Thirty years ago, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was one of the first sport utility vehicles (SUV) to hit the market. And what a hit it was! At the 1992 Detroit Auto Show, this first Jeep built under the thumb of Chrysler had literally crashed, in the hands of the legendary Bob Lutz, through the front glass doors of Cobo Hall.
It was, of course, after showing its “off-road” skills by climbing the steps up from Washington Boulevard.
It was perhaps the most “impactful” new vehicle introduction in history, old timers embellishing the happening while those new to the industry left to gaze at the video and wonder what the hell the old-timers were thinking.
All this preamble paved the way for a Jeep that would become — and remain — the immutable flagship of the brand, regardless which of the myriad ownerships — first, the aforementioned Chrysler, then Daimler-Chrysler, again Chrysler LLC / Group before it became Fiat Chrysler Automotive and, then finally, today’s Stellantis — owned the Jeep franchise at the time.
Over the years, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has not only received the most powerful engines in the family (think of the latest 707 horsepower V8 Hellcat that propel the Trackhawk variant…), but also the most advanced. For example, there was the CDR diesel power unit fished from Mercedes-Benz, during Chrysler’s marriage with Daimler and, in our “electric” era, the plug-in hybrid 4xe.
What sets the Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Wagoneer, and Grand Wagoneer apart?
SUV Review: 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer
That’s not counting all those “Quadra” all-wheel-drive technologies that (still) allow the SUV to attack just about any terrain: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, Quadra-Drive, Quadra-lift for the air-suspension… despite the fact that the Grand Cherokee was one of the first SUVs to opt for a “unibody” architecture, which result in a more rigid platform, stable handling and comfortable ride.
But always, something was missing from the Grand Cherokee repertoire: a third row of seats. So finally, Jeep has taken advantage of the Grand Cherokee’s latest redesign — it’s now in its 5th generation – to build a 3rd row of seats to accommodate two extra passengers. It’s a first for the the SUV and it does so by extending its overall length by almost a foot.
Prices for the 2022 Grand Cherokee L range from the Laredo ($54,545), Altitude ($58,545) and Limited ($62,045), to the Overland ($71,045), Summit ($76,545) and Summit Reserve ($81,340). Add the freight and prep costs ($2,195), plus sales taxes.
The only problem for this new extended wheelbase version is that Stellantis has also chosen this juncture to launch an entirely new division that compete — or, at least, overlap — with the Grand Cherokee “L”: Wagoneer.
Like Cadillac at General Motors and Lincoln for Ford, the Wagoneer models — which, let’s note, do not wear the Jeep badge — seem to be challenging Grand Cherokee for SUV supremacy within the Stellantis portfolio.
Obviously, the Wagoneer’s MSRP is significantly higher: $101,995 for the “base” Series I; $107,995 for the Series II version; $114,995 for the exclusive Obsidian; and, top of the line, $121,995 for the Grand Wagoneer Series III. Add $2,595 in freight and preparation costs, not to mention sales taxes.
The big question then is: is it worth the (financial) stretch over the Grand Cherokee L? The short answer is resounding yes. What follows, if you’re looking for a more detailed analysis, is the whole story.
Three reasons to choose the Jeep Grand Cherokee L
#1) For its 3rd row, of course
After three decades, it was about time for a third row to be installed at the rear end of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. And it does so with the infused science developed by the American manufacturer, creator of the “minivan” wave in the 1980s.
Think “Tilt’n Slide”, seats that fold down with electric assistance, rear seat monitoring camera… The only inconvenience will be experience by passengers #6 and #7, with barely 15mm for their knees to breathe.
#2) For its massaging front seats
The “L” marks the very first time that a Jeep Grand Cherokee has been offered with the seats (front) equipped with the massage function.
If you have never undertaken a long road trip in a vehicle equipped with such commodious perches, you might think we are exaggerating when we say these things are a treat. But get a chance to try out its panoply of different functions (waterfall, lower back, or climbing modes…low, medium, hhhhhh-igh) and you’ll understand. This is automotive hedonism at its finest
For those interested, the Grand Cherokee is also offered, for the very first time in its career, with heated and ventilated seats in the second row. Perfect for the most spoiled of passengers.
I have to admit that I looked hard and long for a 3rd reason to opt for the Grand Cherokee in this comparison. The Uconnect 5.0 system, one of the most intuitive infotainment systems in the biz? Bah, all recent models of Stellantis are entitled to it. A hybrid version? Still not available.
Instead, it was regrets that we found. For instance, the fact that unlike the “regular” Grand Cherokee, the three-row “L” is not offered with Jeep’s well-received 4xe plug-in hybrid engine. At least, not yet.
Which Jeep Grand Cherokee L trim should you choose?
Not the base ones, that’s for sure. Even with prices ranging from $55,000 to $62,000, these Laredo, Altitude and Limited offer as expensive options some of the equipment that modernity has otherwise made essential… or don’t offer them at all.
What’s more, these variants are equipped with Stellantis’ archaic Pentastar 3.6 litre V6 whose 293 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque are at their limits for an SUV that weighs some 5,000 pounds. Instead, you’ll want to look for versions powered by the Jeep’s 5.7-litre Hemi that boasts its 357 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. Upgrading to the V8 allows, among other things, a 1,000 pound higher towing rating (7,200 pounds in all).
The problem is that this Hemi is optional ($3,695) for the Overland, Summit, and even Summit Reserve variants, despite their tags ranging from $75,000 to $85,000. Nor is that the end to the Cherokee L’s extensive — and expensive — options list. There are, in fact, up to ten option groups each adding its own extras, whether they be the aforementioned massage seats, the new top-of-the-range McIntosh audio system, the head-up display, or 21-inch wheels — a first for a Grand Cherokee.
Three reasons to choose the Grand Wagoneer
Once you’re playing in that price range, the jump to the new Wagoneer luxury division is virtually a “fait accompli”. For sure, we could have compared the Jeep Grand Cherokee L with the base Wagoneer, but didn’t we say from the outset that the Sky is the limit? We therefore chose to compare with the Grand Wagoneer… especially since, due to various constraints, it was the one that we managed to get our grubby little hands on.
#1) Because it “feels” like $100,000 should
Where the new Jeep Grand Cherokee suffers from rough plastics, aluminum surfaces that scratch easily and a few poorly fitted parts — flaws hard to forgive in a vehicle of that cost — the Grand Wagoneer is a real eye-catcher when it comes to material selection, quality, finish and assembly.
Climbing aboard this steel monster on four wheels (and believe me, with twice the ground clearance of the Grand Cherokee L, you really climb on board) is like stepping into another dimension. Ours was dressed in a superb duo of suede and Agave Blue Palermo leather, all oversewn with taupe French stitching and accented with real wood. Everywhere, we felt the Sky is the limit philosophy.
The late Sergio Marchionne, the Canadian-Italian boss of FCA, said he dreamed of a “Jeep in a tuxedo that was as luxurious and as spacious as a Range Rover”? Mission accomplished, even if its body-on-frame architecture was absconded from RAM pickup, a product that resides several steps below the rarified air that the Gran
d Wagoneer is supposed to inhabit.
#2) More power means more towing
The Grand Wagoneer’s base engine is a Hemi of a generous displacement (6.4 litres) that, with its 471 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque, is plenty capable. This V8 is certainly required to move the Grand Wagoneer’s more-or-less 6,400 pounds. As a result, the SUV’s maximum towing capacity climbs to 9,850 pounds, a third more than the most “capable” Grand Cherokee L.
What? You say “consumption”? Hmm. The good news is that our combined city-highway test-driving delivered exactly the rating announced by Natural Resources Canada — a rather rare feat to be sure. The not-so-good news is that said rating is 16 L/100 km, or 15% more than the V8 (5.7L) of the Grand Cherokee L.
There is a small consolation: while the midsize Jeep offers an 87-litre gas tank, the gargantuan Grand Wagoneer holds up to 100 litres, which should at least partially make up for its greater consumption in range.
#3) Bigger equals one more place onboard
At 5.5 meters long, 2.1 meters wide and almost as tall, the Grand Wagoneer is a lot more “grand” than the Grand Cherokee L. More precisely, it has an extra quarter-meter in length and width. That definitely puts the Grand Wagoneer in the full-size utility class.
That’s why, unsurprisingly, it offers more cargo volume (2007 litres, that’s almost 50% more behind the second row than even the L version of the Jeep) and more roominess for passengers. Those who particularly benefit are the occupants of the last row, with 5% more headroom compared to the Grand Cherokee L, and a spooky 21% more legroom (929mm vs 770mm).
Above all, there can be three occupants in the back. You read that right: versus the Grand Cherokee L, the Grand Wagoneer agrees to accommodate one more passenger in its back seat. This means that even with captain’s chairs in the second row, the Grand Wagoneer can accommodate seven passengers — and up to eight, if we are “content” with the central bench.
Which Grand Wagoneer trim should you choose?
Personally, I have a weakness for the Obsidian ($114,995) and Series III ($121,995) variants, which are metamorphosed into a concert hall with the McIntosh audio system and its 23 (!) speakers; a movie theatr
e with an all-new night-vision camera that detects obstacles on the road after dark; and even a navigation station with an interactive screen installed in front of the front passenger (what a brilliant idea!).
That said, at $101,995, the “base” version is also a real winner, with standard items like the Quadra-lift air suspension, the panoramic roof (probably the largest glass surface of its kind in world!), four-zone automatic climate control, the central 12-inch touchscreen (two inches more generous than in the Grand Cherokee L) and, of course, the full suite of driving assistance features.
The step is high from a base Grand Cherokee L ($55,000) to the best-equipped Summit Reserve version ($81,000). Indeed, it is this walk that makes us balk. Worse yet, even when you do opt for the Summit Reserve edition, there remain several expensive options that boost its price even higher. Tally it all up and it’s not hard to justify moving up to the Grand Wagoneer, which seems to have its hedonism built in rather than tacked on as an afterthought.
Better yet: you might want to wait until the end of the year, when the 2023 Wagoneer L and 2023 Grand Wagoneer L show up. In addition to stretching the wheelbase another seven inches, these two SUVs will be the first to host the new Stellantis’ Hurricane twin-turbo six-cylinder in-line engine — 420 horsepower in the Wagoneer L and 510 hp in the Grand.
This latest and most modern engine will eventually replace the Hemis, after almost three quarters of a century of service. But to date, this Hurricane does not seem poised to storm under the hood of a Jeep Grand Cherokee…