Does the world need another luxury SUV with three rows of seats and a six-figure price? Probably not, but Jeep’s going there anyway. The new Grand Wagoneer concept SUV telegraphs Jeep’s plans for a large luxury SUV going on sale next summer to compete with established players like the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon, Lincoln Navigator and Range Rover.
Jeep’s been on a roll since Fiat took over the Chrysler group, but the brand’s last visit to Big SUV Land flopped. When the 2006 Jeep Commander debuted, I was among the critics who thought a three-row Jeep SUV was a can’t-miss proposition, and I was as wrong as the DaimlerChrysler executives who greenlighted the expensive and short-lived mistake.
Why should this time be different? First and foremost, because Daimler executives worried more about not competing with Mercedes than trying to beat their actual competitors. Fiat Chrysler knows the Jeep brand is its greatest asset. The sky’s the limit for the Grand Wagoneer concept, and the production models that will follow.
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What’s the Grand Wagoneer?
The new SUV uses the same basic structure as the Ram 1500 pickup. That’s the same type of chassis benchmark competitors like the Escalade, Yukon, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator use. It’s called a body on frame architecture, and it lends itself to a wide variety of vehicles and sizes.
There will actually be two models, the mainstream Wagoneer and premium Grand Wagoneer. The Wagoneer will compete with vehicles like the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia.
Most of the attention is on the Grand Wagoneer now because that’s the concept’s name, but the Wagoneer will probably sell better.
Wagoneer prices should start above $50,000. A loaded Grand Wagoneer will top $100,000, possibly nudging $120,000.
FCA’s plant in Warren, Michigan, just outside Detroit, is getting a makeover to build the new SUVs now. The plant will make long- and short-wheelbase versions of the SUVs. Expect them to be about the same size as competitors.
Ram pickups already offer independent rear suspensions and optional air springs. Expect those, and many other creature comforts to make the SUVs smooth and quiet.
FCA promises best-in-class passenger space and towing capacity, plus greater off-road ability than competitors.
The production models will certainly offer Hemi V8s and varying levels of electrification. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see FCA’s workhorse 3.6L V6 in the base model, and maybe even a diesel. There will be three different four-wheel-drive systems for varying degrees of difficulty, plus rear-drive models.
The concept has a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Jeep’s infatuation with its new 4xe badge for electrified vehicles and the potential to offer both silent off-roading and electric-only on-road travel suggest production plug-ins, though possibly not at launch.
How realistic is the Grand Wagoneer concept?
The concept vehicle’s dimensions, three-row seating and general body shape should all translate directly to the production model. The shallow, corner to corner, chrome grille with "Wagoneer" written across the top seems realistic, too. I’m as baffled as you that it doesn’t say "Grand Wagoneer," like the nameplate on the tailgate.
The striking vertical rows of LED lights between openings in the grille may not make it to production, but the slim quad headlights appear feasible. They’re one of the concept’s most recognizable design elements, along with an LED light bar across the top of the grille that could also see production.
The concept has 24-inch tires on elaborate 3D printed multispoke wheels. Tires that size may be concept-only, but expect eye-catching rims.
The trapezoidal wheel openings, a Jeep signature, are certain to survive to production. The concept’s black roof and A-pillars, too.
Sadly, the exterior teak wood trim around the luggage rack and headlights isn’t likely to see production, but the concept’s wood-rich interior is.
Striking, advanced interior
“It’s a level of interior premium execution we’ve never done before,” Fiat Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles said.
The concept seats seven, with second-row captain’s chairs.
Woodgrain decals qualified as luxury when the original Grand Wagoneer debuted as a 1984 model, but the new concept features heat-treated wood with an exposed grain called lacewood.
The controls feature dual touch screens in the center stack, one 12.1 inches for climate and seats, the other, 10.25 inches, for music, navigation, etc. The biggest screen is horizontal, a departure from the portrait orientation big screens in Ram pickups.
There’s also a 10.25-inch touch screen for the front passenger. Privacy glass ensures it won’t distract the driver.
Audio comes in a 23-speaker system by retro-style sound system specialist McIntosh, renowned for its continuing use of vacuum tubes, though Jeep says the concept — they won’t confirm the McIntosh audio for production models — is solid state.
The rear seats also have seatback video screens and a touch screen for climate controls. The interior makes extensive use of sustainable materials for trim and upholstery.
Other features include a glass roof over all three rows of seats and chrome American flags on the ends of the dashboard, to be visible when the doors are open. There’s also an etched silhouette of the Grand Wagoneer with “Est. 1963,” the year the original Wagoneer debuted.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Jeep Grand Wagoneer SUV takes aim at luxury vehicle market