Enormous Grand Wagoneer tips scales at Rally

October 26, 2021 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Enormous is the key word to describe the new Jeep Grand Wagoneer, although luxury is a close second.

By John Gilbert

Not every one of the newest cars are keepers, even though the battle for hyperbole seems never-ending among auto writers. For example, back in the 1960s, when I first started writing about cars for the Minneapolis Tribune, I got a wide assortment of cars to drive from press fleets in Chicago, and one of those was the Jeep Wagoneer.

It was large, bulky, and while loaded with features that could justify a higher price than the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, I never had good luck with the Wagoneer or Grand Wagoneer. Electrical malfunctions and weird actions that convinced us it was haunted by an evil spirit plagued us every time we had one.

The weirdest was when I requested a base Cherokee, and they sent me the fanciest Grand Wagoneer made. Oh no, I thought, but I persevered. It was the middle of winter, and our older son, Jack, was playing hockey in a frigid, natural-ice facility at Breck School. After the game, we hustled outside into 10-below temperature, and walked hastily to the parking lot at the end of a building. Then we heard the steady bleating of a car horn in the distance.

We got to the corner and discovered it was our Wagoneer. Without an alternative, I got the hood up and pulled the wires to the horn to stop the noise. We got inside, sharing a laugh about the weird luck, and found the Wagoneer battery had died of its own hand. A jump start got us home, and after that, we gingerly hooked up the horn, and learned that it only honked whenever we turned left.

When they stopped making Wagoneers, we celebrated. Now, to my horror, Jeep has reincarnated the Grand Wagoneer for 2022. I hadn’t seen one in person yet, but last week, at the MAMA Fall Rally at Elkhart Lake, Wis., where an assortment of new vehicles was presented for the trials by journalists, I saw this huge apparition and realized it was a Grand Wagoneer.

My older son, Jack, who also is my co-driver, co-tester, and photography aide, and who had accompanied me on the nearly 6-hour drive from Duluth to Elkhart Lake, said: “Jeep makes so many vehicles that are normal size and a lot of fun. Why would they make a huge vehicle like that.”

So there I was, reduced to defending the move. Because various size Jeeps are enjoyed by many owners, if a family adds a new baby or needs more room, they have to recommend to a potential buyer that he’d best head to a Chevy dealer and buy a Tahoe or Suburban. ince those are the most profitable vehicles on the road, Jeep and its bosses decided they ought to build a Suburban-sized SUV that retained the utility of other Jeeps but could easily fit three rows of seats in, and, I suggested, a fourth if necessary.

Carefully matched light walnut woodgrain covers consoles and dashboard in theleather-lined Wagoneer..

The Grand Wagoneer drives surprisingly well, with modes to reach a reasonable facsimile of “sport,” and it also won my vote for the best luxury vehicle on the premises. Without a doubt, it has the most luxurious interior I’ve ever been in, with, I suggested, enough wood to panel your rec room. And enough leather to panel the den. The price tag climbs over $100,000 and either stood out or was met with scorn by everybody there.

Belonging to the Midwest Auto Media Association (MAMA) is a great benefit to journalists who wrote about cars from all over the country, and among the highlights of each year is when the annual MAMA Spring and Fall Rallies take place. We gather at Elkhart Lake, Wis., each spring and at Joliet, Ill., each fall, so that we can test-drive the latest vehicles from all the manufacturers at one place — the Road America road cours in the spring and the Autobahn Club track in the fall.

The past two years have disrupted out perfect world, of course, and while we all were sad when last year’s rallies, and auto shows, etc., were postponed and then cancelled. We don’t know if we’ll ever get back to normal, or fi maybe we’ll get used to something called the “new normal,” but we made a bold step in that direction on Wednesday and Thursday, October 13 and 14, to get something of a taste of the “good ol’ days” when MAMA held its usual spring rally in the Fall of 2021.

Such diversions are common at the Rallies, with manufacturers; reps on hand to answer questions, although I find the newest wave of PR folks are a lot like the newest wave of social-media “auto writers,” whose knowledge of vehicles and engines is superficial at best.

Sleek new BMW M4 Coupe looks better in real life. (Photo by Jack Gilbert.)

But we’re not complaining. For two days we got to drive about a dozen new vehicles around the 4-mile road course, and another 30 or so on the wonderful winding roads around the legendary circuit. And on the second day we got to head over to a specially carved off-road track to try some SUVs at their featured tasks.

What I was most hoping for was the chance to drive a lot of EVs — Electric Vehicles. But there were only a few on hand. So I drove them, including the Mazda MX-30, a unique all-electric vehicle that cheats on the topic of “range anxiety” by adding a small rotary engine under the hood that can come on when necessary to extend the range beyond the 100 miles advertised of pure electric driving.

Taking the stylish CX-30 and adapting it to.full EV, with a rotary engine back-up, creates the MX-30 for 2022. (Photo by Jack Gilbert.)

Some critics have ripped Mazda for issuing a car with only 100 miles of electric range when some others already are selling vehicles with more than twice that range. I say let’s cut everybody some slack, here, because 100 miles of pure electric can handle a week’s driving to work and back for many, and combining the 100-mile range with a hybrid-style connection to a unique rotary might be perfect.

The little rotary gives the SUV-like MX-30 great power and also can charge the battery pack so you can go farther than the 100-mile range. It’s a 2022 model and will be out by sometime in December.

 

Pure electric Volkswagen ID.4 now available with AWD, will be made in USA, with range over 200 miles..

Volkswagen’s latest iconic vehicle will be the ID.4, a pure electric compact SUV that claims to travel over 250 miles on its large, flat LG Chem battery device located on the floor from front axle to rear.

There were no Teslas, nor did I come across a Ford Mustang-e, which was too bad. There was only one Mustang, a GT hot rod with wonderful sound, but less newsworthy than its electrified brother. Ford did bring a new Maverick, its downsized sibling to the Ranger, and that will be more extensively evaluated in the next week or two. It is light, good looking and priced with very few options at $23,000.

Santa Cruz is Hyundai’s stylish compact pickup that drives like a car.

Another striking new vehicle is the Hyundai Santa Cruz, a sleek and attention-grabbing pickup truck that takes the good ideas of Honda’s Ridgeline and runs with them. Flowing lines, and utility-based bed, it’s like two-thirds of a compact SUV with a bed in the back. A neat trick, when you shut off the Santa Cruz and lock it, a plasticized rear cover uncoils to cover the bed and all your worldlies that you have stashed back there with your bikes and surfboards.

Genesis, Hyundai’s .luxury brand, presented new GV70 SUV, left, and G70 sedan

Also from South Korea, the highly acclaimed Genesis G70 sedan was there, and paired with the GV70, its luxury SUV brother. Both of them look great, and are extremely plush and filled with features.

Otherwise, most of the vehicles were the basic combustion engine vehicles, although many could easily be refitted to become hybrids, or even electric vehicles. Those vehicles claimed some of the most impressive driving experiences of all.

The BMW M4 Coupe, for example, has been ripped by so-called experts for a weird grille, because the familiar dual kidney grillework is replaced by two very large and vertical kidney-shaped openings. I’m not complaining; the M4 was not only a rocket, but it has the absolute best contour-fitted seats of anything on the road…or track. There also was an M4 sedan that worked for me.

Lexus had the LC500 I recently tested, and there was a Toyota Supra with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine from BMW replacing the twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline 6 from BMW. As expected, the 4 is plenty. Lexus also had its new fleet of luxury but compact SUVs, led by the NX450 with all sorts of new technology from Toyota’s luxury brand.

Toyota Supra with potent 3-liter inline 6, now offers a potent 2-liter 4-cyinder, both by BMW.

For sheer driving pleasure on the rigors of the race track, few if anything could match the Mazda MX-5 Miata with a removable hardtop. The roadster adds the new 2.5-liter 4 and with G-Vectoring and all, it handles like a dream — without costing an arm and a leg. Even more real-world was a Mazda3 hatchback with all-wheel-drive and the turbo 2.5 that might be the best compact sizzler on the planet.

Then there was the Kia Carnival, reinforcing the concept that a minivan is not required to be stodgy or boring. It is more like a minivan’s utility with SUV looks and versatility. And it has an extreme high level of luxury inside, and might have cornered the market on that aspect, if it wasn’t for the huge Jeep Grand Wagoneer, which has all this maple wood paneling on the rear console, front console, and the base of the dashboard — all of it not only the same color, but with the grain painstakingly fitted to be going the same horizontal direction. It will even allow your wife or husband to use the screen on the passenger side and relay messages to you.

But for less than half the money, the Carnival offers these reclining airline-type bucket in the rear, where kids will no longer say “Are we there yet?” replacing it with a plea to do just a few more laps around the block while they finish watching whatever YouTube is showing at the time.

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