Why Jeep Picked McIntosh to Soundtrack the Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer Reboots
It’s Sergio Marchionne- and Ralph Gilles-approved.
In the home audio world, McIntosh has a big following. The Binghamton, New York-based company was founded in 1949 and has history and credibility on its side. And it's now spotlighting a new long-term relationship with Jeep, blessed by the godfather of Fiat Chrysler himself.
After a brief flirtation with car audio in the ‘90s, the brand had mostly shelved its work in the automotive industry until it caught the eye (ear!) of Stellantis visionaries Ralph Gilles and Sergio Marchionne a few years before Marchionne’s death in 2018. They were convinced McIntosh was the right fit for the reborn Grand Wagoneer; adding it to the new Grand Cherokee L soon followed.
Most buyers are familiar with mainstream brands like Bose, which you’ll find in the new Infiniti QX60. Mark Levinson is matched with Lexus, Audi and BMW use Bang & Olufsen, and Mercedes-Benz prefers Burmester. Nissan started partnering with Fender, the company that makes kickass guitars and amplifiers, for its vehicles a few years back. When I shared appreciation for the sound of the McIntosh in the new Grand Cherokee L, some people were perplexed.
Who the heck is McIntosh? they wanted to know.
The audio brand's CEO Jeff Poggi sat down with me at the pared-down 2021 version of the Chicago Auto Show and we talked about the company’s strategy; he clearly understands they’re the “new kid” and that hearing is believing.
“The number one place people listen to music is in the car,” Poggi says. “If you’re going to spend that much time in a vehicle, you might as well have good audio quality."
Basically, he says with a grin, it’s the difference between a glass of fine wine and a Mason jar of cheap swill.
Back in the 1990s when McIntosh first dipped its toe into the automotive industry, it provided amplifiers and head units for the aftermarket. The trademark blue meters were popular and remain a feature on its audio systems today. Inside the Grand Wagoneer and Grand Cherokee, an app activates a digital meter that bounces with the music, and the McIntosh name is prominently featured in a marketing coup for the company.
When I tested it out in the Grand Wagoneer, a 1375-watt, 24-channel amp, 23-loudspeaker system belted out Metallica and Mozart with equal enthusiasm. My favorite brand for quite some time has been the Mark Levinson setup in the Lexus LC 500, but McIntosh has taken the lead. Matched with metal ridged control knobs in front and toggle controls behind the steering wheel that are typical for Jeep products, this checks all the boxes. Make no mistake, though: this is not an inexpensive system and it's built into the prices of these new Jeeps, which are rather staggering for the top-level Grand Wagoneer.
The new Grand Wagoneer has seven screens sprinkled throughout the vehicle, as Kristen highlighted in her recap last week. Jeep's Grand Cherokee is not quite as flush, but both models have the McIntosh app that shows a needle indicating decibel levels dancing across the front screens. And FYI: Motley Crue's Kickstart My Heart sounds spectacular.
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