The fifth generation of the popular Jeep Grand Cherokee has been expanded—literally—by adding a stretched seven-passenger version that debuts as the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L. With consumers champing at the bit for more SUVs (and more Jeeps), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is building on that momentum with a new addition to the lineup: a midsize-plus Jeep Grand Cherokee with three rows of seating for the first time.
This is the mystery three-row SUV that FCA has been promising in its five-year plan, and which will be built at the new $1.6 billion Detroit Assembly Complex’s Mack Avenue Plant. Production begins this quarter, and the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L will arrive in dealerships in the second quarter. Why begin the new Grand Cherokee’s rollout with the seven-passenger L model? Because 70 percent of sales in the Grand Cherokee’s vast midsize segment are three-row SUVs and Jeep wants to play in the heart of the market as soon as possible, Christian Meunier, global president of the Jeep brand, said.
Consumers looking for the next-generation Grand Cherokee with the conventional two rows of seating must wait until later this year. Also coming before year’s end is the Grand Cherokee 4xe plug-in hybrid. Officials are not saying whether the two latecomers will be 2021 or 2022 models, but expect the latter.
The new L SUV expands the Grand Cherokee family that set the bar for a midsize SUV that is far more capable off-road than most buyers will ever need. Even though the current five-passenger Grand Cherokee has grown long in the tooth after a decade (automakers usually aim to introduce a new generation model within five years), the outgoing model remains the segment sales leader in the U.S. The 2021 Grand Cherokee will only grow its sales leadership with a new generation and the option of a third-row variant, said Jim Morrison, head of Jeep brand for FCA North America.
Smashing Glass Grand Cherokee Style
The original Grand Cherokee was introduced at the 1992 North American International Auto Show in Detroit where a red Laredo rolled off the factory floor, drove downtown with a police escort to Cobo Hall, crawled up the stairs, and entered the event space by smashing a plate (sugar) glass window to prove its ruggedness. Since production began in Detroit’s Jefferson North assembly plant in 1992, Jeep has sold more than 7 million Grand Cherokees in more than 90 markets. The Grand Cherokee was the 1993 MotorTrend Truck of the Year.
Why add a third row to the unibody SUV now? Customers asked for it, Meunier said. The timing may seem odd as Jeep is about to bring back the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer as modern three-row, full-size SUVs. But Meunier says he has no concerns that the 2021 Grand Cherokee L will impinge on sales of the new 2022 Jeep Wagoneer and 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. Both offer three rows of seating, but the Grand Cherokee is a rear-drive-based unibody SUV whereas the Wagoneer is a “premium” family vehicle that rides on the Ram 1500’s body-on-frame architecture. In other words, the Grand Cherokee L is to the Ford Explorer and Chevy Traverse what the Wagoneer will be to the Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Tahoe.
Jeep’s last swing at a three-row SUV, if you remember it, was not a success. Jeep introduced the Grand Cherokee-based 2006 Commander as a three-row SUV in 2005 and discontinued it after the 2010 model year, letting the Dodge Durango become its successor. Meunier said that although the Commander was good off-road, it was compromised on-road and its stadium seating made it hard to get into the third row. The Grand Cherokee L does not repeat the Commander’s mistakes, he said. (FCA introduced a midsize three-row Jeep Grand Commander and five-passenger Jeep Commander crossover in 2018 for the Chinese market, but it is not available elsewhere.)
New Architecture for a Better 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The next-generation 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee (codenamed WL), the L included, rides on a new architecture with a chassis based on the lightweight Giorgio platform that gives the Alfa Romeo Stelvio its sublime road manners. The new Grand Cherokee uses more aluminum and is engineered to provide more comfort, refinement, safety, tech, and 4×4 capability than the current WK, Meunier said.
The 2021 Grand Cherokee L offers six- or seven-passenger seating with captain’s chairs in the second row; an optional bench makes it possible to carry seven people. To accommodate them, the Grand Cherokee L is 14 inches longer with a wheelbase that grew by 7 inches relative to the outgoing five-passenger Grand Cherokee. Stretching for the third row only makes the body 0.8 inch wider but Grand Cherokee L’s track is broadened by 1.5 inches in front and 1.3 inches in back to make the vehicle more stable.
Design Pays Homage to Jeep Heritage
Mark Allen, head of Jeep exterior design, says this fifth-gen Grand Cherokee design takes cues from the original Jeep CJ, such as the seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches, as well as the XJ (1984-2001 Jeep Cherokee). Proportions, however, were inspired by the original Wagoneer: The beltline was lowered for a larger greenhouse, and the roof dips a bit in the back where it bleeds into the spoiler. The front fascia is larger, the A-pillar is thinner, and the new standard LED headlights and taillights are slimmer than those on the outgoing fourth-generation WK2 Grand Cherokee.
The body-mounted exhaust tips are real, and the body-color wheel openings make room for a 21-inch wheel with the Summit Reserve package. Upper trims also have a glossy black roof with a standard roof rack and a standard foot-activated power liftgate.
Allen, known for adding little touches, points to the American flags on the side of the front doors beside the name ‘Grand Cherokee’ in script.
2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L: Expect Four Trim Levels
There will be four Grand Cherokee L trims, with Overland being the most off-road focused with a more aggressive front approach angle, tow hooks, and choice of 18- or 20-inch wheels with off-road tires.
The top-end Summit has all the bells and whistles including 360-degree cameras with washers, a night vision camera, and a gaggle of sensors in the detailed grille for driver assist technologies such as adaptive cruise control. The Grand Cherokee L introduces Summit Reserve as a new premium package with a long list of luxury features and materials.
Air Suspension and Greater Ground Clearance
The fifth-gen Grand Cherokee features front and rear multilink independent suspension, with an optional air suspension. The latter now offers electronic adaptive damping and features five ride-height settings, including a normal ride height with 8.3 inches of ground clearance, an Aero mode that automatically drops the suspension another 0.8 inch, and a Sport mode. Park mode lowers the vehicle 1.8 inches to make getting in and out easier.
There are two off-road settings that raise the Grand Cherokee an extra 1.6 or 2.4 inches for a maximum 10.9 inches of ground clearance and up to 24 inches for water fording capability (versus 20 inches on the outgoing model). The air suspension rises and lowers twice as fast as the outgoing model.
Off-roaders note: Despite the added length, the Grand Cherokee L has a respectable approach angle of 30.1 degrees with a 23.6-degree departure angle and 22.6-degree breakover angle. The maximum 44:1 crawl ratio is unchanged. Hill descent control is part of the off-road package and is standard on Overland and Summit trim levels.
Two Engine Choices to Start
Initially the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L will be offered with two engines: Today’s base Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 (290 hp, 257 lb-ft of torque) and the Hemi 5.7-liter V-8 (357 hp and 390 lb-ft) that can deactivate four cylinders when not needed. Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Later in the year Jeep will add the Grand Cherokee 4xe plug-in hybrid, which adds electric motors. We also fully expect one or more SRT performance versions in the future, possibly including a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. To keep the lineup fresh, we foresee Trailhawk and Grand Cherokee Trackhawk variants.
More aluminum, including the hood and tailgate, and lighter high-strength steel, were used to help reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency. The Grand Cherokee L also automatically disconnects the front axle if the vehicle senses that road conditions don’t require all-wheel drive, another way to keep mileage reasonable.
No, It Is Not Too Big to Go Off-Road
The all-new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L will offer three all-wheel-drive systems, all with an active transfer case that can route nearly all torque to the axle with the most traction. It is unclear if the SUV will be offered in rear-wheel-drive-only guise, as are many competitors.
- Quadra-Trac I is a single-speed transfer case all-wheel-drive system that shifts power when it detects tire slip.
- Quadra-Trac II is a four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case.
- The Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system adds a rear electronic limited slip-differential. It is available on the Overland 4×4 model if equipped with the Off-Road Group, and it is standard on Summit models.
Chief engineer Fil Grado said testing was done on a number of off-road trails, including Moab where the 2021 Grand Cherokee L conquered some of the same trails that the Jeep Wrangler tackles, despite being much larger. The new SUV can tow 6,200 pounds with the V-6; towing capacity is 7,200 pounds with the 5.7-liter V-8. The tow hitch is tastefully hidden behind a little door, as it is on the current Grand Cherokee (which has a pop-off, bumper-colored panel for hiding the hitch when it isn’t needed).
Upscale Materials Inside the Cabin
Inside, FCA continues to offer impressive design, materials, and big touchscreens. There are upscale leather seats, a suedelike headliner, and lots of real walnut and oak wood trim.
The center console flows up and into the instrument panel, and materials were chosen for contrast: black glass, bright metal, and real wood, said Chris Benjamin, head of Jeep interior design. There is wood around the engine start button, and wood curls up and behind the thin and frameless touchscreen that is laid on top of it. The metal rotary shifter is surrounded by black glass.
The instrument panel leans away for a greater sense of space and at each end is inscribed “since 1941,” referring to Jeep’s founding—another of those little touches Jeep is known for.
Premium Seating for Six or Seven
The seats are upholstered in Palermo leather with extra quilted flair on the side bolsters. The second and third rows fold flat. The front seats massage the occupants, and there are personalized climate zones. The first two rows of seats are heated, recline, and offer ventilation. Second- and third-row air vents are in the pillars, instead of overhead, to better direct the air.
The second-row bucket seats tip and slide, with 7 inches of travel to ease entry to the power-folding third row. There’s 46.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, and that grows to 84.6 cubes when the second row is folded flat.
Screens and Uconnect 5
The standard center screen measures 8.4 inches; an upgraded full-color 10.1-inch frameless screen with standard Uconnect 5 is faster, crisper, and has an Android operating system for over-the-air updates and room to grow.
A second 10.3-inch frameless digital cluster for the driver can display analog gauges or a digital view, and it provides night vision views of pedestrians or animals. There is also a new 10-inch head-up display.
Audiophiles Listen: McIntosh Debuts
FCA is working with McIntosh, the premium home audio company, to offer quality audio in vehicles. The top trims of the Grand Cherokee L will offer a 19-speaker McIntosh sound system. We first heard of this partnership at the unveiling of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer concept, production models of which will offer a McIntosh system. The McIntosh app allows you to see the brand’s signature power meters on the center screen.
The Grand Wagoneer has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an optional wireless charger can charge two devices simultaneously. There are 12 USB-A and USB-C ports for wireless devices.
Hands-Free Driving to Come
In terms of safety tech, the 2021 Grand Cherokee L has active driving assist systems, drowsy driver detection, parking assist, a digital rearview mirror, traffic sign recognition, a 10-inch head-up display, and more. Some, including adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, collision warning, and rear cross path detection, are standard.
A Level 2 automated driver assist system—think GM’s Super Cruise that allows hands-free highway driving—will be added in the second model year. Hands-Free Active Driving Assist will be available in late 2021 on the 2022 Grand Cherokee L.
To keep an eye on the kiddies, there is a rear-seat monitoring camera system that gives the driver a clear picture—in the center screen—of what is going on in the back rows.
The 2021 Grand Cherokee L comes with the Jeep Wave customer care program that includes three years of complimentary maintenance, trip interruption and first-day loaner coverage, and VIP access to some Jeep brand events.
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