2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll New
The Grand Cherokee has been a top seller in the Jeep lineup since the SUV’s introduction almost 30 years ago, offering a comfortable and even luxurious interior with proper Jeep off-road capability. However, this popular Jeep has always lacked something significant to large families — a third row of seats. That changes with the introduction of the all-new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L, which arrives with fresh styling, a wide range of improvements and — for the first time — a third row that gives the SUV seating for up to seven occupants.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceHonoring Jeep Heritage
“When you set out to reimagine an SUV as beloved as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, building on its nearly 30-year legacy as an overachiever is paramount to every decision . . . made,” said Christian Meunier, global president of the Jeep brand for FCA. This new 2021 model “is built on an all-new architecture and wrapped in a stunning new design that honors its iconic . . . heritage, while also extending to accommodate a third row to meet the growing needs of our Jeep customers who have asked for more space and functionality,” Meunier enthused.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSimilar Yet Different
One of the most recognizable aspects of any Jeep is its iconic 7-slot grille, so naturally it is a primary feature of the new Grand Cherokee L’s front styling. With a look similar to the Wagoneer concept that debuted last fall, the smaller forward-leaning 7-slot grille gets flanked by slim LED headlights. A new larger front fascia houses the long-range radar and other high-tech componentry yet maintains the Jeep’s approach angle for maximum off-road accessibility.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceClassic SUV Lines
With its new grille, the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L features a longer hood — again inspired by the Wagoneer concept. The hood plays well with a long roof that tapers slightly to the rear spoiler. Overall the new Grand Cherokee L is 15 inches longer than the current generation, and the wheelbase increases by 7 inches.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear View
At the rear of the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L, integrated dual exhaust outlets at the edges of the lower fascia complement slim wraparound LED taillights to give the new SUV a wide stance.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePremium Appearance
“The Jeep design team envisioned a modern aesthetic for the all-new 2021 Grand Cherokee L — they worked to sculpt it down and gave it a clean and updated premium appearance,” said Mark Allen, head of Jeep exterior design at FCA. “The design for the first-ever three-row Grand Cherokee pays respect to its heritage and honors its utilitarian roots. The results reflect its premium characteristics . . . and legendary capability that has defined the Grand Cherokee since its inception,” Allen also noted.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNew Architecture
Underneath the stylish new skin of the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L, an all-new unibody design features independent front and rear suspension, three available 4WD systems as well as an available Quadra-Lift air suspension. Utilizing both aluminum and high-strength steel, the new Grand Cherokee L features a body structure both strong and lightweight, which should enhance overall drivability both on- and off-road.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceModel Lineup
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is available in four trim levels: Laredo, Limited, Overland and Summit. Rear-wheel drive is standard with four-wheel drive available on every trim for an additional $2,000.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSafety Across the Board
Every Grand Cherokee L comes well equipped with the latest in advanced safety and driver-assist features. These include active lane management, adaptive cruise with stop and go, advanced brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian/cyclist detection, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and trailer sway control. Additional standard safety features on the top-level Summit include intersection collision assist and drowsy driver detection.

© FCA USNight Vision
Jeep also offers the Grand Cherokee L Overland and Summit trims with available night vision, which has both pedestrian and animal detection.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFour-Wheel Drive
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L offers three 4WD systems depending on the trim level: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II. Quadra-Trac I features a single-speed active transfer case that employs multiple sensors to preemptively adjust torque distribution, sending up to 100 percent of power to the front or rear axle. Quadra-Trac II gets a 2-speed transfer case with low-range gear reduction. Quadra-Drive II adds a rear electronic limited-slip differential with the ability to direct torque to individual wheels as necessary.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGrand Cherokee L Laredo
With a base retail price of $36,995, the Grand Cherokee L Laredo comes well equipped with a power driver’s seat, tri-zone climate control, cloth seats, a 6-speaker audio system, Uconnect 5 with an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, a 10.2-inch digital driver cluster, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity and 12 USB A and C ports throughout the cabin. A roof rack, LED headlights and taillights, and 18-inch painted cast aluminum wheels are also standard. Four-wheel-drive variants also get Quadra-Trac I full-time single-speed 4WD.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGrand Cherokee L Limited
Priced at $43,995, the Grand Cherokee L Limited upgrades the Laredo with leather seat trim, power front driver and passenger seats, ambient lighting, heated front- and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, automatic high-beam headlights, remote start and a power liftgate. Limiteds with all-wheel drive also get Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction management system.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGrand Cherokee L Overland
Starting at $52,995, the Grand Cherokee Overland adds to the Limited with perforated Nappa leather trim, ventilated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, five-color ambient lighting, a wood- and leather-wrapped steering wheel, Uconnect 5 with navigation, a power-folding third row and an Alpine audio system with 506 watts and nine speakers. Overland also gets a unique front fascia with tow hooks, 20-inch machined cast aluminum wheels with Black Noise pockets, Quadra-Lift air suspension, rear road leveling and electronic adaptive damping. Four-wheel-drive Overlands are equipped with Quadra-Trac II active 4WD with a 2-speed transfer case, hill descent control and a Class IV tow receiver hitch with a wiring harness.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGrand Cherokee L Summit
The top-level trim of the Grand Cherokee L lineup has a base price of $56,995. The Summit adds front-row seat massage with five styles, 4-zone climate control, adjustable front-row seat bottoms, a 10.1-inch center display, a 360-degree surround-view camera, traffic sign recognition and an active driver-assist system. Also standard are floating platinum chrome grille rings, platinum chrome exterior trim, a gloss black roof, fine silver roof rails with black inserts and 20-inch polished cast-aluminum wheels. Four-wheel-drive Summits also get Quadra-Drive II with an electronic rear limited-slip differential.

© FCA USUnder the Hood
The standard powerplant in the new Grand Cherokee L is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine producing 293 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission. With the V6 under the hood, the Grand Cherokee L can tow up to 6,200 pounds with 2WD or 4WD. According to the U.S. EPA, the V6 is rated at 19 mpg city / 26 mpg hwy / 21 mpg combined with 2WD — city and highway figures drop by one mpg for 4WD versions.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceV8 Power
For drivers who desire a bit more power, Jeep will offer a V8 engine for the 4WD Limited, Overland and Summit trims. The 5.7-liter V8 generates 357 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, which raises maximum towing capacity to 7,200 pounds. Fuel economy for the V8 is rated at 14 mpg city / 22 mpg hwy / 17 mpg combined.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceQuadra-Lift
Jeep’s new Quadra-Lift air suspension features electronic adaptive damping that automatically adjusts to changing road conditions for improved comfort and control. The system can be operated manually and has the ability to lower the Grand Cherokee L by 1.8 inches for easier entry and exit, or increase ground clearance to 10.9 inches for traversing difficult terrain. At maximum ground clearance the new SUV can navigate up to 24 inches of water.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSelec-Terrain
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L has preset drive modes to optimize the SUV for different conditions. The modes include Sport, Rock, Snow, Mud / Sand and Automatic. These settings configure the torque split, braking, steering, suspension, throttle control, transmission, traction control, stability control and anti-lock brakes as needed.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
The Grand Cherokee L dashboard’s clean design and horizontal vents give the cabin a wide feeling. The standard touchscreen display integrates seamlessly at the center, with a combination of digital and physical buttons for quick navigation. Climate control as well as volume and tuning knobs are within easy reach. A stylish new rotary shifter as well as other drive controls for ride height and mode selection sit lower on the center console.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUconnect 5
The latest version of Jeep’s infotainment system, Uconnect 5 operates on the Android operating system and is five times faster than the previous version. The system can be customized for up to five user profiles and includes not only music preferences but also temperature settings, seating position and mirror placement. The home screen can be easily customized to keep the features used most often within easy reach; additional screens can also be added and stored in an individual’s profile.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMcIntosh Audio
Jeep engineers teamed up with McIntosh Audio to create a special sound system available only on the Overland and Summit trims. This advanced system features a 17-channel amplifier, 19 speakers, a 10-inch subwoofer and 950 watts of output. Adding to the experience are signature McIntosh output level meters that can be viewed in the center display.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFront Seats
We had the good fortune of spending time in the Grand Cherokee L Summit equipped with the optional Summit Reserve Package. In addition to the open-pore Waxed Walnut wood trim, suede pillars and headliner and ventilated second-row seats, the front seats get hand-wrapped in soft Palermo leather. Seats offer sumptuous support and are extremely comfortable even after a few hours behind the wheel.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSecond Row
All trim levels of the Grand Cherokee L have standard second-row bucket seats; however, a bench seat that increases total occupancy to seven is optional on all trims. Seats can be moved forward or backward to increase legroom for third-row passengers as necessary. Even when moved forward, the space feels roomy with plenty of storage between the two bucket seats.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThird Row
In most midsize SUVS, the third row is typically cramped and uncomfortable, although this isn’t the case in the new Grand Cherokee. With plenty of legroom and headroom, the rearmost seats are surprisingly comfortable —due in part to Jeep’s decision to keep seating for two rather than trying to squeeze three seats into too small a space. Given the cupholders and USB ports on both sides and easy access through the folding second row, complaints about being relegated to the back of the bus should be kept to a minimum.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCargo Space
The extended length of the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L not only provides comfortable space for the additional third row, it also improves cargo space. With three rows in place the SUV has a bit more than 17 cubic feet of space, and the third row can be split-folded for additional versatility. All rear seats can be folded flat when maximum cargo capacity is required.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
While in Detroit to experience the new Grand Cherokee L, we spent most of our drive time in the top-level Grand Cherokee L Summit with the Summit Reserve Package and optional V8 under the hood. On the highway this premium Jeep is appreciably quiet and smooth with plenty of power on tap when needed. This version has admirable acceleration, and overall the Grand Cherokee L has a comfortable, solid ride. With seat massagers on and tunes playing on the McIntosh audio system, we could have cruised all day in serene surroundings.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCommendable Handling, Power
With a V8 under the hood, this big Jeep gets moving quickly off the line, and does so with a pleasing growl from dual exhaust outlets. The V8 Summit’s precise steering provides predictable feedback, and while handling is commendable it’s tough to compensate for a curb weight of more than 5,200 pounds.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTowing
The versatile 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L has a 7,200 pound towing capacity. During our time in the new SUV we did some testing while towing a 7,000 pound boat, discovering that even with the vehicle near its stated capacity acceleration remains strong. We also had the chance to take the Jeep/boat combination through a slalom course — the weighted ride is confident and stable, thanks in part to the Grand Cherokee L’s standard trailer sway control.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff-Road
Much more than a great family hauler, the new Grand Cherokee L still lives up to Jeep’s legendary reputation for off-road prowess. Sitting behind the wheel of a Grand Cherokee L Overland, we put the new SUV through its paces on an off-road course at the brand’s proving grounds in Chelsea, Michigan. With the air suspension raised to its highest level and the transfer case in Low, the three-row SUV had no difficulty with any obstacles put in its way.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLoose Rocks
One of the most challenging courses at the proving grounds is a steep incline consisting of large, loose rocks. The course was originally built for the Wrangler, and the Grand Cherokee L worked its way through with little drama. In addition to being capable of traversing this tough terrain, the ride remains comfortable without jarring occupants.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGone Swimming
With the air suspension raised to its highest level, the Grand Cherokee L can push through up to two feet of water.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBuilt in Detroit
The new Grand Cherokee L gets built at the Detroit Assembly Complex — Mack Plant following a $1.6 billion investment in 2019 to convert the Mack Engine Complex to this new assembly plant specifically for the new Grand Cherokee. Creating almost 4,000 new jobs in the Detroit area, the plant is currently operating three 8-hour shifts, five days a week.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceQuality Testing
We also had the opportunity to visit this new assembly plant and observe the complex process that starts with a basic floor pan and 48 hours later drives off the line as a new Grand Cherokee L. Each vehicle gets driven on a 2,000-foot enclosed track on 11 different surface elements to check for squeaks and rattles, followed by a water test to simulate all types of severe weather conditions.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
The Grand Cherokee has been a popular SUV for years thanks to its combination of on-road comfort and off-road capability. Now with attractive new styling, more cargo space and seating for up to seven occupants, the Grand Cherokee L is bound to be even more appealing to families who want the ability to venture far off the beaten path. With a range of well-equipped trim levels and impressive off-road capability, the new Grand Cherokee L will certainly hold its own in the highly competitive 3-row SUV market.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.0
Pros: Comfort in all three rows; legendary off-road capability; standard advanced safety features.
Cons: Price climbs quickly; Uconnect 5 display a bit slow to react.
Bottom Line: The new Grand Cherokee L is a nearly perfect blend of family comfort, luxurious styling and proper Jeep off-road capabilities.

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