Grand Cherokee

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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Test Drive Review

This is the last hurrah for the current-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee before a redesigned version arrives for the 2022 model year.

7.2 /10
Overall Score

There is a redesigned 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee coming soon—and this isn’t it. In a confusing turn of events, the all-new 2021 Grand Cherokee L is a three-row SUV, while this decade-old 2021 Grand Cherokee is a two-row SUV. Now, with that clear-as-mud distinction between very different vehicles with nearly identical names, let’s examine why you still might want to try the old Grand Cherokee, and why you might wish to wait.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

Timelessly styled, the fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee still looks terrific more than a decade after it first went on sale. Equal parts rugged utility and upscale sophistication, sitting pretty on big wheels pushed to the corners under purposely flared fenders, the 2021 Grand Cherokee is a perfectly balanced work of automotive art that defines what an SUV should look like if an SUV is not a Jeep Wrangler.

This appealing design is no doubt a big contributor to the Grand Cherokee’s continued success. The Grand Cherokee also defies easy categorization. Is it a mainstream SUV? A luxury SUV? A performance SUV? Yes. It’s all of these things and more.

On one end of the 2021 Grand Cherokee lineup, you have the affordable Laredo and Limited trim levels, and their variants. The upscale Grand Cherokees are the Overland, Summit, and their variants. The track-ready performance models are the SRT and Trackhawk. And for serious off-roading adventures, the capable Trailhawk sits smack in the middle of them all.

For 2021, the Grand Cherokee Laredo and Limited receive minor updates, and both value-oriented Laredo X and celebratory 80th Anniversary Edition versions debut. Pricing across the entire range span from about $35,000 to nearly $90,000.

Our test vehicle arrived with plush Summit trim, equipped with a 5.7-liter V8 engine, four-wheel drive (4WD), extra-cost paint, the Platinum Series Group, and the Signature Leather-Wrapped Interior Package. The MSRP tallied up to $68,185 including the mandatory $1,495 destination charge. The commentary in this review is applicable to all Grand Cherokees except for the performance-tuned SRT and Trackhawk editions.

The Platinum Series Group makes the Grand Cherokee Summit look even better because it tones down this trim level’s standard glam. Body-color mirror caps, door handles, side sills, and lower bumpers give the Jeep a more premium look, and a platinum chrome finish replaces the sparkly bits.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee Summit’s interior is dressed in premium leather, genuine wood, real aluminum, and simulated suede for the headliner. The test vehicle’s Indigo and Ski Gray color scheme was terrific, creating sharp contrast through unusual colors. Quilted seat bolsters and door panel trim, a thick-rimmed wood-and-leather steering wheel, and partially digital instrumentation definitely make the Grand Cherokee Summit’s cabin look and feel like a luxury SUV.

However, if the exterior styling is timeless, the interior is rapidly aging. Old-school switchgear that appears to date back to the DaimlerChrysler days, non-flush panel and component fits, and odds and ends that look like tacked-on afterthoughts are clear signals that a redesign is overdue.

Performance

8/ 10

The Grand Cherokee comes standard with a 3.6-liter V6 engine, producing 295 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It powers the rear or all four wheels through an excellent eight-speed automatic transmission and can tow up to 6,200 pounds. This is all the engine you need in this Jeep.

But, if you want something extra, Jeep obliges with an optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 matched with a Quadra-Trac II 4WD system. It makes 360 hp, 390 lb-ft of torque, and provides claimed best-in-class towing capacity of 7,200 pounds. It also makes the Grand Cherokee quick, with a satisfying rumble and roar that only a V8 engine can provide.

The V8 is equipped with cylinder deactivation “Fuel Saver” technology that allows the engine to run on fewer cylinders under low-load conditions, such as when cruising on the freeway. Still, the EPA says you should expect no more than 17 mpg in combined driving with the V8. We got 18.2 mpg on a mountainous loop that also included plenty of highway driving.

Quadra-Trac II equips the Grand Cherokee with a two-speed transfer case, hill-descent control, and Selec-Terrain traction management with Snow, Sand, Mud, Auto, and Rock settings. Additionally, the Grand Cherokee Summit comes with a standard Quadra-Lift air suspension offering 4.1 inches of variability. On the highway, it lowers to Aero mode to improve efficiency. Off-road, the driver can raise it to increase ground clearance from 8.6 inches to 10.8 inches.

This Quadra-rific combination helps the Summit to make quick work of trails. We effortlessly scampered up a mountainside in Auto mode to take in the view and then used hill descent control to pick our way back down to the pavement. If nothing else, a Grand Cherokee gives you the tools and confidence you need to take advantage of adventure when the opportunities present themselves.

During daily driving, the Grand Cherokee Summit is speedy, responsive, and fairly quiet inside. In the city, the V8 gobbles gas, and despite the test model’s air suspension, it can feel excessively bouncy and wobbly at times, tossing occupants’ heads about on uneven surfaces.

At the same time, though, the Grand Cherokee’s extremely tight turning radius is as useful in parking lots as it is in the backcountry. The brakes feel good under the driver’s foot, too, and work well regardless of the driving situation. Visibility is relatively clear in every direction, but given its off-roading capabilities, the Grand Cherokee could really use surround-view and forward-view camera systems.

Form and Function

7/ 10

Step into a Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit and you’ll find yourself perched on a flat, firm, and ultimately supportive seat gripping a heated steering wheel rim the thickness of a heavy-duty garden hose. The supple quilted and perforated leather, and the leather-wrapped interior panels, are courtesy of the appropriately named Signature Leather-Wrapped Interior Package. It’s a $4,995 extravagance that you don’t need.

Both front seats supply eight-way power adjustment, and they are heated and ventilated. The controls for the seat and steering wheel heating, and for the seat ventilation, are embedded into the Uconnect infotainment system. They aren’t hard to find, but this approach causes more distraction than would physical buttons located somewhere on the dashboard or door panels.

The Grand Cherokee’s rear seat is comfortable aside from somewhat snug legroom for taller adults. The optional rear-seat entertainment system, with its folding dual seatback screens, adds to a sense of claustrophobia. Large side windows without available sun shades, a big dual-pane panoramic glass sunroof, and the test vehicle’s light gray leather upholstery helped to make the back seat feel less like a cave. Rear air conditioning vents allow passengers to keep their cool, and most Grand Cherokees offer heated outboard cushions.

Interior storage is adequate, but when you opt for the rear-seat entertainment system the DVD/Blu-Ray player takes up nearly all of the space in the center console bin. Our advice? Skip it, pay for the available 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and donate your collection of Disney movies. But even without this anachronistic contraption, the Grand Cherokee needs more practical interior storage space than it has. The robust plastic grocery bag hooks on front seatbacks sure are useful, though.

Behind the rear seat, the Grand Cherokee supplies 36.3 cubic feet of cargo space. There is a recessed bin to the left for carrying milk jugs or bottles of wine, and under the floor, Jeep provides storage bins around the spare tire. Lighting illuminates the area after dark, and Jeep thoughtfully provides a power liftgate closing button low and on the left side of the cargo area, making it easy to reach for shorter drivers.

Folding the second-row seats is a one-handed maneuver, and the head restraints automatically fold to ensure the seats collapse flat with no further effort. Maximum cargo space measures 68.3 cu.-ft., which isn’t much for what is supposed to be a midsize SUV.

Tech Level

7/ 10

When the all-new 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee arrives, it will have a next-generation Uconnect 5 infotainment system. Nevertheless, this outgoing model’s Uconnect 4C with Nav setup remains an impressive piece of work. A nearly flawless user experience, fast response to inputs, pleasing touchscreen graphics, and separate primary stereo controls make using it mostly a pleasure.

Highlights include navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, access to a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, and a Jeep Skill for Amazon Alexa. If you use Alexa in your home, you can say something like “Alexa, start my Grand Cherokee” and it will fire up the SUV to warm or cool the interior before you leave the house.

SiriusXM is the services provider for the Grand Cherokee. In addition to six free months of satellite radio, the Uconnect 4C with Nav setup comes with five years of free Traffic Plus and Travel Link services. SiriusXM Guardian is free for one year and includes remote access to the locks and engine starting, a vehicle finder service, SOS emergency calling, the ability to send directions to the Grand Cherokee from your smartphone, and more.

Given the Grand Cherokee’s age, it is surprising to discover that the infotainment system’s voice recognition technology works quite well. Some actions do require more specific prompts, but you can control many features through voice commands, including basic climate control system functions.

Jeep offers a decent Alpine premium sound system with nine speakers in most Grand Cherokees, but our Summit test vehicle had a downright thunderous 19-speaker Harman Kardon high-end audio system that sounded terrific.

Other than its infotainment system, sophisticated 4WD systems, and its collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), you can think of the Grand Cherokee as “tech lite,” offering the essentials and little more. If this analog simplicity appeals to you, act fast because the redesigned 2022 model is going to represent a quantum leap forward on the digital front.

Safety

4/ 10

If there is a good reason not to buy a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee, aside from the V8 engine’s dismal fuel economy numbers, it is this SUV’s safety ratings.

Look at the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) star ratings on the window sticker, and you might be scratching your head, wondering what we’re talking about. After all, a Grand Cherokee with 4WD gets a five-star overall rating, and that’s the best one available. Get 2WD, and the rating drops to four stars because of a mediocre three-star rollover resistance rating with this drivetrain type.

What we’re talking about is the Grand Cherokee’s performance in the more difficult testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In small-overlap, frontal-impact collisions—like when you hit an oncoming vehicle or a telephone pole on either of the Jeep’s front corners—the Grand Cherokee earns a "Marginal" safety rating for the driver and a "Poor" rating for the front passenger. And unless you upgrade to the high-intensity discharge headlights with automatic high-beam assist, the Grand Cherokee’s headlights also rate "Poor."

Fortunately, depending on the trim level you select, Jeep offers numerous safety features designed to prevent an accident from occurring in the first place. Our Summit test vehicle had them all, thanks to its standard ProTech II Package. Here is the list:

· Adaptive cruise control with full stop-and-go

· Forward-collision warning

· Automatic emergency braking

· Blind-spot monitoring

· Rear cross-traffic alert

· Lane-departure warning

· Lane-keeping assistance

· Automatic high-beam headlights

These features work well, and Jeep supplies two different ways to use the cruise control. You can activate a traditional system without distance maintenance, or you can use the adaptive system which ensures a safe following distance to vehicles ahead. Additionally, a button on the dashboard provides quick access to lane-keeping assistance when you want it, and the ability to shut it off when you don’t.

Jeep also provides a backup camera with guidance lines, parking sensors, and a ParkSense parking assistance system that works for parallel and perpendicular spaces. It searches for an appropriately sized space and then steers the Grand Cherokee into it while you handle braking, acceleration, and transmission shifting. But, like all such parking assist technologies, it is best used in low-traffic environments.

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

When you buy a Jeep, you have access to the Jeep Wave Customer Care program. Benefits include, among other things, free scheduled maintenance for the first three years and 36,000 miles of ownership. This applies to both leases and purchases.

Jeep also offers regular rebates and incentives for the Grand Cherokee, helping to make this SUV’s value equation even more appealing. For example, as this review is written, Jeep is offering up to $3,750 in incentives to residents of Southern California.

Another factor in favor of the Grand Cherokee is the SUV’s image. This isn’t a crossover based on a car. It’s the real deal, with available Trail Rated capability to back up its trademark ruggedness. This definitely appeals to people who value authenticity. The Grand Cherokee looks capable, and it is capable.

Finally, the Jeep Grand Cherokee transcends the typical boundaries defining mainstream, luxury, and performance brands. It is, legitimately, all three of these things. From the basic Laredo to the luxurious Summit, and with Trailhawk and Trackhawk variants tossed in to dominate in the rough and on the track, a Grand Cherokee can be anything you want it to be.

Indeed, this SUV is a terrific all-arounder, and oldie but definitely a goodie. Only those dismal IIHS crash-test ratings prevent us from wholeheartedly recommending this Jeep, in spite of its advanced age.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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