(first posted 8/18/2015) In the 1970s and 1980s, as Mercedes-Benz and BMW became the most desirable luxury brands in America, domestic brands found themselves losing more and more snob appeal. There was one major exception to the rule: Jeep. The SUV brand conducted market research during the 1980s and found owners of their flagship line, the Grand Wagoneer, had one of the highest median incomes of any group of vehicle owners in America. Although visually and mechanically little changed for years, the Grand Wagoneer was a favorite of the upwardly mobile. For 1984, those intimidated by the wood-sided beast’s sheer size would be able to purchase a smaller, more efficient luxury SUV: the XJ Wagoneer.
The XJ Cherokee had taken the market by storm. Capable off-road but competent on it and well-sized to boot, the Cherokee ignited the market’s enthusiasm for SUVs. Jeep had seen a need to crown the new SUV’s range with a luxury model and thus the Wagoneer was launched. Accordingly, the Grand Wagoneer received the “Grand” prefix this year, as it was previously known as the Wagoneer Limited.
Appropriately, this mint-condition XJ Wagoneer Limited was parked in front of a fancy apartment building on the Upper East Side. One wonders if this has remained in the vehicle fleet of the same wealthy family since the 1980s.
XJ Cherokees and Wagoneers were distinguished initially by a different grille and options, although for 1986 the Wagoneer range would receive different headlights. The new, smaller “Wagoneer Limited” was the most expensive of the XJ Wagoneer range (and shortly thereafter, the only member as the base Wagoneer was dropped). Promotional material pitched the luxurious new SUV at two quite different rivals: the Buick Electra Estate wagon and the Volvo 740 Turbo. For 1984, 55,596 Cherokees and 20,940 Wagoneers were produced.
Jeep had a smash hit on its hands with the XJ SUVs, and the Wagoneer range enjoyed a similarly affluent group of owners as the bigger Grand Wagoneer. They had also taken the market by surprise, and it would be years before four-door SUVs of this size would arrive wearing Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota badges.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Ziemnowicz
The Wagoneer Limited was well-appointed, boasting leather/cord bucket seats (power up front), cruise control, roof rack, shift-on-the-fly Command-Trac 4WD and of course, woodgrain appliqué on the sides. Selec-Trac AWD and keyless entry were optional. Three engines were available: a 2.5 inline four, a Renault-sourced 2.1 turbo diesel and a GM-sourced 2.8 V6.
The four and the diesel were generally regarded as being reliable but slow, and the GM V6 flaky. A new, fuel-injected 4.0 straight six with 173 horsepower, related to the 2.5 four, was launched in 1987. More reliable than its predecessor and with class-leading performance, this six would remain in production for many years to come.
Although the Grand Wagoneer was more expensive and becoming more and more outdated with each year, its appeal was strong enough to ensure it outsold the XJ Wagoneer in its penultimate year, 1990. Despite the ideal demographics of the little Wagoneer, Jeep decided to axe the nameplate for 1991. Wood-panelled Cherokees would henceforth be referred to as Briarwood, but you could purchase a swanky, monochromatic, fully-loaded XJ known as the Cherokee Limited. Its BBS wheels were more suited to 1990s styling trends than vinyl wood.