This 1978 review of the newly-introduced Jeep Wagoneer Limited provides an interesting perspective, as it was right about the time that the Wagoneer morphed from being a genuine utility 4×4 wagon into a pricey luxury AWD, or in other words, the prototype of what soon became a huge segment of the market. It wasn’t yet called the Grand Wagoneer, the ultimate evergreen incarnation of this American classic, but in principle, it was the same thing.
R&T gives the Wagoneer Limited quite a positive review, despite its weight (4700 lbs) for such a relative compact wagon and its 11 mpg thirst. And that’s with the two-barrel AMC 360 V8; the four barrel 401 would likely stay in the single digits unless babied. Meanwhile the much larger and heavier big SUVs of today get around 18-20 mpg.
The whole notion of luxury SUVs was still almost unknown; Jeep was blazing new trails here, with this $12,000 ($48k adjusted) Jeep. Sounds almost cheap, compared to today’s $50-65k SUVs, but for the times, this was a bit of a shocker for regular folks. But then regular folks weren’t buying it; the Wagoneer Limited and Grand Wagoneer quickly established themselves as having the single highest income demographic of any domestic car. Think Aspen and Jackson Hole. No wonder they didn’t want to stop building it. It was a money machine.
The Wagoneer’s old-school leaf-sprung solid axle suspension was deemed to be quite effective, with certain limitations. At least it wasn’t soft and wallowing, like so many domestic cars of the time, which undoubtedly is why R&T said it “does permit some surprisingly agile cornering maneuvers”.
Nobody would have predicted in 1978 that this vehicle would still be built in almost unchanged form 14 years later.