How is it that, in a market gone gaga for three-row SUVs, there’s not a single Jeep with a way-back seat? Armchair product planners might think this an oversight, while FCA shareholders no doubt consider it tantamount to corporate malfeasance.
The good news is that not one but two are coming, resurrecting the storied Wagoneer nameplate. The bad news is that you won’t be able to tie a wreath to a new Wagoneer’s grille anytime soon.
The last—make that only—three-row Jeep was the Commander, a Grand Cherokee platform-mate whose sales dwindled to almost nothing before Jeep discontinued it after the 2010 model year. With its smallish third row, a cheap interior, and lackluster fuel economy, the Commander couldn’t compete. Then-struggling Chrysler decided to forgo a redesign of the Commander when it redid the Grand Cherokee for 2011, although it did stretch the new platform to build a Dodge Durango with a real third row of seats. Ever since, there has been speculation that a restyled Durango could hit the market as a Jeep and that FCA might even dust off the wood grained vinyl and resurrect the Grand Wagoneer badge.
Of course, this hasn’t happened, nor will it. FCA has a different idea, one that could prove more lucrative if it can pull it off: The Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer will be body-on-frame SUVs, just like the Cadillac Escalades, Lincoln Navigators, and Infiniti QX80s of the world. All real trucks underneath their abundant leather and wood, all commanding big prices. The brand of Wrangler will look to loft the Grand Wagoneer’s price into the six figures, with sizing that may follow the GM and Ford two-wheelbase strategy: The Wagoneer will be the shorter model—think Escalade and Navigator—while the Grand Wagoneer grows to compete with the Escalade ESV and the Navigator L.
The Wagoneer’s underpinnings will come from the next-gen Ram pickup. The current Ram already has air springs, which we also expect to find in the Wagoneer. FCA has said that the upcoming Ram will also be hybridized, so plan on that, too. Other powertrains we’ll see: A 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is a possibility for entry-level models, and the 5.7-liter and 6.4-liter Hemi V-8s may be offered as options.
One powertrain option that seems unlikely to carry forward is a diesel. Shortly after announcing that it would be retooling the Ram truck plant in Warren, Michigan, to build Wagoneers, FCA was issued a Clean Air Act violation notice by the EPA. The diesel V-6 engines currently sold in Jeeps and Rams are alleged to carry software that could act as a defeat device similar to the technology that put Volkswagen in hot water with regulators around the globe. It’s far too early to predict what consequences this new development might have for Jeep, let alone the Wagoneer, which is still years away from production.