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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Review: Jeep's All-New Three-Row Is a Well-Rounded Surprise

The Drive logo The Drive 6/17/2021 By Peter Holderith, The Drive
a car parked in a field: The current, fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee has been on sale for more than a decade and, despite Jeep's best efforts to boost its upmarket, five-passenger staple, its age is beginning to show. Not aesthetically, mind you; with just a minor facelift along the way, Grand Cherokee is still somehow as sharp-looking as it was when […] © Provided by The Drive The current, fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee has been on sale for more than a decade and, despite Jeep's best efforts to boost its upmarket, five-passenger staple, its age is beginning to show. Not aesthetically, mind you; with just a minor facelift along the way, Grand Cherokee is still somehow as sharp-looking as it was when […]

The current, fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee has been on sale for more than a decade and, despite Jeep's best efforts to boost its upmarket, five-passenger staple, its age is beginning to show. Not aesthetically, mind you; with just a minor facelift along the way, Grand Cherokee is still somehow as sharp-looking as it was when it debuted at the New York Auto Show back in 2009. It's only starting to feel a little old because it's missing something vital these days: a third row. That's changed--along with a whole lot more--in the new 2021 Grand Cherokee L

To really capitalize on how important that third row is, Jeep debuted the three-row Grand Cherokee L ahead of its smaller two-row sibling, which we'll see at a later date. My experience with most midsize, three-row SUVs is the third row gets stuffed into a modestly appointed trunk and then treats those passengers as an afterthought. I was wrong here. Not only did the new Grand Cherokee L's interior impress, but so did its roominess. And hell, just about about everything else in the truck, too. It was comfortable on-road, capable off-road, and was an overall pleasant vehicle to pilot. 

a car driving down a dirt road © Jeep

I was only able to spend a few hours behind the wheel for this evaluation, but Jeep's gonna sell so many of these things. I just know it.

Research

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L, By the Numbers

  • Base price: $38,690
  • Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 or 5.7-liter V8 | eight-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive with optional four-wheel drive and low range
  • Horsepower: 293 @ 6,400 rpm (V6) | 357 @ 5,150 rpm (V8)
  • Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4,000 RPM (V6) | 390 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm (V8)
  • Curb weight: 4,524 – 5,279 pounds
  • Max seating capacity: 8 (dependent on configuration)
  • Cargo volume: 17.2 cubic feet behind third row | 46.9 cubic feet with third row down | 84.6 cubic feet with second and third row down
  • Maximum towing capacity: 7,200 pounds with V8, 6,200 pounds with V6
  • EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city | 26 highway | 21 combined (2WD V6) 
  • Breakover/Departure/Approach angle: 22.6° | 23.6° | 30.1° (with optional air suspension)
  • Quick take: It may look a bit fancier and less approachable, but it's a refreshing restart for Jeep's iconic SUV.

Grand Cherokee's New Groove

The Grand Cherokee is more than just a civilized Jeep, it's intended to be the accessible luxury Jeep, with the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer now at the top of the pyramid. It gets its own platform seated above the regular Cherokee in Jeep's lineup and is offered with more goodies, including an optional V8, luxury features like heated and cooled seats, and more. With a fresh RWD platform to work with, Jeep says its design team went back to the original 1960s Wagoneer for inspiration, adding a more upright seven-slot grille and greenhouse, a longer hood, and straighter lines along the body that accentuate its classical ambitions. If the new Wagoneer is being called America's Range Rover, then the 2021 Grand Cherokee L is our Range Rover Sport, third row and all. Point being, the Grand Cherokee is moving upscale, and the new look reflects that whole cloth, though 

a car parked on a dirt road © Jeep

The new Grand Cherokee L is the first time we're seeing a third row in this truck, which means it's entering one of the most saturated markets in America. This extra row wasn't just squeezed back there, though. It's been massaged into the platform carefully, combined with classic Jeep attributes like available four-wheel drive and ample power to conquer diverse terrain. Both of these were seemingly a given going in, but what was less expected was how well the car was executed as a whole.

A Modern Interior

Inside, it's refreshing to see Jeep make a car that feels this modern and works this well after producing the previous-generation Grand Cherokee for 11 whole years. (Though, you could argue that was enough time for Jeep to really hone in on what worked and what didn't work.) The 2021 Grand Cherokee L scans as brand new, and this is especially true on the inside. The interior of this car wasn't the most high-design thing out there, but it looked modern and had nice, upscale wood detailing. Heated and cooled massage seats didn't hurt, nor did the lower, flatter beltline that gives the cabin an open, almost airy feeling.

It has driver aids like lane-centering that kept you nicely in the middle of a lane and was aware of traffic located in the vehicle's periphery. The radar cruise control was seamless and simple to use. With four distance settings to choose from, a simple button to turn it on or off, and smooth braking and acceleration, it was a hands-on system. Thankfully it was touch-sensitive as opposed to pressure-sensitive, and very responsive at that. If you keep your hands off the wheel for too long, the vehicle will softly jerk the brakes, letting you know it's time to get back to driving.

Pairing my phone was likewise painless. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both offered, and the McIntosh-branded sound system was among the best I've heard in any car at this price point. There were also enough USB ports--conventional and USB-C--to festoon the back of a well-made motherboard. Even the third-row passengers get one of each type of port to themselves. All of those things were embedded in an interior that looked and felt new. There weren't old bits of plastic--a very 2010 look--hanging around here. 

One of the most impressive parts was a bit more subtle, though: the packaging. All passengers get adequate head and leg room, even in the third row. A six-foot-four Jeep representative sat in the third row to prove this. He didn't have a ton of room to stretch his legs, but his knees had a few inches and his head was clear of the vehicle's headliner. Jeep's reps said the rear end of the car was designed meticulously to make this sort of space available, and it shows. The space and level of comfort in every row was impressive, with optional four-zone climate control and standard pillar-mounted HVAC vents improving the second-row comfort considerably as well. 

A Jeep Must Off-Road

The Grand Cherokee L has a few available key features that make heading off the beaten path easier than ever: an advanced four-wheel-drive system with low range, an electronic limited-slip rear differential, and a five-position air suspension system, among other things. High-strength steel skid plates are also on the menu to make sure nothing under the car gets banged up. The Overland trim Jeep let me wheel around an off-road test track was equipped with all of these features and it never felt stressed in any situation (albeit on a course Jeep itself curated.) It's worth noting that without all of these fancy features, you get 8.5 inches of ground clearance and two-wheel drive as standard.

a car parked on pavement near a forest © Peter Holderith

The air suspension uses a closed-loop system so it won't ever get clogged. Two big, blue air tanks are located below the rear cargo floor and can lift the vehicle high enough to clear any obstacle shorter than 10.9 inches. It's also used in other ways; the lowest setting basically lets the car down onto its bump stops to make the process of entry and exit easier. For this reason, it was only selectable at very low speeds. On the highway, the Grand Cherokee L can also adjust itself to an ideal aerodynamic height, saving a small amount of fuel. (Jeep said it's something around a 10th of a mile per gallon). This may not seem like much, but combined with other optimizations, it could add up--especially on a truck available with a 5.7-liter V8.

I didn't have the opportunity to drive a V6-powered Grand Cherokee L, but the V8 version had more than adequate levels of power and torque. The transmission was also nearly perfect in normal usage, with barely perceptible shifts that only become noticeable when the vehicle was in low range or when gears were selected manually. 

Off-road, the Grand Cherokee L was pretty impressive, although the course was pretty carefully curated to avoid some of the harsher obstacles That's not to say it was a cakewalk. One obstacle was a steep incline made up of loose rock, which seemed to be something of a challenge for the truck. It slipped on some of the slicker features and the nature of the ever-changing surface introduced some unpredictability the all-wheel-drive system had to manage aggressively. Conversely, a 30-degree cambered slope other vehicles in the segment might not want to touch gave the Jeep little trouble.

Overall though, its off-road performance made me confident of the truck's abilities whether or not I would ever actually need them. If I needed to head in the future, I wouldn't worry about it, the truck had a slew of features at my disposal to prepare me for it. Everything relating to off-road prowess seemed to be considered very early on in the design of the vehicle, and something like the Overland trim wasn't just added for people with "active lifestyles" who take a spin up a rutted dirt road every now and then, even though it's perfectly suited for that too. The performance here was clearly baked into the vehicle's systems, which put me at ease and helps explain why the Grand Cherokee has remained so popular all this time.

a man standing next to a tree in a forest © Peter Holderith

On-Roading the Grand Cherokee

It's equally interesting how having all of these rugged features translates to on-road performance. The air suspension is one of those "have your cake and eat it" features, where it helps with off-roading but also improves the ride on paved surfaces. The off-road attitude of the Grand Cherokee L just melts away on a paved surface. The vehicle's handling was about as tight as it can be on the road for an SUV of its size and comfort, power from the 5.7-liter V8 enabled easy merging and passing on the highway, and the steering had a fair amount of feel. The off-road features exist in addition

to a normal, luxurious SUV. Modern technology dictates that you don't really have to compromise when you want a vehicle that's reasonably good at two distinctly different things.

Highway cruising is where the truck really shone but it was pretty good around town as well, despite its size. The lowered beltline meant good visibility and the car has a slew of cameras, including one for the digital rearview mirror. That's a feature right out of GM's playbook and it works very well here, too. The relatively big tires on the Overland trim also handled any curbs or potholes I encountered with little fuss, something I tested without really trying on the streets of Detroit.

Six Trims

Here's the kicker to all of this: The Grand Cherokee L is available in so many trims (six total) and with so many options that you can mix and match to your heart's content. The price spectrum is wide and your budget and requirements will be accommodated. A base model Laredo will cost you just $38,690. The off-roading Overland model is $54,690. And the $63,690 Summit Reserve model is damn near Escalade-levels of nice in a car not much larger--with length being the exception--than the outgoing Grand Cherokee. Want to go even further? A top-trim Summit Reserve fully optioned is $71,760. Compared to the Laredo, that's right around $33,000 in options alone. 

The midsize, three-row SUV segment is a popular one, so there's a lot of competition--especially from Chevrolet, Subaru, Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia. Jeep finally joins their ranks by offering a mdoern three-row competitor of its own. And the new Grand Cherokee L is something of a force to be reckoned with. I'm not sure if I would spend over $70,000 to have one in my driveway, but the nice thing is even a mid-range model like the Overland I drove was packed with technology and as comfortable as nearly any other vehicle on the road. Quiet, capable, powerful, I'm certain this three-row Jeep will be a big hit. It checks too many boxes to ignore, and it's a great way to usher in a new generation of Grand Cherokee.

a car parked on the side of a mountain © Jeep

Got any questions about Jeep stuff I might've missed? Send me an email: peter@thedrive.com

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