BRIDGER, Montana – In the big sky country, the only things bigger than bison are pickup trucks and three rows of SUVs. I pulled my 6,326-pound, 6-foot-6-inch Jeep Wagoner L off Route 86 next to a herd of bison grazing in a golden landscape behind a wire fence.
Meet the American bison, the American SUV icon. The bison didn’t move. A farmer pulled up to a 2023 Jeep Wagoneer in his pickup truck.
“Hello,” I replied. “I stopped to take some pictures. “We don’t see many bison in Detroit.”
“No problem. Just stay on this side of the fence…and the middle wire is hot.”
Good to know. I’ve been to the Montana/Wyoming corner many times, but my family’s 2001 trip to this stunning landscape will always be the most memorable. We saw bison, elk, gray and bald eagles. But we didn’t see Vagonch.
Jeep’s popular SUV brand had been gone since 1991, but it made a comeback last year – redesigned and ready to take on the likes of the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. Jeep introduced its long-wheelbase version in 2023 to compete with the Chevy Suburban and Expedition L.
Like bison and cattle, America’s spacious interior is the natural habitat of mega-SUVs—the breed’s spacious seats, cargo space, high-tech interior, and seating perfect for long family trips. At $87,000, my Wagoneer L is much more expensive than our ’01 Hertz sedan family rental. But like a cruise ship to Alaska, it’s a first-class way to see Montana.
Since the original Wagoneer is gone, the class is dominated by GM’s quadfecta, the Chevy Tahoe/Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon/GMC Yukon XL. Both GM and Ford have developed mega-utes with mega-tech features. Crucially, both automakers have upgraded these family cars beyond their pickup siblings, with third-row seats and independent rear suspension to improve ride quality.
Huge class to enter, right? Wagoneer was born for it.
Along with its rich heritage (the Jeep brand is a global icon, with American flags emblazoned on the Wagoneer’s flanks), the Wagoneer is based on the Ram 1500, which is already recognized as the best-driving pickup truck in its class thanks to its independent rear. suspension
The Wagoneer acknowledges this advantage by carving out a prominent third-row bench seat. I’m a 6-foot-5-inch former college basketball player and could have sat in the second row behind me. Easy headroom, easy legroom.
Pack your family of four rugrats for a trip to Yellowstone and they’ll have plenty of real estate in tow. You will need to set some rules so that the children can rotate the seats. Second-row couches offer Amazon Fire TV screens with all your favorite shows, for God’s sake.
There are no screens in the third row, but there is almost no basement. Each seat has its own USB port, a cubby that can hold small computer devices, and (I love this) its own sunroof. So when parents decide to close the panoramic roof, third-row bus class passengers can still worship the sun if they choose.
Cargo space can be squeezed into a standard Wagoneer with this airline cabin. So 2023 Wagoneer LL for loooooong
My tester added 7 inches of wheelbase and a foot of length to claim a best-in-class 44 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row (16 cubic feet more than the standard SUV). Like the Suburban and Expedition MAX, the Wagoneer L provides plenty of room for a family of six (and the back two rows fold flat, offering generous space when you need to move around, like a big-screen TV).
The Wagoneer L is big, but with its desirable seven-slot grille, sculpted body and new, black-finished Carbide trim, it has instant credibility.
This loan appeals to both mainstream and luxury buyers. For luxury buyers, Jeep offers the Grand Wagoneer (which I reviewed separately last year) , which has worn more clothes than Beyonce at the Grammys.
The Wagoneer enters the base grade with standard leather seats. Up to three full-digital dash screens, head-up display, best-in-class Uconnect 5 infotainment system, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, handsome switchgear (including a jewel-toned shifter and push-button start) and optional pneumatics With suspension, the Jeep is a joy for the captain.
For all its high-end technology, the Wagoneer can be Loooong short.
Automakers like GM (Super Cruise) and Ford (Blue Cruise) are making long-distance driving easier these days with semi-autonomous systems. Once the domain of luxury cars like the Cadillac Escalade, they are now available in commuter and expedition models. Heck, I even drove a Kia Sportage — at $38k, half the price of those mega-ute behemoths — recently from Gaylord to Detroit hands-free.
My $87,000 Wagoneer had no such technology, its average, adaptive cruise system offering only forward detection for a long highway trip.
When you get to your hotel, the Wagoneer offers parallel and perpendicular parking—one of my favorite features for big rigs where the rear C-pillar is in another zip code. Modern implementations – such as the system in the Ford Explorer I recently drove – are fully autonomous, brake carefully and reverse into a designated parking space.
Wagoneer bought the bargain system off the shelf. Parallel parking in Bozeman, the steering wheel spun in front of me, but I had to keep a close eye on the rearview camera as I braked into a parking spot to avoid running over the VW Jetta behind me like a buffalo flattening a squirrel.
The Wagoneer L makes a bigger investment in an all-new twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 Hurricane engine that makes 420 horsepower and swallows slower two-lane traffic on country roads like a krill whale swallows. The Hurricane complements the brand’s signature off-road capability. Determined to play with its Wrangler and Trailhawk relatives, the L comes with ROCK-like multiple drive modes and a transfer case so you can switch to four-down, ride 10 inches off the ground, and keep going when the pavement runs out.
In the Rockies’ Crazy Mountain Range, my Crazy Wagoner dodged cattle on dusty trails. Tell the kids to pause and enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog on Fire TV.
They’ll also enjoy the ATVs you brought—the L’s 10,000-pound towing capacity—when you drove them back to Montana as teenagers. Just outside of Yellowstone in the Big Sky, you’ll find the massive Buck Ridge Trail, which stretches from 15 miles to 9,000 feet for a stunning view of the mountains.
Park the Wagoneer, then hit the scenic roads of Buck Ridge. And you don’t have to worry about crossing fences – or hot medium wires.
Henry Payne is the auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.