The Grand Cherokee has been fully overhauled for 2021, launching the fifth generation of Jeep's venerable SUV, and the enhancements are worth the wait. But before we get the standard two-row Grand Cherokee back, Jeep is introducing the all-new three-row model: the Grand Cherokee L. Though some parts — including the core powertrain lineup — are essentially carried over from the previous model, everything else is new. Key enhancements include off-road features, revised technology features and a more luxurious cabin. And for the first time in the Grand Cherokee's history, a three-row version will be offered, courtesy of the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.
What's under the Grand Cherokee L's hood?
The Grand Cherokee L debuts with two engines that will be familiar to current Grand Cherokee owners. The standard 3.6-liter V6 produces 293 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque and is rated to tow a respectable 6,200 pounds. The V6's power is respectable, but under the hood of the larger, heavier three-row L model, it feels merely adequate. Buyers looking for a little more oomph can opt for a 5.7-liter V8 with 357 hp and 390 lb-ft — this motor pushes the Grand Cherokee L's towing capacity to 7,200 pounds and provides a much better sensation under full-throttle acceleration.
The V6 is available with either rear- or four-wheel drive, and an eight-speed automatic transmission is standard for both engines. These towing numbers are pretty impressive when you compare them to most other midsize three-row crossovers that top out around 5,000 pounds.
The next engine added to the lineup will likely be a plug-in hybrid powertrain to bow later this year. A plug-in powertrain is already confirmed for the two-row Grand Cherokee, and we'll likely see it in the three-row model as well. It will likely be similar to the one used in the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, which features a turbocharged four-cylinder with a plug-in component. Total output in the Wrangler 4xe is a mighty 375 hp and 470 lb-ft.
How comfortable is the Grand Cherokee L?
Even over broken and battered highways, the Grand Cherokee L has a comfortable ride. Our first-drive experiences with the L took us over many heavily potholed roads in a city center without much to complain about — only the slight intrusion of some large impacts. The same was true over poorly maintained stretches of two-lane highway. On cambered sections of the freeway, however, the ride of the L equipped with the optional air suspension can feel a bit unsettled, like floating on a wobbly cloud. This sensation, though, is brief, and it doesn't dominate the driving experience over most flat surfaces.
All three rows of seating are comfortable, especially on upper trim levels. With the appropriate amount of side bolstering, the driver's and front passenger seats hold you in place around tight corners, while supportive seat padding gives you plenty of lumbar support. The L's seat cushions feel a bit firmer compared to those in some luxury SUV rivals, but overall it seems like we could spend several hours behind the wheel without any seat-induced fatigue.
Optional seat heating and ventilation are a nice plus, and they work well to augment the climate control. On our initial drive, which was hot and humid, the system did a nice job of maintaining the set temperature. The optional massaging front seats are less impressive, with inflating and deflating air bladders that are a bit weak even on their highest settings. On a long road trip, they could be useful, but we'd recommend skipping that option. Second- and third-row seats are nearly just as comfortable as the front row, although the seat bottoms and side bolstering are a bit flat in comparison.
How's the Grand Cherokee L's interior?
We haven't seen the interior of the Grand Cherokee's more wallet-friendly Laredo and Limited trims yet, but the cabin in Overland and Summit levels is nothing short of transformative. Materials are a mixture of open-pore wood veneers, metal trim and leather, giving an impression more evocative of a luxury SUV. The Summit, with its optional Reserve package, is even more stunning. There's quilted leather on the seats and doors and additional wood trim on the steering wheel. Both the Overland and Summit feature contrast-color stitching on the dashboard, helping the Grand Cherokee's dash look less monolithic.
Of course, the Grand Cherokee L's most significant difference is the third row of seating. Available in six- and seven-seat configurations (a second-row bench seat is standard; captain's chairs are optional), the Grand Cherokee L features a second row that can slide 7 inches to make room for passengers in the back. The midsize SUV class is typically small enough that the third row is really only spacious enough for kids or smaller adults, but the Grand Cherokee L's third-row headroom and legroom are more than enough for 6-footers. Climbing into the back seat is made slightly easier by tilt-forward second-row seats, but you'll have to duck a bit for third-row entry. Once you're back there, things are spacious and comfortable enough for even long journeys.
How's the Grand Cherokee L's tech?
The Grand Cherokee L is loaded with tech features that, again, wouldn't look out of place in a luxury SUV. All the typical creature comforts are here plus available massaging front seats, ventilated second-row seats and an imitation suede headliner included on the Summit's Reserve package. The Grand Cherokee L also offers configurable ambient lighting, four-zone automatic climate control, a backseat camera system so you can keep an eye on the kids, and a whopping 12 USB ports (six standard USB ports, six USB-C) sprinkled throughout the cabin.
A 10.1-inch center touchscreen runs the newest version of Jeep's infotainment system, dubbed Uconnect 5. The new system supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you don't have to tether your phone to the car if you just want to jump in and enjoy a podcast or navigate with Google Maps. The graphics are as crisp and clear as anything you'll get from Mercedes or Audi these days, and the response times from the touchscreen are just as fast. Uconnect 5 can also download over-the-air updates, so you don't have to bring your car to a dealer whenever a virtual bug is squashed or features are added.
While we're sure the standard six-speaker and optional nine-speaker Alpine audio systems sufficiently fill the cabin with sound, the new halo setup is what we're after. High-end manufacturer McIntosh is back in the car audio game in a big way with a 19-speaker system available on upper Grand Cherokee L trim levels. While volume levels won't exactly melt your face off, the quality of the audio provided will make audiophiles swoon. A 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, digital rearview camera and head-up display round out the available tech toys.
As we'd expect of any new vehicle, the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is loaded with advanced driving aids. All the usual suspects are here, including standard adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear automatic braking, and lane-centering assist. On the highway, these systems worked extremely well during our drive, keeping a close-but-not-too-close distance to cars ahead, maintaining a relatively centered lane position, and adequately warning of lurking hatchbacks hiding in the L's blind spots.
Of course, there are a few surprises that are — you guessed it — typically reserved for luxury vehicles. There's a night vision camera that can detect pedestrians and animals up to 219 yards away. An Intersection Collision Assist feature will automatically hit the brakes if it detects a vehicle coming across your path in an intersection, helping reduce the severity of a side impact.
What about off-roading?
Though the Grand Cherokee L uses a unibody construction — rather than a more capable but heavier and less refined body-on-frame chassis — it relies on other features to maximize its off-road capabilities. This is a Jeep after all, so there's no way they'd forget off-road capability.
A two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing is standard on the midtier Overland model, and more serious adventurers can get this system paired with an electronic limited-slip rear differential on the Overland (via the Off-Road Group package) and top-trim Summit. The Quadra-Lift air suspension, standard on both Overland and Summit grades, can lift the body an additional 2.4 inches. Fully raised, the Grand Cherokee L offers a maximum 10.9 inches of ground clearance and can ford up to 2 feet of water. These systems, combined with special bumpers on the Overland that allow for more aggressive approach and departure angles, mean the L can go far beyond the well-traveled trails and fire roads you're used to. This family hauler is a true off-roader too.
A brand-new Grand Cherokee has been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. Packed with new technology and comfort features and an interior that wouldn't look out of place in a luxury SUV, the redesigned 2021 Grand Cherokee in three-row L configuration stands out in a highly competitive class. This tech-heavy but capable SUV should be at the top of your shopping list, right next to choices including the Honda Pilot, the Kia Telluride and the Volkswagen Atlas. On upper trim levels, the Grand Cherokee L may even give luxury rivals such as the Lincoln Aviator and the Acura MDX a run for their money.