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  • Writer's pictureCory Fourniquet

A Legend Returns?

This week it finally happened, Jeep unveiled the new Grand Wagoneer premium 4x4 SUV.

Nostalgic SUVs are all the rage right now, just look at the JL Wrangler, the New Ford Bronco, and now the Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

There is quite a following behind the Grand Wagoneer name. The Jeep Wagoneer was born in 1962 and evolved into the Grand Wagoneer for 1984, boasting then-unheard-of standard features in an SUV. Personally, I can remember seeing the classic model in movies and TV shows. Movies like Without a Paddle and modern TV shows like This Is Us both feature the classic Grand Wagoneer to modern audiences, even though the nameplate was retired in 1991.

From 1962 until its demise in 1991, there was very little change to the overall shape and design, handing modern designers and engineers a task I do not envy: recreating an icon of the industry. How do you go about creating a modern version of an iconic vehicle that was largely the same for 30 years? Well, the answer is here, finally.

First thing is first, this is officially called a concept vehicle by Jeep, meaning that details are likely to change before the production vehicle hits a showroom floor near you. Although, concept vehicles often show off crazy technology like rear-view cameras instead of mirrors as well as crazy lines that would never see production. This means that this may be almost production-ready. Being a concept also means that we are unlikely to see one for a while. In fact, production will not begin in the metro Detroit area until sometime in 2021, making the official first year model a 2022.

Jeep is positioning the Grand Wagoneer as a Premium full-size, three-row SUV. Set to compete with nameplates as iconic as the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade, as well as premium brands like Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, and Land Rover. Competing against names and brands of that caliber, the attention to detail becomes important, and Jeep does not disappoint.

LED light bars in the back and front set a distinctive look when the sun goes down, and Jeep further accentuates its corporate 7 slot grille by the LED waterfall lights cascading down between the individual openings. You will know when a Grand Wagoneer is coming up behind you at night.

Competing in the luxury SUV game is won or lost by the interior comfort and features, and this Jeep comes out swinging at its competition.

This concept features 7 screens, yes SEVEN. One for the driver in that serves as the gauge cluster that measures 12.3 nestled behind the steering wheel. Another, 12.1-inch screen which serves as the main infotainment screen which sits atop what Jeep calls the comfort screen. This is a 10.25-inch touchscreen which controls climate and other comfort features. The front passenger gets their own 10.25-inch infotainment screen which can do things like monitor navigation, send directions over to the driver, and entertain the passenger while the vehicle is in motion. The rear seat passengers each get their own 10.1-inch entertainment screen attached to the back of the front seats and their own comfort screen between them much like the front passengers, which brings our screen total to 7. That is certainly a premium feature for a premium market vehicle. Jeep also displayed a calming feature that employed all of the front screens and ambient lighting to show the Aurora Borealis to calm down passengers after a long day.

The Grand Wagoneer designers touted the sustainability and ethically sourced materials featured throughout the interior of this SUV. Onyx glass is sustainable and used throughout the interior, including the length of the instrument panel and accents the spaciousness of the interior. Sustainable raw aluminum is also strategically used throughout, including the knurled gear selector know that had input from the CEO in its tactile feel and look. Interior panels also feature heat-treated lacewood across the instrument panel and the front doors and features an exposed edge for increased luxury. Wood plays a big part of the history of the Grand Wagoneer nameplate, and could not be left out of the newest iteration of this legend.

The seats are wrapped in PUR, a sustainable synthetic material, was chosen to upholster all of the seating, console, door and instrument panel surfaces in the Grand Wagoneer Concept, and the headliner is covered in Dinamica — a fully recyclable premium microfiber suede — as well as premium carpets made from Thrive fiber, which is comprised of recycled content using pre- and post-consumer materials.

Being a concept vehicle, we did not get much in the way of powertrain details, or suspension configurations or capabilities. We will have to wait for those details. What we do know is that the Grand Wagoneer will be a plug-in hybrid vehicle, much like the Wrangler 4xe that debuted alongside the Grand Wagoneer.

"Electrification will modernize the Jeep brand as it strives to become the leader in “green” eco-friendly premium technology. These vehicles will be the most efficient and responsible Jeep vehicles ever, providing absolute and quiet open-air freedom while taking performance, 4x4 capability and Jeep’s fun-to-drive experience to the next level. With greater torque and immediate engine response, these electric vehicles will offer an even more fun-to-drive experience on the road and more capability than ever off the road."

Now for the exterior, perhaps the most controversial bit of design when recreating an icon of the Grand Wagoneer's status. Many features from the original were incorporated in the design of the newest iteration such as vertical B, C, and D pillars lending to the boxy overall design. These pillars buck the current trend of the industry of hiding them within the darkness of tinted windows by making them black, instead designers decided to accentuate them with the body color extending upward to the panoramic glass roof. The rear window also hints at a retro feature of a roll-down function familiar to classic Grand Wagoneers. The designers also recreated the forward slant to the grille up front, another trend juxtaposed to current design trends that lean towards aerodynamic sweeping lines. The Grand Wagoneer is also large, very large. The wheels are 24" in diameter but hardly stand out compared to the mass of the rest of this vehicle.

I waited a day to post my thoughts about the design about this rig because I needed some extra time to come to grips with the many feelings that I get when I look at the new Grand Wagoneer. For those of you who listen to our podcast, you know I am the resident #TeamJeep fanboy of Garage Talk. My wife and I also have a 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and LOVE it. I anxiously awaited seeing the Grand Wagoneer unveiled because FCA, Jeep's parent company, has really been killing it lately with some of their latest vehicles; look no further than the success of the Ram 1500 or the insane power and prowess of the TRX. I mentioned earlier the nostalgia surrounding this historic nameplate, so the expectations were quite high.

Unfortunately, I feel like the designers fell short on this one. Not by much, but looking at this concept I would never associate it with the original. Compare that to Ford's new Bronco and their original Bronco. The new Bronco is clearly the original reborn, not the same feeling you get when looking at the original and concept Grand Wagoneer.

I have thought about what small changes could be made that would perhaps make the Grand Wagoneer faithful feel more familiar with this new model.

  1. The grille is small, too small. In the day of over-sized grilles on almost any vehicle, Jeep went conservative with the design of the Grand Wagoneer and it hurts the nostalgic design of the concept. I would just stretch the grille of the concept down further, moving the front bumper down to the height more in-line with the original as well.

  2. The headlights are too small. LED headlights lend themselves to being smaller than their counterparts from days gone by, and designers are really trying to minimize the styling impact of headlights on many new vehicles, just look at the newest iteration of the Cadillac Escalade compared to the model it replaced. I believe Jeep designers could have still used a minimized headlight footprint of LEDs but still payed homage to the original by stacking the high and low beams on top of themselves instead of placing them side-by-side. This would allow for the grille to be made slightly wider and the headlights to take up the entire height of the grille, much like the original.

  3. I would say the newest Land Rover Ranger Rover is more true to the orginal design of the Grand Wagoneer than the concept Grand Wagoneer. I say this because one of the most iconic aspects of the original designs, to me, of the original was the fact that the greenhouse looked as though it set atop the passenger compartment. There was a continuous line that ran from the front of the hood to the tail of the rig with the windows sitting on top. Take a look at the newest Range Rover and you see this same design. The Grand Wagoneer concept, with its body-color pillars and high hood looses this design aesthetic. An easy fix to this, for me, would be to use a chrome strip that runs up the side of the grille (accentuating the forward lean) and curve it to flow down the length of the vehicle at the belt-line to the rear. Black out the vertical pillars (accentuate them with a bit of bright-work if you must) and there you have it.

  4. Bulge the hood! The original had that iconic bulge and it stood out, it is nowhere to be seen in the concept. What a shame.

I am not a wiz with Photoshop, but perhaps one of our readers could mock up these changes and share with us to see if I am right.

I certainly do not hate the design, I just do not feel a strong connection to the original. I will be witnessing one first-hand in the coming weeks and will let you know my impressions when I can experience it the way auto designers intend, not on a screen but in real life. We certainly want to hear what you think too! sound off by creating an account and leaving us a comment, or comment on our social media channels.

Do you like it? Does it scream Grand Wagoneer to you? Or even Premium SUV?


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