MX1375 Reference Entertainment System with 3D Adaptive Sound Processing. No matter how far I cranked the volume knob to the right, the 24-channel, 1,375-watt amplifier; the 12-inch subwoofer; and the array of 22 other specially tuned speakers that surrounded us never lost their composure. The bass hit hard without bruising our eardrums and the high notes soared but stopped short of reaching piercing crescendos.
With five people onboard adding to the Series III’s already monolithic 6,420-pound curb weight and an enormous 6.4-liter V8 under the hood, the Grand Wagoneer was a thirsty beast. Despite the eight-speed TorqueFlite 8HP75 automatic’s best efforts, I ended making more than a few detours during our drives to and from Disney World to add 91-octane fuel to the 26.5-gallon tank.
We made the most of our days at Disney World, arriving shortly after it opened, then spending the next several hours going on everyone’s rides of choice and sampling the various edible creations in EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom. After logging 15,000-25,000 steps and watching the nightly fireworks display, we would board the monorail back to the parking lot, load into the Grand Wagoneer, then start the journey back to Cocoa Beach. Each night, my test vehicle became a blissfully cool and perfectly dark hotel room for Hugo, Eli, Liz, and Peter, who quickly drifted off to sleep. Luckily for me, it was also a great travel companion. The cool box in the center console kept my emergency supply of canned caffeine refreshingly cold while Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go maintained my chosen speed and following distance. Closer to Cocoa Beach, streetlights became less frequent sightings, making the night vision system a comforting assistant to my busy eyes on long stretches of highway; in more populated areas, it highlighted pedestrians in unmissable bright yellow squares. The Grand Wagoneer’s other standard safety features, such as Automatic Emergency Braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection and Blind-spot Monitoring, were less pronounced but just as reassuring. It would’ve been nice to have someone to talk to during the hour-long drive, but I continued through the darkness with a sense of satisfaction knowing my loved ones were cozy and protected.
EXTENDING THE BRAND
It’s hard not to wonder if Jeep waited too long to release the new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. The entire Wagoneer sub-brand entered the market around the time when other major manufacturers were giving target dates for their switch to electrified lineups. As I write this, the national average price of premium gas is $4.55 a gallon.
Despite that, big SUVs and pickups are still common sights, at least here in Phoenix, Arizona. For the 2023 model year, the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are growing even larger. In addition to the regular version of each, Jeep will also offer an L model that has seven more inches of wheelbase, 12 more inches of overall length, and more than 14 cubic feet of additional space behind the third row of seats.
Output for the two models is also increasing, thanks to the addition of a pair of 3.0-liter Hurricane Twin-Turbo I6s to the powertrain lineup. Wagoneer Series II and III models get the base configuration with 420 horsepower and 468 lb-ft of torque. Grand Wagoneers in Series II and III trim come standard with the Hurricane Twin-Turbo 510 variant, which bests the 6.4-liter Hemi with 510 horsepower and 500 lb.-ft. of torque.
The newest iteration of the Grand Wagoneer is off to a great start following in the tire paths of its predecessor. Like the original model in its heyday, it’s distinctive and luxurious. Most importantly, just as the first Grand Wagoneer became an icon, the 2022 incarnation is capable of being more than just a vehicle. It wasn’t merely an anonymous vessel for an unforgettable family trip, it was a significant part of that experience that made all the time between our lodging and Mickey and Minnie’s 27,000-acre Florida estate memorable in its own ways. It also made an unlikely convert. Every time that vacation is brought up, my wife – who’s a big Disney fan, but is not a car enthusiast – always mentions how much she loves the Grand Wagoneer. I know she’s not the first person to be wowed by it because her mother and I were just as impressed. And something tells me she won’t be the last.
*MSRP excludes destination, taxes, title, and registration fees.