All-New 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

When you’re the most awarded SUV, ever, with a near 30-year history of accolades and sales in the 7-million-plus range, you need a very good reason to change the recipe. The all-new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L retains the overwhelming bulk of the Grand Cherokee’s past formula, the same one that earned it those countless attaboys and chart-topping sales. But there’s a new ingredient inside the redesigned Grand Cherokee L we’ve never seen before — a third row of seats.

Why add seating to an SUV that already sells so well with the standard two rows? Jeep execs told us they’ve watched the midsize SUV market evolve over the past 20 years, and a key component of this evolution is the increased flexibility that comes with a third row of seats. In fact, 70 percent of the Grand Cherokee’s competitors now offer a third row, and Jeep’s own research showed a rising number of potential Jeep customers crossing the Grand Cherokee off their consideration list for this reason.

Thus the all-new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee will come in two forms: a standard two-row version we haven’t seen yet, plus the three-row “L” model featured here. And while the third row is the headline, the Grand Cherokee L’s story is chock full of brand new features and technologies debuting in 2021.

Is the Grand Cherokee L Still an Authentic Jeep?

Before diving into what’s new and different, let’s assuage any fears Jeep fans may harbor regarding the Grand Cherokee L’s authentic “Jeepness”. During our drive we drove the new Jeep on not only city roads and rural freeways, but also over a demanding off-road course made up of mud, ruts, boulders, and deep water. It’s a course we’d have thought perfect for testing the latest Wrangler Rubicon, not something we would have attempted in a roomy and luxurious 3-row SUV. Despite our trepidation the Grand Cherokee L performed like every Jeep Grand Cherokee we’ve driven in the past, which is to say not only better than we expected, but better than any vehicle touting this much passenger capacity and level of luxury has a right to.

With regard to size, the Grand Cherokee L is no shrinking violet. Creating a fully-functional third-row seat meant growing the exterior dimensions by 15 inches in length, 7 inches in wheelbase and 2 inches in overall height (width is about the same). Those changes didn’t compromise the Grand Cherokee L’s off-road readiness, with its available Quadra-Lift multi-link air suspension offering up to 4.17 inches of height adjustment. That means the standard ground clearance of 8.3 inches can adjust down 0.8 inches for improved aerodynamics at higher speeds or down 1.8 inches when parked, for easier entry/egress. It can also go up 1.6 inches for light off-road driving or 2.4 inches for extreme off roading.

At its highest setting the Grand Cherokee L has a class-leading 10.9 inches of ground clearance, a 30.1-degree approach angle, 23.6-degree departure angle, and a 22.6-degree breakover angle. In this setting it can ford 24 inches of water, and with the top-of-the-line Quadra-Drive II two-speed active transfer case, featuring 2.72 low range gearing and an electronic locking rear differential, the Grand Cherokee L climbed up, clawed over and plowed through the type of terrain most three-row SUVs would (wisely) avoid. The base Quadra-Trac I 4×4 system features a single speed transfer case that can redirect torque between the front and rear axles (based on wheel slippage), while the Quadra-Trac II system offers automatic torque distribution plus the two-speed active transfer case (but not Quadra-Drive II’s locking rear differential).

The Grand Cherokee L’s 4×4 system, along with its steering, braking, throttle, transmission and suspension settings, are coordinated by Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction management system. With five modes to choose from (Auto, Sport, Rock, Snow, Mud/Sand), along with a Hill-descent Control system, the Grand Cherokee L can quickly switch from high-speed pavement driving to aggressive off-road adventuring. The Grand Cherokee L also comes in two-wheel-drive form, which reduces off-road capability while lowering the Jeep’s curb weight by around 150 pounds.

During our personal on and off-road adventure the SUV delivered quiet, comfortable travel between downtown Detroit and Stellantis’ proving grounds in Chelsea, Michigan. The base 3.6-liter V6 engine, with 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, connects to an 8-speed automatic and delivers strong acceleration up to 80 mph. This is especially true in “Sport” mode, where a significant shift in throttle response livens up the driving experience. Fuel economy for the V6 is rated at 19/26/21 city/highway/combined or 18/25/21 with four-wheel drive, and towing capacity is rated at 6,200 pounds for two- or four-wheel-drive models.

The Grand Cherokee L’s available 5.7-liter V8, with 357 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, turns everything up a notch over the V6. With the V8 and Selec-Terrain in “Sport” mode the Grand Cherokee L feels downright sporty, providing responsive acceleration and confident handling that effectively hides the Jeep’s seven-passenger capacity and 5,200-pound weight. The additional power and weight do take a bite out of fuel economy, with ratings of 14 city, 22 highway and 17 combined, and a tow rating of 7,200 pounds. Grand Cherokee L V8 models are not offered with two-wheel drive.

A Jeep Grand Cherokee L for Every Customer

Jeep knows its customers appreciate a wide range of choices, and not just between two- or four-wheel drive, or V6 or V8 engines. The Grand Cherokee L will be offered in a wide range of trim levels, with a long list of features and options. The base Laredo model, with a V6 and two-wheel drive, starts at $38,690 and includes standard LED exterior lighting, 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power sunroof, a 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster and Uconnect 5, which is Jeep’s latest user interface that includes a 10.1-inch touchscreen with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Grand Cherokee L Laredo also comes with adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Like every new Grand Cherokee L, the Laredo can be upgraded from two- to four-wheel drive for an additional $2,000 ($40,690).

The Limited trim is the next level up and adds heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, remote engine start, a power liftgate, driver’s seat memory settings, a power passenger seat, LED fog lamps, and automatic high beams for $45,690 in two-wheel drive or $47,690 in four-wheel drive (four-wheel-drive models also get the Selec-Terrain traction management system). The Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland trim sits above Limited and is the first trim to offer the V8 engine. It features ventilated Nappa leather front seats, ambient LED interior lighting, a foot-activated rear liftgate, and premium navigation for $54,690 or $56,690 with four-wheel drive. Adding the V8 engine to an Overland model brings the price to $59,885.

Jeep’s almost-top-of-the-line Grand Cherokee L trim is the appropriately named Summit, with a starting price of $58,690 for a V6 and two-wheel drive or $60,690 with four-wheel drive. All Summit models get quilted Nappa leather seats, oak wood trim, 16-way adjustable front seats with memory, premium LED headlamps, Summit-specific LED fog lamps, Quadra-Trac II, Hill-descent control, 20-inch wheels, and Jeep’s new Active Driving assist system with hands-free, eyes-on-road driving for certain roads.

The actual summit of the Grand Cherokee L line is called Summit Reserve, with quilted Palermo leather seats, open-pore waxed walnut wood trim, ventilated second-row seats, four-zone automatic climate control, 21-inch wheels and a 950-watt, 19-speaker McIntosh audio system. The Summit Reserve includes standard four-wheel drive and costs either $63,690 with a V6 or $66,895 with the V8. A multitude of advanced technology options are available across the various Grand Cherokee L trims, ranging from a wireless charging pad to a high-definition rear-seat camera to night vision technology that uses thermographic sensors to spot pedestrians or animals at up to 219 yards ahead of the vehicle.

The competition among premium, family-friendly SUVs continues to evolve, and Jeep’s all-new Grand Cherokee L represents what these buyers want in 2021. Adding a third row of seats and advanced technology will appeal to newer, family-oriented shoppers, while maintaining its off-road pedigree will maintain its appeal among loyal Jeep fans. That’s a powerful combination, and a necessary pairing if Jeep wants the Grand Cherokee’s next three decades to be as successful as its first.

First published on: Forbes