2023 Jeep Grand Wagoneer L First Drive Review: A Smoother Ride in the Eye of the New Hurricane I6

With all the bluster currently surrounding electrification, one might assume that internal combustion will become irrelevant in just a few years’ time. But for better and for worse, that’s just not the case. Not if the new 2023 Wagoneer L and Grand Wagoneer L have anything to say about it, at least.

To its credit, Stellantis has set some pretty ambitious goals when it comes to fighting climate change, part of which includes a 50 percent reduction in its carbon footprint by 2030. Still, when annual sales are measured in the millions, you can bet there will still be quite a few ICE-powered vehicles rolling out of the company’s factories eight years from now.  

Achieving those goals will still require some significant changes, though, and perhaps the most obvious target for the axe within the company’s engine lineup is the third-generation Hemi. Originally launched in 2003, Chrysler’s iron block pushrod V8 has gone on to motivate everything from Ram pickups to Dodge Challengers over its near-two decades of production. But while the company introduced increasingly more powerful iterations of the engine during that time, little has changed on a fundamental level. The 5.7-liter Hemi, for instance, hasn’t seen a significant update since 2009, and while Ford and General Motors have continued to integrate more contemporary technologies like direct injection into their mass-produced V8s, the Hemi has stayed largely grounded in yesteryear. 

That stubborn embrace of the past has long been part of the Hemi’s charm, but it has also become a direct contributor to its forthcoming demise. That will undoubtedly become a source of consternation for Mopar muscle car enthusiasts in the coming years, but when it comes to providing quiet, effortless power in the full-sized luxury vehicles of today, a big naturally aspirated V8 might not be the best tool for the job. And with the debut of Stellantis’ new twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine under the hood of the long wheelbase versions of the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer—some of the biggest and swankiest vehicles in the conglomerate’s portfolio—the company has chosen a particularly ambitious way of putting that theory to the test. 

2023 Wagoneer L and Grand Wagoneer L Review Specs

  • Base price (trims as tested)
    • Wagoneer L: $65,495 (base Carbide 4×4 trim $71,080 | with options $83,310)
    • Grand Wagoneer L: $91,495 (base Series II 4×4 trim $98,090 | with options $107,125)
  • Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six | 8-speed automatic | two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive
  • Performance
    • Wagoneer L: 420 hp @ 5,200 rpm | 468 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
    • Grand Wagoneer L: 510 hp @ 5,700 rpm | 500 @ 3,500 rpm
  • Curb weight
    • Wagoneer L: 6,297 pounds
    • Grand Wagoneer L: 6,885 pounds
  • Seating capacity: 8 standard, 7 with optional second-row captain’s chairs
  • Cargo volume:
    • Wagoneer L: 42.1 cubic feet
    • Grand Wagoneer L: 44.2 cubic feet
  • EPA fuel economy: 
    • Wagoneer L: 16 mpg city | 22 highway | 18 combined
    • Grand Wagoneer L: 14 mpg city | 19 highway | 16 combined
  • Quick take: While both the standard and High Output versions of the new Hurricane I6 provide more than enough grunt, they prefer to work in the background rather than being the center of attention. That low-key approach turns out to be a benefit for luxury-focused SUVs like the Wagoneer L and Grand Wagoneer L, but drivers should only expect a negligible improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing V8s. 
  • Score: 8/10

The Replacement for Displacement 

Keen-eyed observers may note that the new 3.0-liter DOHC Hurricane inline six-cylinder engine shares its name with the 2.0-liter turbocharged Hurricane four-cylinder power plant that FCA introduced back in 2016, an engine that currently provides propulsion for vehicles ranging from the Jeep Cherokee to the Alfa Romeo Giulia. That’s not a coincidence, as the new all-aluminum inline-six shares its bore, stroke, and cylinder spacing—along with other fundamental design elements—with the boosted four-pot. 

Although it’s not a true clean-sheet design, this new inline-six does come packing some impressive features. Initially available in two different states of tune—standard and High Output—the new mill is outfitted with a pair of low-inertia, high-flow turbos that feed three cylinders each to optimize throttle response. The standard version of the engine can see boost pressures as high as 22 psi, while the High Output iteration can reach up to 26 psi. 

Both flavors of the engine benefit from direct injection, fully independent variable valve timing, water-to-air charge cooling, and a low-friction, wear-resistant plasma transfer wire arc coating in the cylinder bores, but the High Output engine is the only one that scores forged aluminum pistons—the standard output engine makes do with cast aluminum ones. The base engine is tuned to run on 87 octane fuel, but Stellantis recommends 89 or higher, while the High Output version requires 91 octane. 

Although it may not have the nostalgic allure of a Hemi, it’s hard to argue with the numbers that the Hurricane puts up. Dishing out 420 horsepower and 468 pound-feet of torque, the standard output six-cylinder offers gains of 28 hp and 64 lb-ft over the naturally aspirated 5.7-liter V8 in last year’s Wagoneer, while the High Output version’s 510 hp and 500 lb-ft bests the 6.4-liter Hemi in the ’22 Grand Wagoneer by 39 hp and 45 lb-ft. And let’s not forget that the Hurricane does this while also offering better economy and fewer emissions. Whether or not this is the dawn of the American 2JZ still remains to be seen, but from a pragmatic standpoint, this feels like tangible progress. 

Both the Wagoneer L and Grand Wagoneer L offer best-in-class towing, with the two-wheel-drive standard output Wagoneer L offering the highest rating at 10,000 pounds. That figure drops to 9,850 pounds on four-wheel-drive models with the base engine, while models outfitted with the HO Hurricane all get four-wheel-drive and are rated for a maximum of 9,450 pounds.

Big Goes Bigger

While the Hurricane inline six is expected to find its way into a number of different engine bays in the coming years, debuting it in the new Wagoneer L and Grand Wagoneer L seems like a pretty bold move. 

The L models have a wheelbase that’s seven inches longer than their standard-configuration counterparts and are a foot longer overall. All of the proportional changes were applied behind the B-pillar, with longer rear doors and an expanded cargo area that yield best-in-class overall passenger volume and 15.8 cubic feet of additional space behind the third row, along with dimensions that put the L on par with the latest Chevy Suburban and Cadillac Escalade ESV

Excluding the limited-production, 682-hp Escalade-V (which, at $149,195, costs roughly $30,000 more than a top-spec Grand Wagoneer Series III), the most powerful engine you can get in either one of those is a naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 that makes 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. But with curb weights that range from around 6,100 pounds in a base Wagoneer L to over 6,700 pounds in a fully loaded Grand Wagoneer L, the Mopars can have as much as 700 pounds of additional heft to lug around versus a similarly equipped Chevy or Caddy, so it’s clear that the Hurricane I6 isn’t being thrown softballs for its first at-bat. 

Behind the Wheel 

I started the day off trucking around rolling hills outside of Bozeman, Montana, in a Grand Wagoneer L Series II, a trim level that includes baller-spec 22-inch wheels, a digital rearview mirror, and driver assistance features like traffic sign recognition and drowsy driver detection. While the High Output version of the Hurricane I6 is optional in the Wagoneer, it’s standard on all 2023 Grand Wagoneers, so my first stint with the new engine was with the hotter one. 

Aside from its extended length and new powerplant, this Grand Wagoneer L was very similarly equipped to a Series II that one I drove from LA to Vegas and back this past April. While no one is going accuse the exterior designers of these SUVs of being too daring, inside, they are seriously posh machines that’re outfitted with impressively high-quality materials, massage seats, audiophile-spec McIntosh sound systems, and an array of high-resolution displays that make the cabin feel tech-focused and genuinely luxurious. 

Yet, as much as I enjoy the bellow of a big V8, during that road trip I couldn’t help but notice that the 6.4-liter seemed a bit out of step with the Grand Wagoneer’s overall mission. It definitely had no problem getting the truck moving in a hurry and delivered plenty of passing power at speed, but even with all the sound deadening and active noise cancelation tech on board, the Hemi always made its presence known whenever I asked for additional grunt, interrupting an otherwise serene driving experience with a muffled roar that seemed better suited to Woodward Avenue than Rodeo Drive. Of course that could be considered a bug or a feature, depending on your particular preferences.  

2023 Grand Wagoneer L. Stellantis

The Hurricane, meanwhile, is much smoother and low-key when it goes about its work, operating in near-silence the majority of the time. Boost comes on early, with the HO engine developing 90 percent of its peak torque output at just 2,350 rpm, so you’re never really lacking for grunt. There are hints of turbo lag here and there when rolling onto the throttle at lower speeds, but it’s so minor that you really have to be actively looking for it in order to notice. Once the revs crest 3,000 rpm, the response is linear all the way to the engine’s 6,000 rpm redline, much like the Hemi it replaces, and it feels just as punchy as the big V8. 

But if you’re not judicious with the throttle, it can also get nearly as thirsty—I saw just under 18 mpg in mostly highway driving with a few acceleration tests thrown in along the way. That’s a small improvement over the mileage that I saw back in the spring, and it’s worth noting that the L weighs about 200 pounds more than the standard wheelbase Grand Wagoneer, but would-be owners probably shouldn’t expect anything transformative when it comes to fuel economy. 

I spent some time with a Wagoneer L with the standard output Hurricane later in the day, and that seems to be where the bigger gains are. It felt noticeably stronger than the 5.7-liter V8 in the Grand Cherokee L that I drove last year, despite the fact that the Wagoneer is half a ton heavier. At lower speeds the acceleration feels nearly as urgent as the HO engine—it’s not until you go for a pass at middle-of-nowhere Montana speeds that the gulf in power between the two versions of the I6 really becomes noticeable. Still, the standard output engine never felt strained in the way that the smaller Hemi could at times, particularly in the mid-range, and it seemed to yield slightly greater improvements in fuel economy. 

I also got a chance to check out how the new engine does out in the dirt with a Wagoneer that was equipped with the Advanced All-Terrain Group. Available only on standard wheelbase models, the package includes 18-inch wheels with all-terrain rubber, a two-speed transfer case, an electronic limited-slip rear differential with a 3.92 axle ratio, air suspension, and skid plates for the front axles, transfer case, and fuel tank. 

The Wagoneer might not wear a Jeep badge anywhere on it, but this equipment certainly allows it to perform like one, as it effortlessly handled rocky hill climbs, ruts, streams, and basically everything else that I came across on the trail. While some turbocharged engines can leave you wanting for power at crawling speeds, the availability of 4WD Low ensured that the engine was on boost the moment I dipped into the throttle, providing immediate response without any high-strung nervousness. 

While the Hurricane I6 is the clearest indication that the Hemi’s days are numbered, there’s really not a lot to fault in its successor, though it seems like this change was driven by the need to reduce emissions more than the pursuit of better fuel economy. Regardless of the automaker’s motivations, the new power plants seem better matched with big luxury SUVs than the V8s that preceded them while giving up nothing in terms of response. What their more subdued character means for other applications remains a concern for another day. 

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