2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L preview: Three-row crossover adds more than seats

Jeep will go from no three-row SUVs to offering two in 2021. The all-new 2021 Grand Cherokee L is set to debut this summer followed by the Grand Wagoneer as a 2022 model in the fall. The move fills a gigantic gap in Jeep’s lineup as 75% of mid-size SUV sales are of the three-row variety and the two-row Grand Cherokee wasn’t going to earn enough market share.

Though it shares a name with the Grand Cherokee (which is getting a redesign of its own soon), the Grand Cherokee L exists as its own entity, riding on a brand new unibody platform that makes it more than just a lengthened version of the old vehicle. Styling, however, clearly cribs from the Grand Cherokee. Jeep says this was intentional, but to me the Grand Cherokee L looks somehow more handsome than its smaller counterpart. The seven-slot grille is canted slightly forward and the SUV’s proportions and rugged features stand out, even in this flooded SUV market.

Jeep has provided enough details for us to draw some conclusions about the SUV, but we are still waiting on some of the finer details like pricing and fuel economy. The Grand Cherokee L will be offered in four trim levels: Laredo, Limited, Overland, and Summit.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

Gas only for now

The two engine options at launch are familiar. The base engine will be the 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 found up and down the FCA lineup. The optional choice will be the Hemi 5.7-liter V-8, here making 357 hp. It will be offered on all trims except the Laredo. Both engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Jeep hinted at a hybrid powertrain for the Grand Cherokee L as soon as next year, but it’ll be all gas for at least the first model year.

Four-wheel drive will come standard across each of the four trim levels, but Jeep will offer three 4×4 systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. The most robust Quadra-Drive II system will be optional in Overland and standard in Summit models. It’s the system you want for serious off-roading, with its 2-speed active transfer case and rear electronic limited-slip differential. Each of the 4WD systems comes with front-axle disconnect that makes the Grand Cherokee L rear-wheel drive most of the time, which should help fuel economy slightly.

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Overland and Summit models will also feature a Quadra-lift air suspension with five height settings. The standard ground clearance in normal mode is 8.3 inches, which drops to 6.5 inches when the vehicle is parked for easier cargo loading and ingress/egress. The highest off-road setting boosts ground clearance all the way up to 10.9 inches and gives the Grand Cherokee L approach, departure, and breakover angles of 30.1, 23.6, 22.6 degrees, respectively. These figures trail those of the current Grand Cherokee (36.1, 27.1, 22.8 degrees) when equipped with air suspension despite the two-row SUV’s slightly shorter 10.8-inch ride height.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

My, what a Ram interior you have

Jeep’s counterparts over at Ram had a “come to Jesus” moment a few years ago, with the Ram 1500’s surprisingly opulent interior turning a corner for that brand. Jeep’s next two vehicles, the Grand Wagoneer and Grand Cherokee L, appear to be flexing the same kind of luxury.

The Grand Cherokee L doesn’t have four screens like we saw in the Grand Wagoneer concept, but the two that it does have are sizable. A 10.1-inch digital gauge cluster is standard. It’s flanked by an 8.4-inch standard touchscreen in the center stack that is upgradable to a 10.1-inch touchscreen (optional on Limited and Overland, standard on Summit). Powering both screens is the Android-based UConnect 5, which comes with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility and the capability for over-the-air updates. Twelve USB-A and USB-C ports also come standard, which is overkill, but it will keep all of the family’s devices topped off on road trips. A color 10-inch head-up display and a top-down camera that shows the back seats will also be offered.

All trim levels will come with standard second-row captain’s chairs, which have tilt-and-slide capabilities and 7 inches of seat travel. An optional bench seat will bump seating capacity to seven. The Grand Cherokee L will offer some second-row amenities not often seen in this class, with heated and ventilated seats, and four-zone automatic temperature control with personalized fan-level settings.

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If there is one interior concern, it is the third-row’s space, or lack thereof. Third-row leg room only measures 30.3 inches, which won’t be enough to fit adult passengers comfortably. For some added context, the Ford Explorer has a small third-row for this class and it has 32.2 inches of leg room. It’s possible that the amount of travel the second row offers could alleviate some the space crunch, but it doesn’t look promising at first glance.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

Thank goodness, safety is finally standard

A sticking point with Jeep and, frankly, FCA vehicles on the whole has been a lack of standard safety features. The Grand Cherokee L appears to be the first step in fixing this issue. It will come with a long list of standard safety features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, and rear parking sensors.

Jeep will also offer a digital rearview mirror, a night vision forward camera, a surround-view camera system, and parking assist. Jeep also plans to introduce a Level 2 autonomous hands-free highway driving system on the Grand Cherokee L, but it won’t arrive until the 2022 model year. We asked if vehicles sold before then would be able to upgrade to that system either via an OTA update or at a dealership, but Jeep declined to provide further information.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

And now we play the waiting game

Early returns for the Grand Cherokee L are promising, it passes the eye test, offers advanced technology, and has the off-road chops (on paper at least) to be a true Jeep. The biggest unknown is the price, which Jeep says will be announced closer to when it goes on sale around midyear. This class already has some pretty wide pricing variance, and the Grand Cherokee L Summit model could top $60,000 with options boxes checked.

That would be a tough pill to swallow, considering that the excellent Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride top out at around $48,000 and are similarly feature rich (and have larger third rows). In a crowded midsize field, the Grand Cherokee L will need a competitive price to make significant inroads. Let’s hope it does.

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