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GRAND WAGONEER SERIES III OBSIDIAN – GO BIG OR GO HOME

Car Reviews

GRAND WAGONEER SERIES III OBSIDIAN – GO BIG OR GO HOME

GRAND WAGONEER SERIES III OBSIDIAN

GO BIG OR GO HOME

(Or hell, tow your home…)


You may have noticed automakers’ propensity to revive dormant nameplates around the three-decade mark, plus or minus. Stellantis has a new Dodge Hornet and rumors swirl of another Dakota, but the Grand Wagoneer is the name most likely to evoke memories.

I drove a Grand Wagoneer 35 years ago and tested the most recent Grand Wagoneer in 1991. After a 28-year run its age was showing and the Range Rover – which rode substantially better on road or off and delivered more power from its 3.9-liter V-8 than Jeep did from a 5.9 – was the new king of luxury four-wheel drives. 

Last year we got a new Grand Wagoneer – with independent front suspension for the first time since the 1960s – and this year a new engine. The twin-turbo  Hurricane 3-liter inline six offers two ratings and the Grand Wagoneer Series III uses the higher-output version, corralling 510 horses and 500 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful body-on-frame big lux ute save Cadillac’s Escalade V – which costs $40,000 more.  It’s also more power than Navigator’s 3.5 or Bavarian Motor Works’ 3-liter in the M3/M4 Competition. Sheesh.

This Hurricane is smooth and quiet. There’s a pleasant deep purr outside while rarely detectable inside, and the turbochargers don’t whistle or puff despite being, appropriately, just ahead of the driver’s right foot. With 6400 pounds of truck to haul around it’s plenty quick and makes dispensing with those who can’t read (slower traffic keep right) delightfully simple. Of course, that dings your fuel consumption (EPA 14/20/17 combined) but I bested both highway and combined numbers. We won’t mention city economy, even if it’s better than the old GW on its best day. And if you prefer old-school sound and mileage, you can get the 6.4-liter V-8.

At this altitude, behind a lengthy prow and in subdued comfort, the world seems to go by in slow motion. The speedometers may say 70 or 80 mph but unless there’s something immediately proximate for scale or you see a red border around “Speed Limit 55” in your display, it feels slower and utterly relaxed. 

More surprising in a lux truck is how well it gets down a winding highway, certainly for a 3.25-ton box standing six-and-a-half feet tall. Steering feedback is minimal but it’s responsive, body roll is controlled but not absent, the brake pedal returns good bite and modulation, the air suspension soaks up most road imperfections but the 22-inch wheels slap on some joints, and sport mode firms things up and livens gas-pedal response.  This wagon will cross the hill country faster than your six passengers care to—if you see the back of their head on the fam cam best slow down, and at a more sedate pace the active driving assist adroitly handles some of the chores. Most owners won’t take this off the highway, but construction underneath is adequate for this Jeep with no Jeep badge, although too unwieldy for the company’s Trail Rated rating.

Series III models arrive well-equipped, from a generous moonroof and third-row skylight to powered side steps: night vision, head-up display, 1375-watt sound system (with gimmicky “decibel” meters as a display choice), 20-way front seats with massage, heated/ventilated second row seats, automated parking and active driver assist. There are screens for the driver display, primary nav/audio/phone with CarPlay and Android Auto, a screen for the passenger (bluetooth, HDMI input, etc), a lower screen for front seat controls that motors to hide inputs and wireless phone charging, rear console for seats and climate in steerage, and optional dual rear-seat entertainment with Amazon Fire TV. Somewhere around 18 I lost count of all the USB, HDMI, aux in, and 12VDC/120VAC ports on board.  I’d not search the entire features list unless I’m on hold with the IRS.

Where the Series III really shines is where most don’t look. Unlike many truck-derived lux utes, where the finer fabrics and materials end at the armrests, there is no hard plastic and mold seams on these lower doors. If it looks like metal or wood it is – I’m not certain about the bronze highlights on the vents – and the consoles and tunnel are fully wrapped in carpet. The only thing I found conspicuous was the absence of third-row window shades in this greenhouse.

The primary reason to buy one of these is comfortably carting the crew and a trailer to the lake or campground and the GW has that covered. At 9800 pounds the tow rating shames competitors, the big mirrors have wide-angle elements, and integrated trailer brake control is part of the HD tow package. Inside, the third row has the best legroom, headroom and cargo space behind it, and no one will complain about first or second-row room. They even thought to put roof rack cross-rail storage under the floor so you never get caught without them…when that 10-foot Christmas tree that might drip sap on your gloss walnut. Naturally, if this isn’t sufficient there is an “L” version about a foot longer.

The SIII Obsidian comes with a black roof, and there’s no way to vent the moonroof without the sunshade half open, making this similar to a black-top Mini with semi-opaque sunshade in that I needed some AC airflow from defrost vents on a sunny 68°(F) where normally the ventilated seat would do the job. I’m not sure I’d recommend this for Texas summers.

So except for fuel mileage and the greenhouse effect the Grand Wagoneer Series III does a good job at most things. However, this being from Jeep and Ram means a $100K price to go with it: $110,000 to start and $115,000 as equipped. Yee haw.

Mr. Whale's been breaking parts for 45 years and writing about it for 30. An award-winning writer, he's served as Technical Editor on several major magazines, been published in more than 40 outlets, and served as driving instructor and motoring book judge. He's a member of the Motor Press Guild, Texas Auto Writers Association, and if you say "It's OK, I'm a racer" to him he'll run to the nearest large body of water.

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