Premiere: Grand Wagoneer reborn with modern luxuries in concept Jeep

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The Grand Wagoneer is back — well, almost.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Thursday shared a concept version of the three-row Jeep as a plug-in hybrid. It comes ahead of the production model's debut later this year that will resurrect the nameplate last produced nearly 30 years ago and usher the SUV brand into the pricier, profitable larger and more premium segment.

The Grand Wagoneer Concept is Jeep's "vision" for what the return of the iconic nameplate can be, said Christian Meunier, global head of the SUV brand.

The Grand Wagoneer shown won't be exactly what the Italian American automaker builds next year in its retooled Warren Truck plant, but "a lot of things you have seen today will be on the road next year," Christian Meunier, global head of Jeep, said ahead of the virtual showcase.

►READ MORE: 'American as apple pie': Wagoneer love persists over 30-year hiatus

►READ MORE: Debut: Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid promises smooth rock-crawling

Unlike the original vintage Wagoneers, there's no fake wood-grain paneling on the sides, and its exterior is not so boxy. 

Despite its more modern and aerodynamic appearance, the concept includes homages to the historic model: A line-bump below the large windows carries itself around the vehicle for a linear look seen on the original. A "kick up" bump on the hood acknowledges the traditional grilles, said Tim Anness, Jeep's director of four-wheel-drive exterior design in North America.

The Grand Wagoneer Concept is Jeep's "vision" for what the return of the iconic nameplate can be, said Christian Meunier, global head of the SUV brand.

Trapezoidal arches in the wheels, an American flag detail with Grand Wagoneer badging along the side and other latticework accentuate the design. And despite the exclusion of wood-grain panels, the exterior includes teak embellishments on its roof rack and inside the headlights.

The wood carries inside where the black glass "sculptor" instrument panel stretching from the driver's side to the passenger features a heat-treated wood finish, added Chris Benjamin, head of Jeep Chrysler advanced interior design. Other historic nods include a two-spoke steering wheel, emphasis on comfort with captain's seating in the first and second rows, and an "Est. 1963" inscription on the instrument panel's outer edge in honor of the Wagoneer's first model year.

The bold instrument panel in the Grand Wagoneer Concept was inspired by the original models.

"I think what the team has been able to do very well is to translate what the Grand Wagoneer was doing a long time ago, which is combining craftsmanship, artisanship, beautiful material with very modern material," Meunier said. There is "a very strong soul to the product, and I don't think there's any kind of product on the market today that delivers that. I think we are bringing something very different."

Jeep later this year will share more details on the production models, executives teased. The "mainstream" Wagoneer, which will start around $60,000, is targeting GMC, Meunier said, while the premium Grand Wagoneer, which "fully loaded" will be above $100,000, takes aim at Cadillac and Range Rover.

Teak details suspended by copper lattice are included on the roof rack of the Grand Wagoneer Concept.

The Grand Wagoneer stopped production after 1991 as the smaller Grand Cherokee came to the scene. But that was when SUVs represented only a small portion of the market, while today they take up around 45%, said Karl Brauer, an auto analyst and former Kelley Blue Book publisher. Newcomers to the large SUV space like the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade show there's demand for more.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Brauer said. "It wasn't clear that there was a hunger for these three-row SUVs even a few years ago. The hottest segment was subcompact, but it's swung in the other direction. There's no such thing as too many SUVs in the model lineup."

Production is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2021, the company has said, following a three-month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The production version will have three available 4x4 systems, the Grand Cherokee's Quadra-Lift air suspension, leading towing capability and other technology and safety features, the company said.

A bump in the hood of the Grand Wagoneer Concept pays tribute to similar details on the original models.

Jeep did not share details on the hybrid technology in the concept vehicle, which debuted alongside the Wrangler plug-in hybrid 4xe SUV that includes a 17-kilowatt battery. The automaker is conducting a market analysis for electrifying the production Grand Wagoneer, Meunier said. The $1.5 billion that Fiat Chrysler is investing into Warren includes the flexibility for battery-electric models in the future, the company has said.

"If they want to be able to sell vehicles like this in Europe and China, they need to have plug-in options," said Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst at Guidehouse Insights. "Even here with the United States the reduction in the (corporate average fuel economy) standards, they don't have any small cars of medium-sized cars. They rely on the SUVs. They have to go electric in order to get their numbers where they need them."

Details on the Grand Wagoneer Concept

Inside, the instrument panel offers nearly 45 inches of screen span with a driver information display behind the steering wheel, a horizontal touchscreen display in the center console with a touchscreen below the structural wing to control heating, cooled and massage seats; and a passenger screen. Second-row passengers also have their own 10.1-inch entertainment touchscreens on the seatbacks and a 10.25-inch comfort control in their own center console.

Second-row occupants of the Grand Wagoneer Concept have their own 10.1-inch entertainment touchscreens  with a 10.25-inch
comfort display screen housed on the center console located between the two captain’s chairs.

The interior additionally includes a McIntosh audio system with 23 speakers and simulated dancing needles for the display screen, a map showcasing Detroit on its full-pane glass roof and a pop-out ignition button carved from the instrument panel's wood.

"Every day when you get in the vehicle," Benjamin said, "pushing that button is what starts your love affair with the vehicle."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble