2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L First Drive Review: Evolution Of An Icon

by Jake Lingeman

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the benchmark by which all other midsize SUVs are measured. That's partly because of its age - it's been on the streets for almost 30 years - but also because of its capability. It was always decently quick, decently luxurious and way more rugged off-road than it ever needed to be, making it the quintessential family SUV. We see thousands of them here in Michigan, and millions have been produced. But something very new is coming to the Grand Cherokee lineup, and that's a third row.

The new Jeep Grand Cherokee L is joining the growing list of midsizers with a third row, but Jeep extended the wheelbase of the L model to 121.7 inches, with a total length of 204.9 inches. That means that third row isn't just a penalty box for bad kids.

But with Stellantis now selling three-row SUVs in the form of the Dodge Durango, Wagoneer, and Grand Wagoneer, all offering V8s, does it need a fourth? Especially in this downsized, greensized era? We took to the driver's seat of the Grand Cherokee L to find out.

Is the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee a good SUV?

  • Exterior Design 10 /10
  • Performance 9 /10
  • Fuel Economy 7 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 10 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 10 /10
  • Reliability 9 /10
  • Safety 9 /10
  • Value For Money 8 /10
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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Models

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Laredo
3.6L V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$38,085
Altitude
3.6L V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$38,085
Limited
3.6L V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$44,405
Overland
3.6L V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$54,000
Summit Reserve
3.6L V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$58,060

See all Trims and Specs

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Exterior: Wagoneer-esque

We know the new Grand Cherokee L is bigger, but it also gets a major redesign that will eventually come for the two-row Grand Cherokee. The nose is inspired by the more expensive Grand Wagoneer, and the hood looks long, "which shifts the vehicle rearward to give a sense of motion." The seven-slot grille looks canted inward, and new LED lights are the primary focal point.

The designers talked a lot about how it had to prove that it could wear the Jeep grille. That means capability and durability. It has a widened track over the previous two-row version and the wheel flares are pulled tight around the wheels. For the first time, 21-inch wheels come standard on the top, Summit trim.

The profile view features a lower beltline and more glass for better visibility. The roofline floats, but not in a bad way. Instead, it uses a new window molding that begins at the base of the side mirror and runs to the rear quarter window. Enhancing the look is an optional black roof, available for the first time on Overland models and standard on Summit models.

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Powertrains: Jeep Reliable

The base engine in the Grand Cherokee L is the company's workhorse 3.6-liter V6 making 293 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It features a stop/start system to save fuel and restart noise, vibration and harshness have been reduced via revised controls and new engine mounts. It's rated for a towing capacity of 6,200 pounds. On upper-level trims, buyers can spec the 5.7-liter V8 making 357 hp and 390 lb-ft. That engine features the company's Fuel Saver Technology that turns off fuel and spark to four cylinders when the car is running easy or cruising on the highway. It can tow up to 7,200 pounds. Both engines make use of the same eight-speed Torqueflite automatic gearbox.

There are three four-wheel-drive systems available, each better than the last. Base models get Quadra-Trac I with a single-speed active transfer case. It can route power to either axle when necessary. Quadra-Trac II has a two-speed transfer case with a low-range gear, and finally, Quadra-Drive II features a two-speed transfer case and a rear electronic limited-slip differential. The latter boasts full torque vectoring functionality and can preemptively apportion torque to the wheel where it's needed.

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Driving Impressions

The first thing we noticed when stepping into an Overland model (the middle trim) is that the steering wheel is concave, while the dashboard is convex. That means the one side the steering wheel feels very close to the dash, while the outside edge feels very far away. It didn't affect the driving, but it looked a little weird. Tiny shift paddles were attached to the back of the wheel, but we didn't use them.

We never loved this Pentastar V6. It was always just okay, but it did feel like it scooted the two-row GC around with some gusto. It doesn't feel as strong here, thanks to the 4,700-pound curb weight of the L. It seems to struggle when trying to go from 50 to 80 mph, and the eight-speed transmission is working hard and shifting often.

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Jeep said it wanted this vehicle to glide across the road, and here we're happy to report it succeeded. We'd almost call this car 'floaty' if it wasn't an insult. The suspension soaks up everything the road can throw at and a few things we didn't expect, too. Overall, it felt smaller than it is, despite massive dimensions, but the brakes felt a little squishier than we'd like at times. But anything wearing the Grand Cherokee badge has to be more than just a competent on-roader, it has to go off the beaten path, too.

After lunch, we were allowed to take the GCL on an off-road course at the Stellantis proving grounds in Chelsea, Michigan, where it excelled at everything a Jeep is supposed to do. That means it climbed impossible-looking hills, descended steep grades with hill descent control, and drove on a full 45-degree angle over some boulders we were sure would rip an oil pan off. The Overland model comes with protective skid plates - that we banged a few times - in addition to a belly pan that helps with gas mileage by aiding aerodynamic efficiency

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Interior: A Step Up In Luxury

"We think this interior is the best on the market today," said Jim Morrison, head of the Jeep brand.

Strong words, but the Grand Cherokee L's interior is truly special. We wouldn't say it is the best in the world, but for non-luxury brands, it's in the top echelon. It begins with the new infotainment screen; the smooth piece of glass connects the dash vents to the climate control system where there are thankfully knobs for volume and tuning. The infotainment screen is set close to the driver, which means no leaning to operate it, and on upper trims, a high-zoot McIntosh radio blasts your favorite tunes. The coolest part is the ability to build three favorite layouts with whatever info you want, and switch between them as necessary.

The console gets a piano black finish with unfinished wood and double-stitched leather surrounding it. A new gear selector knob features metal edges and hefty clicks when turned. Flanking that dial are your drive mode select and, on models equipped with air suspension, ride height adjustment switches. That's if you wish to manually override the automatic functions, which includes a 1.8-inch drop in ride height when parked for easy ingress and egress.

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The big news for this new model is that the L has a third row of seats and more interior space than ever before. Once you've gotten over how stylish the front of the cabin is, you'll find the second-row captain's chairs are just as comfortable as the front. Buyers can also option a second-row bench, which takes the seating capacity up to seven. Speaking of the third row, we slid back there after tipping the middle seats forward and found it spacious enough for adults, which is something we rarely say about the final row. The official claims include 30.3 inches of legroom, which isn't stellar, but when you factor in the sliding second row which boasts up to 39.4 inches of legroom, it's not terrible. Accessing the seats is simple enough, too, with thought given to how the whole process works. The second-row seats flip instead of fold because if you have a car seat strapped in, you won't have to remove it when adding more passengers.

When the second and third rows are folded flat, the maximum cargo space is 84.6 cubic feet, while 17.2 cubes behind the third-row is acceptable in a pinch.

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Safety Tech: Almost Autonomous

Standard safety features include full-speed collision warning with active braking and pedestrian/cyclist detection, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, a reverse camera, and rear parking sensors with automatic reverse braking.

Those are all great, and should probably be standard issue on every car, but the Active Driving Assist is the feature we'd pay money for. That's Jeep's name for its Level 2 automated driving functionality. It's a hands-on-wheel, eyes-on-road automated driving system that uses lane-centering with adaptive cruise control. The setup uses multiple sensors, including radars and cameras to dictate appropriate roads for the technology. Jeep noted that it works everywhere, "not just on special blue roads," with a little shade thrown Ford's way for its semi-autonomous system.

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We used the feature a lot on the way to the Chelsea Proving Grounds and as advertised, it kept us very close to the center of the lane. The only problem with these systems is that if you're on a two-lane road, and you're cheating to the right to avoid oncoming traffic, it likes to push you back to the center. It didn't bounce back and forth between the lines like some earlier iterations of these systems.

It watches your eyes and senses your hands on the wheel, and the little green steering wheel in the gauges turns yellow if you don't give the wheel enough input. It turns red if you don't comply, and Jeep said the Grand Cherokee L will give a hard brake jerk if you're still not paying attention. We weren't brave enough to try that last part.

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Verdict

It's funny that the Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the last nameplates in its segment to get a third row, and yet it's already one of the best. That's more a comment on the Grand Cherokee's good bones, but the company did a hell of a job making it not feel huge. The interior is top notch, and we didn't even drive the most expensive Summit Reserve trim.

We could see this vehicle being a road trip king with a family of four and those rear seats folded down. And when you get to your family reunion, you can fold those seats back up for any extra family members who need a lift.

The question is, do we need this? The answer is yes, and we'll tell you why. The Dodge Durango (and especially the Hellcat) is for the person person who values space with a side of speed on the street. The Grand Wagoneer and Wagoneer are on the opposite, space with a side of extreme luxury. But only this Jeep is cushy on the inside, rugged on the underside, and inoffensive on the outside. We're still not sold on that nose, but maybe it'll grow on us.

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Pricing and Options

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L starts at $38,690 including destination for the base Laredo. For that, buyers get adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring, LED exterior lights, a leather steering wheel with audio controls, new "tip and slide" second-row seats, a 10.1-inch digital instrument cluster, an 8.4-inch touchscreen, and Uconnect 5, Jeep's latest infotainment system. The Altitude starts at $41,890, equipping 20-inch gloss black alloy wheels, heated front seats, a heated leather steering wheel, and remote vehicle start, while the Limited kicks off at $45,690. This trim boasts Capri leather seats, heated steering wheel, standard heated seats in the first two rows, and a new power liftgate with adjustable height. These models can only be had with the V6 in either standard 4x2 guise or with the Quadra-Trac I 4x4 system adding an extra $2,000 to the asking price.

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Overland models are priced at $54,690 and come standard with the Overland appearance package with leather seats and door panels, ventilated front seats, navigation, ambient lighting, new length-adjustable front-row cushions, a hands-free foot-activated power liftgate, and a dual-pane sunroof. This feels like the sweet spot to us and it's also the first trim to make the V8 engine available (4x4 only at a fee of $5,295) along with Quadra-Drive II with the rear electronic limited slip diff.

The Summit trim gets premium quilted leather seats, a wood and leather-wrapped wheel, 16-way adjustable front-row seats with seatback massage and Summit-specific LED fog lamps for $58,690. The Summit Reserve tops them all with standard 4WD, quilted Palermo leather, open-pore Waxed Walnut wood, ventilated second-row seats, 21-inch wheels, and standard premium amenities like a premium 950-watt, 19-speaker McIntosh audio sound system for $63,690. That still doesn't get you the V8, though, which carries a base MSRP of $66,985 including destination.

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