With the introduction of the 2022 Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, Jeep is pushing its price point into six figures, fully loaded. Given its altitude, the Grand Wagoneer has to meet some lofty expectations while honoring the legendary badge it wears.
The vehicle’s designers have pulled off a neat trick, using the old Wagoneer as inspiration without slavishly mimicking it. At the same time, it’s thoroughly modern, offering up to seven screens on the interior, including for the front seat passenger.
To get some insight into the new interior’s creation, TheDetroitBureau.com spoke with Chris Benjamin, head of interior design for Wagoneer, as well as Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Ram at the Grand Wagoneer’s debut in New York City earlier this month.
Effortless luxury with plenty of tech
TheDetroitBureau: So were you going for like a relaxed vibe on the interior? It certainly feels that way.
Chris Benjamin: Yeah, you want luxury to feel effortless; you don’t want it to feel like it’s trying too hard. So that was part of it, especially the way the screens are integrated. When they’re off, you just get this cool black sculpture, you know? They aren’t just these big flat surfaces; every screen rolls away at the end.
TDB: Was it a thought that you would have so many screens in it from the start, or was it something that developed, and you said, “Why don’t we?”
CB: We always knew we wanted a passenger display. The lower comfort display was something that we didn’t really set out to do from the beginning. But it’s something that we thought would be a very neat feature. It’s one of those things that’s over the top. Is it necessary? No. But that’s the whole point when you buy a vehicle like this, at this price point. It’s about access, it’s about self-reward. And so we tried to bake that in.
Old school, but not retro
TDB: But it’s also about the little things, like the metal series designation on the seat back, which is such an old school touch.
CB: It is. But if you think about where luxury comes from, the idea of it is old school. So for us, it’s the balance of harnessing the magic of that, but doing it in a new way that feels modern. It feels like you’re headed toward the future instead of living in the past. It’s an interesting balance to strike.
TDB: Was it tough to balance? Looking at the last Wagoneer as a jumping off point, how do you balance that without it becoming some retro design exercise?
CB: It’s easier to do than it may sound like, at least from a design perspective. The Grand Wagoneer that was in production in 1991 represented something back then, and here we are 30 years later. The industry has changed quite dramatically, so we’re not really picking up where we left off. But that vehicle represented something. It was the first luxury SUV. And so we’re picking up on that idea, but not necessarily anything specific to that vehicle.
TDB: The copper accents on the air conditioning vents are a truly inspired touch. Where did that idea originate?
CB: We wanted to do something different, something that when you had a glance in the vehicle, you knew you were in a Series III Grand Wagoneer. You only get that in the Series III. And so it’s those subtleties. It doesn’t scream at you, but we have those coordinated accents on the outside as well. It’s done tastefully, but it’s there when you look for it.
Separating from the pack
TDB: Design signatures seem to carry into the interior from the exterior, like the shapes that you use. They’re used throughout the vehicle so that you know it’s a Jeep.
CB: We did a lot of things that are signature to our brand. I mean, obviously, we’re having the conversation about Jeep and Wagoneer being a premium extension of Jeep. It’s really standing out and being its own thing. And this is the fledgling stages of what a Wagoneer is, because it’s the first vehicle. But it’s really about looking at how we put all of those elements together and create something that’s unique to the rest of the industry. Because if you get into anything else in this size, it doesn’t feel like this inside.
TDB: Given this is a new product, it must be been a blast to have this sort of budget to do an interior like this.
CB: Yeah, I would say over the last 10 years, we’ve been constantly raising the bar on our interiors, and this is sort of the pinnacle of that exercise. We couldn’t say what the total budget was, but what I will say is that when we made suggestions and talked about ideas that at first glance would seem over the top, the team just kind of went for it in an effort to create something that was truly a masterpiece in its category.
TDB: Having done this, I can’t imagine then having to step back and incorporate some of this into a Grand Cherokee L.
CB: We did them on a similar timeline. And it’s tricky because being responsible for both, there’s some cross pollination. And we wanted this to stand out as a Wagoneer, while having some things that were unique to the Grand Cherokee. And if you look across the industry in multiple price points, you’ll find very few vehicles that have better interiors than the Grand Cherokee until we made this one. But it’s the one-upmanship that we really tried to put into it. It’s an interesting challenge to do a vehicle in at a price point that appeals to the customer, because one thing I think we’ve always prided ourselves on is it isn’t just expensive for expensive sake. You feel that baked in value and goodness. You know, you pay for it. This vehicle is expensive. But when you get in it, it feels like what you paid. It’s not like, expensive just for the sake of it.
TDB: I can’t recall any interior from this company that was this high quality in decades. And it was in a Chrysler product. In a Jeep? Never.
CB: And I think that’s where the that’s where the Wagoneer part of it comes in, it is a level above a normal Jeep. It really is meant to stand out as an expression that is above and beyond what you would do in a Jeep.
Clever and convenient
TDB: It’s a shame that you can’t have the thin pillars that the old Wagoneer did due to rollover standards. It’s just impossible. But you did place the air conditioning vents in the rear are placed low on the B-pillar, rather than in the headliner. Why?
CB: That’s what helped us with the pillar size. We don’t have any vents in the ceiling in the roof at all. They’re all down low, and that allows us to not have a duct running up the pillar. You save lots of space, so that that was a huge enabler.
TDB: And it’s that kind of thoughtfulness that’s truly luxurious. You can recharge here wirelessly; there are a couple of USB ports in the front behind the comfort display panel. And then there’s this nice little mini fridge.
CB: And that is optional, because the other option is a safe. So you can either have a cool bin, or you can have a safe. You know, there are a lot of a lot of people that have valuables.
TDB: Did that come out of consumer research?
CB: It’s just trying to appeal to that customer, you know? You may be traveling with things that are of high value, like a lot of gun owners in America. So you lock it in there. So there are, tons of use cases for that.
TDB: That’s pretty slick. Such inventiveness makes it seem as if you’re no longer being hamstrung by your corporate owners.
CB: It’s definitely helpful when we have support from the top of the house, where they know the importance of design and how that’s incorporated into the rest of the vehicle. If we designed a good-looking vehicle, but it didn’t drive well, it wasn’t quiet, and all of those other elements, then it would fall apart. But the team at large was super excited about it. It wasn’t just another average product, it was something that everyone wanted to make a statement with.
TDB: One last question: have you seen a lot of change so far as a result of the merger and the creation of Stellantis?
CB: I wouldn’t say change as much as I would say more global communication and cooperation. I mean, we did a big meeting last week with the global design studios, which was pretty cool. We all shared our unique brand ideas. So the guys in France, the guys in Italy, and us on the North American side, we had sort of a giant telepresence, which was really cool, very inspiring. Because when the French are doing something specifically for the French market, it has a very different feel to a North American product for America. And that’s what I love about Stellantis as a big corporation; we have all of these different flavors and personalities, and it’s all under one umbrella. And so we grow and learn from each other. We’re inspired by each other. I mean, really inspiring stuff shared by the team. So I love it.