2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer First Drive: Social Climber

The 2022 Grand Wagoneer takes Jeep into uncharted territory. Not in the usual, off-the-grid way that has delighted generations of Wrangler drivers, but an arguably even more challenging rise through the ranks of the luxury three-row SUV. Everything is big here: big truck, big V8, a big tech story, and not least a big price tag, with Grand Wagoneer ownership starting north of $87k.

This isn't, of course, Jeep's only new three-row SUV released in recent months. It's not been that long since the 2021 Grand Cherokee L arrived, the first seven-seater variant of that model. The fifth-generation Grand Cherokee is bigger and more upscale than its predecessors, packed with more tech, and doesn't stint on off-road capabilities either. You'd be forgiven, then, for asking why Jeep needs the Grand Wagoneer too.

It makes more sense if you consider that Jeep is trying to do with one brand what most rivals do with two. Honda has Acura; Toyota has Lexus; Chevrolet has Cadillac. Jeep has, well, Jeep. A single nameplate trying to be everything to as many drivers as possible, and the reality is that some of those drivers want an even bigger, even more luxurious vehicle.

You can't accuse Jeep of ignoring those demands: there's no stinting on size, here. Scaled to make even the Grand Cherokee L look fairly diminutive, the Grand Wagoneer is not only huge it's borderline obnoxiously huge. With the strongly delineated pillars – intended, Jeep's designers say, to give an effect reminiscent of an urban landscape, punctuated with skyscrapers – and thick-edged framing to the glass, there's a whiff of "armored truck" about the whole thing.

"What we were thinking about in the design work was not so much left and right ... but more up and down, more architectural," Mark Allen, head of design for Jeep, says of the SUV. The seven-bar grille is present and correct, of course, though here it's picked out with coppery hints in some hints. Standard 20-inch wheels somehow still manage to look a little small; it's only when you get to the optional 22-inch versions that the Grand Wagoneer's arches start to feel sufficiently filled.

I'm not entirely sure it's consistently handsome, overall, from every angle, but it's definitely noticeable. There's more chrome and general glitz than you'd expect from a typical Jeep, too; the model lettering and accompanying American flag are picked out in chunky metal. I like the front and the rear views more than the side profile, where even the blacked-out roof can't quite disguise the Grand Wagoneer's swollen proportions.

Clamber inside, meanwhile, and there's a cabin like no Jeep before it. Sure, elements are familiar from the automaker's previous models, not to mention some of the switchgear, but there's a clear attempt to bring the whole thing more upmarket.

Real wood, surprisingly high-quality leather, effective ambient lighting, and a general focused attention to detail permeate. Most of the buttons are touch-sensitive and backlit, and those physical controls which remain are tactile and – in the case of the drive mode knob, for example – milled pleasingly. It's the stuff you don't necessarily notice consciously, but which all conspires to give that luxe feeling.

Woven through that – and in some cases just plain demanding attention – is the technology. The Grand Wagoneer doesn't have a Mercedes-style Hyperscreen, but it's not far off: maxed out, there's a 12.3-inch driver display, a 10-inch head-up display, a 12-inch upper central screen for infotainment and multimedia plus a 10.25-inch screen below it for HVAC and seat controls, a 10.25-inch front passenger touchscreen, two 10.1-inch second-row entertainment displays, and a 10.25-inch rear lower screen for adjusting HVAC and more.

That is, frankly, a whole lot of glass, and my gut reaction – having been burned by automakers' "bright ideas" in cabin tech before – is to be inherently distrustful of it all. Jeep, at least, has been relatively thoughtful in its application. UConnect 5 is now faster and more capable, based on Android with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and Alexa voice control. The UI can feel a little overwhelming initially, but it's readily customized and once you've brought some of the more commonly-needed features to the fore – such as the 360-degree camera – it's actually very usable.

The rear entertainment displays have built-in Fire TV support, streaming via the Grand Wagoneer's 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. Each screen can have its own, separate streams – and comes with a familiar Fire TV remote – with Amazon committing to support the SUV with its app for an unspecified "number of years," Jeep tells me. At least there's a good old-fashioned HDMI input for each display too, or you can use wireless projection from your smartphone.

The front passenger display is a nice touch as well. It, too, can handle wireless and HDMI projection, but it can also remotely control the rear-seat entertainment, view the cameras inside and outside of the cabin, play its own multimedia, and access the navigation and points-of-interest. You can then send the new destination to the driver.

Similarly neat touches abound. The lower center touchscreen powers out of the way, for example, revealing a hidden storage nook with Qi wireless charger. The infotainment system's knobs are the same design that McIntosh – Jeep's audio partner – uses on its standalone amps. A cooled bin hides in the center console, and there's optional lockable storage there too.

Handily, Jeep doesn't forget the essentials in its push upmarket. All three rows are adult-scale, and there's less of the sense that the rearmost seats are the consolation prize. Legroom and headroom is plentiful, and all three rows can have electric adjustment. The Grand Wagoneer will come in two configurations, either an eight-seater with a second-row bench, or a seven-seater with captain's chairs there instead and storage in-between. Vents, cubbies, and USB ports abound, though those at the very back will need to bring their own screens as Jeep's entertainment package doesn't stretch that far.

As you'd hope, cargo space is fairly cavernous too. There's 27.4 cu-ft behind the third row, rising to 70.9 cu-ft behind the second row, and up to 94.2 cu-ft behind the first row.

The engine decision is made easy, since there's only one: a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 with 471 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic, electronic limited-slip rear differential, and Quadra-Drive II all-wheel drive are standard, and it's rated to tow up to 9,850 pounds. Quadra-Lift air suspension – with five modes spanning 3.6-inches of lift – is standard, too, along with semi-active shocks that automatically select different damping levels depending on driving conditions.

On the road, that all conspires to hide the Grand Wagoneer's roughly 6,400 pound curb weight, with mixed results. In the Auto drive mode, the big Jeep was a little more bouncy than I expected, though not sloppy with it. Soft across rutted asphalt and highway bumps, it lends itself more to laid-back cruising than anything more urgent. The V8 is hardly heard, thrumming distantly, and Jeep's cabin in general is surprisingly well insulated.

Things firm up more in Sport mode, which I preferred. You're still fighting physics, and we all know who wins that war eventually, but the Grand Wagoneer manages to stay level without becoming unduly harsh with it. Jeep's variable-ratio, variable-effort steering takes a little getting used to, adjusting the turning ratio depending on how much you're steering, and even in Sport mode it's a light tiller overall.

There are Snow, Mud, Sand, Rock, and Tow mode, because this is, of course, still a Jeep and even if nobody will take their Grand Wagoneer off-roading the automaker still has to convince them they could. Sadly there's no customizable mode, in which you could dial back the suspension's super-squish tendencies. Also absent is any sort of electrification. While the regular 2022 Wagoneer can be had with a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 mild-hybrid – itself a milksop half-measure in EV terms – that's not offered on the fancier SUV.

Instead, you get EPA fuel economy of 13 mpg in the city, 18 mpg on the highway, and 15 mpg combined. Numbers, it's fair to say, few will be boasting about. Jeep has demonstrated with the Wrangler 4xe that it can do a decent plug-in hybrid, and the Grand Wagoneer is crying out for some of that smooth electric drive.

Missing too, right now at least, is Jeep's Hands Free Active Drive Assist system. When it arrives on the Grand Wagoneer it'll use a driver-attention camera to make sure you're watching the highway, and allow you to take your hands off the wheel as it deals with steering, speed, and braking. Sadly it'll arrive after the SUV's launch, and – unlike as Ford has done with its similar system on recent cars – you can't preconfigure your new Grand Wagoneer with the necessary hardware and have it activated later on with an OTA update.

Pricing kicks off at $86,995 (plus $2,000 destination) for the Grand Wagoneer Series II, rising to $93,995 for the Series II, $98,995 for the blacked-out Obsidian trim, and the brushing into six-figures with the $103,995 Series III.

2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer Verdict

For all that's familiar with the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, there's also something new. Genuine credit is deserved for the quality of the interior and, while it's a little busy in places for my tastes, I can't fault the materials or the overall consistency. Even Jeep's tech feels cohesive, and though a set of iPads may still be more flexible in the long run, at least the Grand Wagoneer's rear-seat entertainment package doesn't feel hamstrung out of the gate.

Whoever finds themselves behind the wheel, meanwhile, has comfort and effortless cruising waiting for them. This is not a sporty SUV, but I'm not sure anyone expected it to be. What buyers in this segment do demand is star treatment.

Jeep says it'll deliver that with "certified Wagoneer ambassadors" in dedicated showroom spaces, a 24/7 concierge, no-charge maintenance, and the sort of pickup and delivery services that premium brands were doing even before this age of pandemic and social distancing. In short, the Jeep badge may be the same as on a Cherokee or Gladiator, but the overall experience should be a little more refined.

That's good news, because the 2022 Grand Wagoneer is an SUV that deserves attention. Imposing styling, leagues of space for people and cargo, and no shortage of usable tech if you have the budget for it: things here certainly live up to the "Grand" billing.