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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Test Drive Review
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is the first three-row SUV in the company’s lineup in more than a decade.
Over ten years ago, the last 2010 Jeep Commander rolled off a Detroit, Michigan, assembly line, leaving Jeep without a three-row SUV at a time when American families were switching their allegiance from sedans to SUVs in record numbers. While the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler have nevertheless proven popular, Jeep customers have made it clear that they want an SUV with a third-row seat. The redesigned 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L supplies one, and much more.
Look and Feel
Before we dive into this review, it will help to set the stage. There are two Grand Cherokees on sale in 2021. The first is the old five-passenger two-row Grand Cherokee, which is on its last tour of duty and will get a full redesign for the 2022 model year. The second is the new seven-passenger model, the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is not based on the existing Grand Cherokee. Instead, it’s an extended-length version of the upcoming redesigned 2022 Grand Cherokee, equipped with a third-row seat and more cargo volume. Why didn’t they just make it a 2022 model to avoid a bunch of confusion? Your guess is as good as ours.
In any case, Jeep is going to sell a whole bunch of Grand Cherokee Ls on the strength of its styling alone. And this will be especially true after the all-new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models arrive, because the Grand Cherokee L looks like a smaller version of those more expensive full-size SUVs.
There isn’t a wrong line or weird proportion on this SUV. Instantly identifiable as a Jeep thanks to its signature seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches, and familiar lighting arrangements, the Grand Cherokee L looks terrific no matter which trim level you choose.
Speaking of trim levels, Jeep offers the Grand Cherokee L in Laredo, Altitude, Limited, Overland, Summit, and Summit Reserve specification, and pricing ranges between $36,995 and $64,235. The destination charge for shipping the Grand Cherokee L from Jeep's Detroit factory to your local dealership is $1,695.
Our test vehicle had Summit trim, four-wheel drive (4WD), metallic paint, the Advanced Pro Tech Group, the Luxury Tech Group, and a 19-speaker McIntosh premium audio system. All in, the window sticker read $64,770.
At this amount, the Grand Cherokee L is pushing the limit. Some interior materials and fittings can’t stand up to the scrutiny such a price demands. But the Summit’s quilted and perforated leather looks great, the real wood trim is appealing, and the Grand Cherokee is loaded with technology. Overall, the redesigned interior represents a substantial improvement over the old model.
Every 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L comes with a standard 3.6-liter V6 engine making 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive (RWD) or your choice between three different 4WD systems with fuel-saving front-axle disconnect technology. The maximum tow rating is 6,200 pounds and the EPA says this engine should return 21 mpg in combined driving.
For additional motive force, a 5.7-liter V8 engine is optional. You can get it only with Overland, Summit, and Summit Reserve trim, and only with 4WD. The V8 generates 357 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque and bumps towing capacity to 7,200 pounds, but the EPA fuel economy estimate falls to 17 mpg combined. This upgrade is also expensive, adding $3,295 to the price a Grand Cherokee L with 4WD.
Our test vehicle had the V6 engine and 4WD. It offers brisk acceleration, but is loud when revved. The eight-speed automatic transmission is well behaved, but with the Jeep in the Auto driving mode, it sometimes resists downshifts, presumably in a bid to improve fuel economy. Considering that the Grand Cherokee L Summit 4WD averaged just 17.8 mpg on our testing loop (well below expectations), this behavior is understandable.
Jeep offers a Sport driving mode, but it holds revs too high for too long and doesn’t add much to the driving experience aside from better controlled ride motions from the Quadra-Lift adaptive air suspension. Additional Selec-Terrain off-road modes include Snow, Mud/Sand, and Rock, and the Summit’s Quadra-Drive II 4WD system includes an electronic locking differential and a low-range transfer case setting.
In its Normal setting, the Quadra-Lift suspension supplies 8.3 inches of ground clearance. Two Off-Road settings raise the Jeep to provide as much as 10.9 inches of clearance combined with 24 inches of water fording capability. Maximum approach, breakover, and departure angles measure 30.1, 22.6, and 23.6 degrees, respectively. As you expect from a Grand Cherokee, the L model is able to tackle terrain that would stymie a typical crossover. The only Trail Rated version, however, is the Overland model equipped with the Off-Road Group. That's the one you'll want for maximum off-road capability.
During the daily drive, the Grand Cherokee L’s stiffer structure is plainly evident in the Jeep’s smooth ride and stout feel from behind the wheel. In Auto mode, it can feel a little soft over uneven pavement, but the Quadra-Lift air suspension does a satisfactory job of controlling excess body motions. Variable-ratio steering combines with the Summit’s large 20-inch wheels to deliver capable handling when the road ahead is anything but straight.
From the driver’s seat, the Grand Cherokee L’s corners are easy to judge, helping to make the SUV easy to park. The surround-view camera system also assists in this regard. Jeeps demonstrate relatively tight turning circles, and the Grand Cherokee L is no exception.
This new Grand Cherokee is also at home on the highway. On-center steering feel is secure, and the cabin remains relatively quiet. Unless you’re accelerating. Or you’re running the air conditioning on a hot day.
Form and Function
Comfort is easy to come by in the new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L. With Summit trim, the Jeep features heated, ventilated, and massaging front seats with 12-way power adjustment, plus a heated steering wheel. This high-end version of the new Grand Cherokee also gets a four-zone automatic climate control system with air vents in all three rows of seats.
However, based on our testing in July in Southern California, the vents in the dashboard are too small. When the climate system is trying to cool a roasting cabin, the fan blows hard and loud, but there just isn’t much conditioned air coming out of the dashboard vents. For the driver and front passenger, this means it takes longer to cool off, and you need to listen to the racket for an extended period.
Captain’s chairs are standard for the Grand Cherokee L’s second row of seats, but you can opt for a bench seat if you’d like. The test vehicle’s captain’s chairs supply plenty of legroom and lots of comfort, and Summit trim includes manual side window sunshades that cover nearly all of the glass. If you have little ones, this is critical for keeping the sun out of their eyes.
If you’re planning to install child safety seats in the new Grand Cherokee L, know that you can tip and slide the captain’s chairs forward without removing the safety seats. You’ll be inclined to load passengers into this Jeep’s third row, too, because it's actually comfortable back there for all but the tallest of adults. Large side windows ensure a great view out, too.
For an SUV intending to provide family-friendly transportation, the Grand Cherokee L lacks practical storage space for front-seat occupants. In the test vehicle, second-row passengers enjoyed a storage console between the captain’s chairs, and it opens two different ways so that it’s also useful to people in the third-row seat.
Open the liftgate, and cargo space behind the third-row seat measures 17.2 cubic feet, on par with other three-row midsize SUVs. There is a useful storage bin underneath the load floor, too. Fold the third-row seat down, and the Grand Cherokee L can accommodate 46.9 cubic feet of cargo. The maximum volume behind the front seats measures 84.6 cubic feet.
Jeep employs its latest infotainment system in the new Grand Cherokee L. Called Uconnect 5, it offers what Jeep claims is five times faster response plus an improved user experience. Two touchscreen sizes are available: 8.4-inch and 10.1-inch with navigation.
Our test vehicle had the larger screen, bridging the gap between the center air vents and the climate controls in the middle of the dashboard. There are a handful of user-experience quirks with this new system, but after a short time you acclimate to them.
Highlights include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Alexa compatibility, satellite radio, and connected services including a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. Uconnect 5 also offers a natural voice-recognition system with a programmable wake phrase. We stuck with the default “Hey Jeep,” and the technology worked well in response to our list of test inquires. However, after asking “Find the nearest hospital,” a medical marijuana dispensary was the second recommendation on the results.
Our test vehicle also had the optional 19-speaker McIntosh high-end audio system. This is McIntosh’s first automotive application, and it sounds terrific—especially if you’re a fan of heavy bass. However, the McIntosh logo doesn’t fit the overall vibe of the interior. In fact, it reminds us of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. But we are certain that audiophiles will love it.
Depending on the trim level and specification, the Jeep Grand Cherokee L also offers a 10.25-inch digital instrumentation panel, a digital rearview mirror, a thermal-imaging night vision system, and a Fam Cam rear-seat monitoring system that even lets you zero in on a specific seating location to check the status of your little bundles of joy (or consternation, as the case may be).
Notably, and blessesly, the Grand Cherokee’s available head-up display remains visible to drivers who wear polarized sunglasses.
Another Jeep-first in the Grand Cherokee L is Active Driving Assist. This is a hands-on driving-assistance system that combines adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and a lane-centering assistance system. The idea behind Active Driving Assist is to allow a driver to relax on long highway trips, and the technology brings Jeep up to par with other automakers who already offer such systems.
In use, we found Active Driving Assist to be good, but not great. The adaptive cruise control works well, but the steering assist feels artificial in the driver’s hands, like its making corrections the driver wouldn’t. Also, when changing lanes using the turn signal, the Jeep feels overly responsive to steering input, resulting in more sudden direction change than expected.
According to Jeep, for the 2022 model year, Active Driving Assist will become a hands-free system, similar to General Motors' Super Cruise.
Another compelling driver aid on the Grand Cherokee L is Intersection Collision Assist. Standard on Summit models, this technology can detect threats coming from either side as the Jeep approaches an intersection, and can apply the brakes if necessary to try to avoid a collision. One use-case scenario would be if the Jeep’s driver has a green light and another motorist approaching the intersection is about to run their red light.
Given the sophistication of these two systems, you’ve undoubtely concluded that the Grand Cherokee L offers a complete package of the by-now expected driving assistance and collsion avoidance technologies. In addition to those features, you can get Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist, which steers the Jeep into parking spaces while you operate other controls.
As this review was written, crash-test ratings were unavailable for the Grand Cherokee L. But given the flaws of the old Grand Cherokee’s aged structure and engineering, it can only improve upon them.
Within the universe of SUVs, you’d think there wouldn’t be any remaining white space to fill, but the Jeep Grand Cherokee L has found some. On the Venn diagram of midsize three-row SUVs, it overlaps with the Toyota 4Runner (equipped with its optional third-row seat), the Land Rover Discovery, and an entire squadron of crossovers from both luxury and mainstream brands. Jeep is probably kicking itself for not leverging this opportunity sooner.
We recommend the Grand Cherokee L Limited, which represents the sweet spot in terms of style, equipment, and value. Plus, as is true of all Jeeps, the Grand Cherokee L includes the Jeep Wave customer care program.
With Jeep Wave, you get three free oil changes and tire rotations within the first 36 months of ownership, with no mileage restrictions. You get 24/7 access to roadside assistance during the five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty period. You get VIP access to Jeep events all around the country. And that’s not all.
Once you climb the trim ladder to the Summit and Summit Reserve, the Grand Cherokee L’s cost effectiveness equation falters. At these lofty price levels, you have a wide range of luxury SUVs from which to select. True, not many can match the Jeep’s off-road capabilities, but if you’re not planning to travel too far off the beaten path in the first place, you might find greater quality, refinement, and substance in luxury-brand alternatives.
Whatever you decide, know that the new 2021 Grand Cherokee L is exactly what Jeep has needed for quite some time. Get ready to see a whole bunch of them on the road. And off of it.
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