Jeep has sold the Grand Cherokee for three decades now, selling seven million units globally and picking up awards and accolades along the way. Although the full-sized SUV raised the bar in terms of luxury in each of its four generations, the Grand Cherokee has always retained Jeep DNA and trail-worthiness. The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L breaks new ground for the brand by introducing third-row seating.
Because the Grand Cherokee is iconic, I traveled to Michigan last week to test pre-production versions of the soon-to-be-released model during a Jeep press event. I am wary of marketing-speak during these highly curated events, especially with vehicles said to be fit for dirt. But I came away impressed. Yes, the 2021 Grand Cherokee L does play to those that wish to cruise urban landscapes immersed in extreme comfort and luxury, but I found during my first-person test that it was capable in the dirt. And the mud. And the rocks.
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L ushers in the highest level of luxury in the brand’s history with improved on-road driving dynamics and safety features to match. And it’s still a capable performer on dirt. It’s the James Bond of SUVs; classy and refined in the city, but it gets the dirty jobs done with trademark composure.
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L: New Third-Row Seating
Jeep may be a little late to the family-oriented SUV party, but when they show up, they do it properly. Jeep didn’t stuff a tiny third-row into an existing chassis — engineers made accessibility and comfort a priority for passengers in the back.
Getting into the rearmost seats is often a gymnastic exhibition, especially for taller passengers, but Jeep had their thinking caps on and some very tall interior designers on the job. First, the second-row seats slide forward; then, the entire seat tilts forward from the front edge. This unique solution opens up the largest possible cavity without origami skills, so even six-footers can comfortably access the third row.
Jeep also went through painstaking efforts to deliver maximum headroom, squeaking out every last millimeter of vertical space by eliminating anything that wasn’t necessary, including air conditioning ductwork and vents. The airflow to the last two rows is managed by adjustable vents in the B and C-pillars, ideal for directing airflow to the body and face.
Jeep even minimized the headliner, and their efforts were evident during the demonstration as a 6-foot-4-inch tall design team member still had plenty of daylight over his head. Third-row headroom is 37.3 inches and legroom is 30.3 inches.
The class-leading wheelbase and third-row seating design help the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L swallow up to 84.6 cubic feet of cargo when it’s pressed into hauler mode with the rear two rows of seats down.
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Drivetrain Basics
Jeep outfitted the latest Grand Cherokees with a 3.6L Pentastar V6 (296 hp, 260 lb.-ft. of torque) or a more muscular 5.7L V8 (357 hp, 390 lb.-ft. of torque) that is rated to tow a class-leading 7,200 pounds.
An 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission manages power and fuel economy, and a complete front axle disconnect further enhances mileage. My road test unit was the Grand Cherokee L Summit 4×4 with the V6, and the EPA fuel economy rating is 18 city, 21 highway, and 21 combined.
Staying true to Jeep roots, the brand graced the 2021 Grand Cherokee L line with three available 4×4 systems with five available terrain modes:
- Quadra-Trac 1: Single-speed active transfer case
- Quadra-Trac 2: Two-speed active transfer case with low-range gear reduction and active 4-low torque control with a 2.72:1 gear ratio
- Quadra Trac 3: Two-speed active transfer case and rear electronic limited-slip differential
Impressive Air Lift Suspension
The engineering debriefing regarding the suspension was impressive. Jeep flexed its 4×4 heritage hard, designing a suspension system with features that seemed to be at odds with the luxurious interior. Here are a few key points:
The most apparent suspension feature was the Quadra-Lift air suspension system which delivered 4.17 inches of total ride height adjustment. This system results in a class-leading 10.9-inches of ground clearance and a 24-inch water crossing capability.
On the flip side, the door sill sits at an easily manageable 18.4 inches at the lowest setting, which takes seven seconds to achieve when starting at normal drive height. This ability eases access, especially for third-row occupants.
The independent front suspension uses a solid mount aluminum front cradle, while the rear independent suspension is multi-link. Jeep uses electronic adaptive dampening for the first time and a wide 65.4-inch-wide track.
Never Seen-Before Luxury And Aesthetics
Jeep opened the floodgates for the interior design squad for the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L. Flowing horizontal lines extend from the dash through the doors, delivering the perception of generous width.
Jeep stressed the small stuff, which was evident the minute I landed in the driver’s seat. The attention to detail on the color and texture of the wood inlays, the contrasting stitching on the leather, and the softer textures blended with metal trim impressed me, and I am not one to appreciate such things.
I realize I was in a higher trim version of the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L, but I was still stunned by the extra touches, including the patterning of perforations on both the air-conditioned seats and the speaker grilles. And Jeep makes massaging seat backs an available option. Finally, the driver can adjust the ambient lighting color palette to please personal tastes.
The wide stance combined with vertically thinner lights projects a low, modern vibe that reminded me of Land Rover’s latest offerings. The frontal visual impact is not quite “mean,” but it is wide-shouldered, and the rear looked as “svelte” to me as a full-size SUV with third-row seating could be. The side profile just flowed, with the available black roofline adding to the “euro” aesthetic of the thinner lamps. All this is subjective, of course.
Finally, Jeep nodded to its storied history by retaining the seven vertical slots in the front grille.
Highway Driving Impressions
My street stint was in a 2021 Grand Cherokee L Summit, one of the highest trim levels offered. And the luxury hit me right away before I even fired up the ignition. The driver’s seat was immediately pleasant on my skin yet supportive for my frame, and the 12-way adjustability quickly delivered the custom-fit feeling. Every leather touchpoint was soft out of the box — no break-in required here.
I am a stickler about foot position in any vehicle. And Jeep got it right for me. The gas pedal didn’t require me to turn my leg outwards, and my left foot had a mirrored spot to rest. But I felt both the gas and brake had an overly stiff action.
The Pentastar V6 accelerated admirably when merging onto the freeway, given that this is a 6,700-pound vehicle. At the same time, the 8-speed TorqueFlight transmission fanned through the gears largely without notice unless I smashed the gas. Scrubbing off speed by lightly dragging the brakes felt smooth, but the ramp-up to more urgent caliper squeezing felt a little abrupt.
Motor, road, and wind noise were mostly unnoticed, the sound dampening doing an incredible job maintaining the peace. Vibrations were very minimal; even on rougher patches of tarmac, my butt dyno and hands registered just enough vibration to match what my eyes perceived on the road surface and nothing more.
But the full-sized SUV felt under sprung to me, both on the freeways and the winding country roads. With the Pirelli Scorpion Verde All-Season tires at 38 psi, the floating sensation on even shallow G-outs was evident. The active dampening at freeway speeds did limit both compression and rebound, but the under sprung feeling was still there. Aggressive lane changes produced the same sensations, albeit at a lesser intensity. But the reality is the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is a large, heavy car. I drove at the normal drive height of 8.3 inches while on roads, but the vehicle lowers 0.8 inches based on speed for better performance and fuel economy.
The Uconnect 5 standard on all trim levels was impressive. Visual information was available on the instrument console, head’s up display (HUD), and the 10-inch-wide center console screen. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough words to touch on all the customizable functions and display options, but I will say even the nerdiest auto tech hounds will not be disappointed.
One feature that is worth mentioning in the current automotive environment is the L2 driver assistance system. Jeep coins their driver aids Active Driving Assist, Intersection Collision Assist, Drowsy Driver Detection, and Traffic Sign Recognition.
I tested the Active Driving Assist by setting the cruise control on the freeway while purposely being sandwiched between two semis. I nervously took my hands off the wheel, and as advertised, the Jeep Grand Cherokee L maintained the distance to the trailer in front of me while remaining in the center of the lane. When my hands had been off the wheel for a bit, an orange warning in the instrument cluster came to life, then switched to red, and finally, the system brake checked me back into action.
Some other notable features were the very pleasantly positioned and illuminated HUD and a night vision camera with pedestrian and animal detection that toggled to show in the instrument cluster. The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L also has 360-degree cameras with front and rear washers.
But man, oh man, nothing made me smile more than the McIntosh stereo system. Jeep and McIntosh did each other right — the system is hands down the best stock car audio I’ve ever experienced. Nineteen custom-designed speakers and a 17-channel, 950-watt amp impressed the car audio snob in me. The only ding was full volume (no rabid distortion or clipping!) was not loud enough for me.
Off-Road In The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Our highway driving ended at the Chelsea Proving Grounds, and the previous night’s festivities revealed that this would be the “hardest off-road course for media, ever.” I was slightly nervous as the sticker price on the pristine test Grand Cherokee L 4×4 Trail Rated Overland was $55k.
Muddy and narrow two-track lead to the first obstacles: peaked out, slippery climbs that proved the torque directing ability of the Quadra-Drive II system (comes with an electronic limited-slip rear differential) and the usability of the forward-facing camera. I can confidently say that there was no way I could have stayed on the intended course on the backsides of the peaks without the camera and the virtual front tire footprint that displayed with the image on the center console, as there were no spotters on this section of the roughly 20-minute course.
The next obstacle worth mentioning was the rock garden. This section featured rocks and boulders up to maybe two feet in diameter. Spotters were necessary, and with their direction, I didn’t have any issues navigating over climbs, descents, and awkward turns. The stock all-season tires (not aired down) spun momentarily on occasion, but the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L succeeded at everything presented. I was surprised at what such a large vehicle on street tires could accomplish.
The new Grand Cherokee also forded water, tackled sidehills above 30 degrees, and navigated a concrete set of moguls (with a staff driver): 12-inch humps laterally paired with 12-inch holes. One wheel was constantly coming off the ground as the three-row SUV rocked and rolled confidently forward, again showcasing the ability to send power to the wheel that had traction.
When the tarmac ended, the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L acted like, well, a Jeep.
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Review Conclusions
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L in the higher trim levels is a luxurious, family-oriented highway cruiser with every accouterment a discerning motorist could want. The interior accommodations, technology, and sound system all wrap the occupants in opulence. And for most drivers, the combination of luxury and on-road performance fits the bill.
But on the occasion that these owners want or need to venture off-road, the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is indeed a Jeep. So Jeep’s latest and larger offspring did inherent the off-road capabilities synonymous with the brand.
And although Jeep showcased the upper echelon of their Grand Cherokee offerings at this press event, the MSRP spans a massive range: a more spartan Laredo 2WD starts at $36,995 and the no-holds-barred Summit Reserve Package 4WD version stickers at $65,290. So, third-row seating is available at a more modest price.
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L dresses up nice but gets down and dirty, just like I like them.
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