By Aaron BragmanFebruary 8, 2022
It’s taken forever to arrive, but here it finally is: a full-size Jeep SUV built off of a pickup truck chassis, christened as the Wagoneer. It is to the Ram 1500 what the Chevrolet Tahoe is to the Silverado pickup, or what the Ford Expedition is to the F-150 — take one big truck chassis, throw on an independent rear suspension, make a few more tweaks for people-hauling versus work-truck duty, and you have a new entry into one of the most popular vehicle segments in America. The brand has come up with not one, but two options for you: the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, meant to cover the big SUV spectrum from more mass-market models like the aforementioned Tahoe with the Wagoneer, plus luxury models like the Cadillac Escalade with the Grand Wagoneer.
But even a “base” Wagoneer is not what you’d call a stripper model — its starting price is $60,845 (all prices include destination) for a rear-wheel-drive Series I trim level. That actually prices it nearly even with the starting price for the top rear-drive luxury trim of the other Jeep arriving in showrooms for the 2022 model year: the new Grand Cherokee. See, you can get a Grand Cherokee Summit 4×2 for $59,160 or upgrade to a three-row Grand Cherokee L Summit 4×2 for $60,660. That puts the Grand Cherokee’s top trims in direct contention with the Wagoneer’s lower trims, and that means we need to talk about which one you’d be better off spending your money on.
It just so happened that Jeep sent us two nearly perfect examples to compare over the course of two weeks. First up was a 2022 Wagoneer Series II 4×4, a mid-level Wagoneer trim featuring a standard 5.7-liter V-8 engine, optional four-wheel drive, three rows of seats, a lovely black leather interior and a couple of option packages: the Convenience Group that brings a head-up display, heated second-row seats, parking assist, 360-degree camera system and air suspension (among other things); and the Premium Group, which adds 22-inch wheels, a cargo shade, roof-rack crossbars and a three-pane panoramic moonroof. It also had the zero-cost Heavy-Duty Trailer-Tow Package for engine cooling, an integrated trailer brake controller and trailer hitch zoom on the backup camera. (My test vehicle did forgo things like second-row captain’s chairs and the Advanced All-Terrain Group, which is more for off-road intenders.) Total MSRP: $80,835, a hefty but completely competitive price for a big, well-optioned full-size SUV.
But the week after, I got into a brand-new 2022 Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve 4×4. This two-row model — the three-row Grand Cherokee L might be a better challenger to the three-row Wagoneer, but this is what we got — is the top luxury trim level for the Grand Cherokee and came loaded with the optional 5.7-liter V-8 engine (same as in the Wagoneer), standard four-wheel drive and 21-inch wheels. It also had a few option packages like the Summit Reserve Group (front passenger touchscreen, Palermo leather seats and door trim, McIntosh 19-speaker premium audio, ventilated rear seats, deluxe headliner); the Advanced ProTech Group IV (head-up display, night vision camera, digital rearview mirror), the Luxury Tech Group (wireless charging, second-row window shades); and the Rear Seat Video Group (seatback screens, Amazon Fire TV for Auto). All-in price: $73,480, seven grand less than the Wagoneer with more luxury and tech equipment, but less room inside.
Two SUVs, same brand, same powertrain, nearly the same price — how do they stack up, and which is better for you? Turns out it boils down to one factor: How big do you need?
The most obvious difference between the two is overall footprint. If size matters to you, the Wagoneer is definitely the way to go. The Grand Cherokee is a mid-size unibody SUV, while the Wagoneer has full-size body-on-frame, truck-style construction. As such, the Grand Cherokee has decent room inside for five and barely adequate room for seven in the Grand Cherokee L, but the Wagoneer has tons of room for up to eight. Both SUVs are comfortable and versatile, but the Grand Cherokee’s second row does feel oddly low, putting backseat passengers into a curious knees-up seating position. The Wagoneer elicits no complaints from any row — even the third row is plenty comfortable for full-sized humans, not just kids. Elbow, hip and headroom are copious everywhere, and the neat thing about the Wagoneer is that materials quality doesn’t fall off as you travel rearwards row by row.
Cargo space is the other big advantage the Wagoneer has over the Grand Cherokee. Unlike the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition, both of which have extended-wheelbase models (the Chevrolet Suburban and Expedition Max), there’s only one length of Wagoneer (for now, at least — spy photographers have nabbed a longer Wagoneer being tested). A standard Grand Cherokee is 193.5 inches long, while the L model adds nearly a foot to that length. A Wagoneer is nearly 10 inches longer than that, or 21.2 inches longer than a standard Grand Cherokee. The Wagoneer is roughly 6 inches wider, too, and a little more than 4.5 inches taller.
All of that room shows up inside, with cargo comparisons showing stark differences based on manufacturer-supplied specifications: A standard Grand Cherokee has 37.7 cubic feet of cargo room behind its second row, the L ups that to 46.9 cubic feet, and the Wagoneer smashes those numbers with 70.8 cubic feet — nearly double that of a standard Grand Cherokee. (Note, however, that according to Cars.com’s measurements, which we conduct specifically because of inconsistencies in supplied data, a Grand Cherokee had 20.3 cubic feet behind its backseat and a Grand Cherokee L had 22.0 cubic feet behind its second row, a Wagoneer had 36.6 cubic feet behind its second-row bench and a Grand Wagoneer had 38.9 cubic feet behind its two captain’s chairs — a less dramatic difference likely due to our limiting the cargo area’s height to the top of the rear seatbacks for safety. Manufacturer data probably favors the tall and boxy Wagoneer over the Grand Cherokee.)
Cars.com doesn’t measure “maximum” cargo volume, but if you put all the seats down, the Wagoneer’s advantage seems massive based on supplied specs: You have 70.8 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume in a Grand Cherokee, 84.6 cubic feet in a Grand Cherokee L, and 116.7 cubic feet in a Wagoneer. If you need the room, there’s no contest: The Wagoneer isn’t just a little bigger than the Grand Cherokee, it’s significantly bigger inside.
Size Matters Not
But say the size of the thing isn’t the important bit to you. You like having big SUVs but aren’t towing anything and don’t have a basketball team to haul around. Is the Wagoneer’s size superiority the only thing it has going for it, or do its other attributes continue to make it a better choice over a loaded Grand Cherokee?
Let’s look at a few areas. In terms of powertrain, it’s largely a wash — the Grand Cherokee comes with the venerable 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 but can be upgraded to a 5.7-liter V-8 making 357 horsepower and 390 pounds-feet of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed ZF transmission and can be had with advanced automatic four-wheel drive. The same engine is the standard powertrain in the Wagoneer (albeit with the eTorque very-mild hybrid system), but it makes 392 hp and 404 pounds-feet of torque there. It’s mated to the same eight-speed automatic transmission and standard advanced automatic 4WD system. Yes, the Wagoneer makes a little more power, but it also weighs considerably more than a Grand Cherokee.
Fuel economy is largely a wash. The 4WD V-8 Grand Cherokee is EPA-rated at 14/22/17 mpg city/highway/combined, while the Wagoneer is rated at 15/20/17 mpg. It’s actually rather impressive that the bigger vehicle with the more powerful V-8 and more weight to move around only loses 2 mpg on the highway and gains 1 mpg in the city. But in the end, both powertrains are powerful, pleasant to use and can tow with ease. They don’t contribute to choosing between the two SUVs.
So then, interior quality: also top notch in either one. Both the Grand Cherokee and the Wagoneer have luxury interiors I’d rate as superior to anything from a Japanese luxury brand, on par with the British and quickly encroaching on the territory of the German luxury brands. You’ll get a slightly nicer interior on the Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve than you will on a basic Wagoneer Series II, but only slightly — such is the quality of the Wagoneer. The quilted leather and gorgeous wood trim on the Summit Reserve does put that model ahead if you’re looking for sumptuous surroundings, however. If you want the same level of opulence in the Wagoneer, you’ll have to opt for the Grand Wagoneer, and that’s going to be tens of thousands of dollars more.
How about the driving experience? Again, it’s largely a wash. The Grand Cherokee features a beautifully controlled ride, handling that’s decently sharp for a big SUV and excellent steering feel (despite requiring surprisingly high driver-steering effort). It accelerates with authority, stops with confidence, and is quiet and comfortable in its operation. But so is the Wagoneer — its powertrain provides swift acceleration, its lighter steering is direct and accurate (if a bit more numb than the Grand Cherokee’s), the ride quality is excellent, and it’s quiet and serene inside on the highway. Either one makes a lovely interstate cruiser, and given that neither one is likely to go off-road in these trim configurations, rock crawling isn’t so important here, so on-road performance is more important — and again, they’re both excellent.
How to Pick One?
If size matters not, the reason I’d pick the Grand Cherokee over the Wagoneer is due to the onboard tech, specifically the level of equipment you get in a loaded Grand Cherokee versus a mid-grade Wagoneer and, more important, the Grand Cherokee’s lack of touch-sensitive controls. First, there’s more equipment: At this price, you get the stellar McIntosh premium audio system in the Grand Cherokee, but only the mid-level Alpine audio system in the more affordable Wagoneer. You get rear-seat entertainment in the Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve and the pretty nifty Front Passenger Interactive Display screen in the dash; again, available on the Wagoneer, but not at this price.
But the real clincher is this: In the Grand Cherokee, you have a big 10.1-inch touchscreen running the latest Uconnect 5 technology, which is simple to use, visually stunning, considerably customizable and continues Stellantis’ tradition of having some of the best multimedia systems in vehicles, period. You get the same 10.1-inch screen in the Wagoneer, but you also get touch-sensitive ancillary buttons. They flank the touchscreen and they’re on the center console for various controls — and they simply don’t work well, requiring three or four firm presses to make sure you’ve selected or deselected whatever it is you’re trying to do. It’s distracting, discouraging and disappointing in a vehicle this expensive. These controls are absent from the Grand Cherokee, which still uses real buttons and functions as it should, with no frustration other than some questionable positioning and visibility.
More From Cars.com:
- 2022 Jeep Wagoneer, Grand Wagoneer: Jeep Goes Big, Luxurious
- Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer Review: Big, Bold, and Ready for a Challenge
- 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L: Three Rows and Grand, but Not the Wagoneer
- 2022 Jeep Wagoneer, Grand Wagoneer Will Offer Amazon Fire TV for Auto
- 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Goes High-Tech, Gets Hybrid
Jeep has done a fantastic job turning the Ram 1500 chassis and powertrain into a slick, comfortable, well-executed full-size Jeep SUV. They’ve also done an outstanding job updating and upgrading the venerable Grand Cherokee for a new decade. In the end, if size matters to you and you need the most you can get, the Wagoneer can’t be beat even by the Grand Cherokee L — if you’re going to spend that much money, get the most for it, and in cubic-feet per dollar, that’s the Wagoneer.
But if size isn’t your main concern and all the other attributes of having a V-8 luxury SUV are more important to you, it’s the Grand Cherokee by a hair. If Jeep fixes the touch-control issue, it’d be a harder call, but if you don’t need to trade off the frustration of their buggy function in order to get the space you need, then my recommendation is the loaded Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve.
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