2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

PHOENIX — The Jeep brand, now in its 80th year, is introducing its fifth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee that was first introduced in 1992. That first Cherokee was dramatically launched by literally driving the SUV up the steps of Detroit’s Cobo Hall and through a glass window, signifying the breakthrough premium SUV for the Jeep brand. The 2021 Grand Cherokee is its first redesign in a decade.

And among other highlights and changes, for the first time there's a three-row seating configuration identified as a Grand Cherokee L, the model test reviewed here. Jeep hasn’t offered a three-row SUV since the demise of its unloved Commander in 2010. Further, it’s expected Jeep will soon offer a third row of seats in its Wrangler Limited but no official announcement as of this writing. A new 4xe plug-in hybrid powered Grand Cherokee is slated to follow in early 2022.

What we immediately noticed at the arrival of our Overland L trim level was the overall longer length. For now, Grand Cherokee carries over the same two engine choices and transmission from the last generation – the 3.6-L V6 and the Hemi V8 matched with the same eight-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard, four-wheel drive optional.

The new Grand Cherokee is introduced in four trim levels — Laredo, Limited, Overland, and Summit. A Summit Reserve package is also available, providing the ultimate in luxury and equipment.

The new Grand Cherokee doesn’t depart from its legendary off-road superiority by offering three different 4-wheel-drive systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II with rear electronic limited slip-differential. The systems feature an active transfer case that channels torque to the wheel with the most grip, one of several features designed to give the Grand Cherokee L serious off-road capability.

Our Overland L was powered by the 290-hp V6 with four-wheel drive and heavily optioned with a starting price of $56,935. Extra cost options included the Off-Road Group ($1,095) 18-inch polished/painted wheels, 230MM rear axle, electronic limited-slip differential rear axle, skid plates, larger off/road tires, Advanced ProTech Group III ($1,995) with head-up display, highway assist system, integrated off-road, interior rear facing, surround view and rear back-up  cameras, and the Luxury Tech Group IV with 4-zone automatic temperature control, 12-way adjustable Nappa upholstered leather seats, and more with the MSRP reaching $66,900.

Other options included a dual-pane sunroof, and the McIntosh 19 speaker, sound system with 10 subwoofers and 17-channel, 950-watt amplifier as part of the Overland trim. The final price also includes the $1,695 destination charge, the most charged from any automaker we’re aware of.

The new Jeep SUV comes standard with the brand’s Uconnect 5 NAV systems with SiriusXM traffic and travel link. The Uconnect series of operating systems are among the best by any auto maker and highly praised and awarded for their ease of use, intuitive, configurative and highly legible driver information cluster. We wished all manufacturers could develop a system as capable and functional as Uconnect.

We really liked the design, materials and quality workmanship of the interior. It’s modern, extremely comfortable and looked luxurious with matte finished wood trim, supple leather and stitching.  Interior lighting is attractive, soft touches abound as do an ample number of cupholders, cubby holes for sunglasses, loose change, a charging pad for the smartphone and excellent visibility, and sunshades for rear windows.

The Grand Cherokee L’s seat configuration comes standard for six passengers — three rows of two bucket seats. A second-row bench seat is optional and increases seating for eight. Second-row buckets on our Overland L “tip and slide,” offering seven inches of for-and-aft adjusting. It also makes climbing into the third row a relatively easy maneuver. The third-row bucket seats are among the largest we’ve seen in any 3-row vehicle and two adults will find them comfortable even on long drive stretches.

We didn’t load the cargo area with luggage, gear or shopping trips to Sam’s Club, but my sense is there’s plenty of space for people and their stuff. There’s even appreciable space behind the third row with the seats in the up position.

On the road what we found most noticeable was a ride that wasn’t as comfortable nor as quiet as the last generation Grand Cherokee that was built on the Mercedes-Benz M-Class platform. While acceleration was satisfactory with our V6, engine noise roared under full acceleration, or when putting your foot down for passing or climbing hills. Road imperfections, expansion cracks, and even smaller potholes were exaggerated by the unsettled suspension. Steering was responsive and on center, brakes are solid, but on twisty roads the Grand Cherokee didn’t feel as agile or as capable as other competitors we’ve drove in the midsize SUV class.

We did not get the opportunity to test drive Overland L for our usual off-road rigors of seriously challenging terrain since our usual test route was closed by the DNR due to extreme dryness and a “High” fire hazard rating.

The all-new fifth-generation Grand Cherokee L delivers what we think the vehicle is intended for – hauling families, their stuff, trips to the home improvement store or loading the dogs in back for a Sunday drive.

Overall, the design engineers at Jeep did a nice job of updating the fifth-generation Grand Cherokee especially adding three-row seating and a soon-to-be hybrid powertrain. We like the looks both inside and out, and while we didn’t take it off-road sufficient to say when a Jeep product is “Trail Rated,” you can count on its capability in that regard.

However, we didn’t find it fuel-efficient, ride and handling aren’t up to par with class competitors and the engine roar belie its upscale looks and pricing. Still the Grand Cherokee L will satisfy Jeep loyalists and we consider it a good option. Our final call is that the new Grand Cherokee L remains outclassed by other outstanding SUVs in its class such as the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $56,935
Price as Tested: $66,900
Engine/Transmission: 3.6-L 290-hp V6 with an eight-speed automatic transmission and 4X4 all-wheel drive.
Fuel Economy: 19/26/21 – MPG – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 7 or 8

Crash Test Safety Ratings: The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L has not been crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Where Built: Detroit Michigan

Competes With:
Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Traverse
Dodge Durango
Ford Explorer
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Palisade
Kia Telluride
Nissan Pathfinder
Toyota Highlander
Volkswagen Atlas

Fab Features:
Finally, three-rows of seats
Large, roomy upscale interior
Jeep legendary “Trail-Rated” off-road capability

 — Jim Preuter