2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L review: GC L FTW – CNET

2021-jeep-grand-cherokee-l-review:-gc-l-ftw-–-cnet

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When the new Jeep Grand Cherokee L showed up at my house this summer, I was somewhat taken aback. While it's significantly more modern and premium-looking than the generation that came before it, it seemed odd that Jeep chose to add a third row to this SUV. That's because by that point, we already knew the company would soon offer totally different three-row model, the full-size Wagoneer. It felt like a curious decision, especially because both the L and the Wagoneer would end up beating the standard-length two-row Grand Cherokee to market -- the very vehicle consumers and model loyalists have always expected.

I also couldn't help but wrinkle my face a bit at this Summit Reserve 4x4's $65,775 as-tested price. That's nearly $25,000 more than an entry-level Laredo 4x2 ($40,670 including $1,795 delivery) and significantly more than you could option a non-SRT Grand Cherokee up to just last year. Needless to say, my facial muscles relaxed substantially when inspecting this 5,000-pound, 205-inch Diamond Black behemoth in person. A little over a week later, that sense of understanding soon turned to one of outright admiration: This is a fabulous SUV.

I've since gone on to drive Jeep's pricier Grand Wagoneer and the two-row 2022 Grand Cherokee, and if anything, my fondness for this middle-child GC L has grown. It's a wonderfully satisfying bit of vehicular alchemy, simultaneously fusing a capable off-road 4x4, a family hauler and a luxury cruiser all into one sharp-looking package. Simply put, this is one of the most versatile and competent vehicles on the American road.

Assembled in Detroit atop Jeep's new WL flexible architecture, the Grand Cherokee L's unibody is composed of over 60% high-strength steel, so despite its additional 15 inches of length to accommodate the aforementioned third row, this platform feels incredibly solid going down the road. I put over 1,800 miles on the tester seen here, blitzing from suburban Detroit to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my family and loads of beach gear. Everyone was impressed with the Jeep's ride comfort -- even riding on massive 21-inch wheels. Credit goes not just to the GC L's 6.9-inch-longer wheelbase (helpful for smoothing out wavy surfaces and harsh impacts), but also to my Summit Reserve tester's Quadra-Lift air suspension with adaptive dampers. While the route to the OBX features an awful lot of boring Midwest interstate miles, I mixed things up by venturing onto a number of meandering state routes to bypass DC traffic and take in the bucolic Southern scenery.

As you may recall, back in June, Roadshow reviews editor Craig Cole properly flogged the Grand Cherokee L off-road at this model's launch. Cole found that despite having a longer wheelbase and poorer resultant breakover angle (22.6 degrees), this Jeep is no mere crossover, it's a proper rough-and-tumble SUV. With up to 10.9 inches of ground clearance and the ability to ford 2 feet of water, the GC L can tame 99.97% of the terrain its customers will ever ask of it (and those other 0.03% are either idiots or simply eyeing the wrong type of vehicle). Thanks to its available variable-height adaptive air suspension and Quadra-Drive II 4WD system, this GC L has a wide bandwidth of abilities. Between its electronically controlled limited-slip differentials, bushel of Selec-Terrain drive modes and a slew of underbody bash plates, Cole's first drive proved that this Jeep can crawl safely and confidently over obstacles. Now, my time demonstrates that this SUV can also feel properly hunkered down at higher freeway speeds or when negotiating a decreasing-radius turn that sneaks up on an unfamiliar winding country road.

That competent on-road demeanor is very important, because when it comes to its lower-end trims, the GC L will likely be compared more often with car-like family crossovers like the Ford Explorer, Kia Telluride, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander than with more traditional, off-road-minded SUVs like Chevrolet's Tahoe Z71. In this high-end guise, this Jeep is at once more capable, sybaritic and tech-rich than any of those vehicles. Of course, that capability comes at a price -- this Summit Reserve trim's pricing starts well above where all but the Chevy top out.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve


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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve

Friends, it's really, really nice inside the Summit Reserve.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

At this end of the GC L's model spectrum, this Jeep looks, feels and drives like a proper luxury vehicle. In fact, in this context, the Summit Reserve is a bargain compared with a Mercedes-Benz GLS or a BMW X7 -- the L's specs, features and general aura of luxury line up surprisingly well. Jeep officials may tell you that those European SUVs are a closer match for the new range-topping Grand Wagoneer, but don't be fooled: at nearly a foot shorter than the GW, this still-midsize model's footprint is almost exactly the same as Team Germany.

Pop the hood on the Grand Cherokee L, and you'll find one of two very familiar engines: Stellantis' 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, tuned to deliver 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, or a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 (357 hp, 390 lb-ft), both backed by traditional eight-speed automatics. In this era of downsized, turbocharged engines and electrification, these naturally aspirated choices seem decidedly old-school on paper. Indeed, some rivals offer hybrid power with superior low-end torque and efficiency, but at least you don't need to run premium fuel here (89 octane is "recommended" for the V8, but it should run fine on 87).

My test route didn't include any high-altitude climbs or towing duties, so despite the GC L "only" being fitted with the smaller of the two engines, power was perfectly adequate. Credit goes in part to the smooth and decisive 850RE TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic, which rarely hunts for the right gear. And while not as refined or as aurally engaging as the Hemi, the Pentastar felt muscular enough for this 5,000-plus pound bruiser. Of course, if your plans regularly include dragging a camper or a trailer full of toys, or if you live in the mountains or have a heavy right foot, the V8's extra muscle could be a worthy investment.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve


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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve

The 15-inch-longer Grand Cherokee L can tow up to 7,200 pounds.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

That's true even when it comes to fuel efficiency. EPA estimates call for the V6 to net 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. That's definitely better than the Hemi's unimpressive 14 city, 22 highway and 17 combined ratings, but past experience suggests that the Pentastar's fuel efficiency plunges more precipitously than the V8's under heavy loads. Even with a fully loaded cabin and cargo hold, I saw periods on the open highway above EPA estimates, but in aggregate, my freeway-heavy total observed fuel economy was 23.2 mpg -- a fine if unremarkable figure. It's worth noting that Jeep confirmed a Grand Cherokee 4xe plug-in hybrid model will arrive soon, but it's not clear if those plans also include the long-wheelbase L.

The Grand Cherokee's legendary off-road reputation and looks are what's going to get buyers in the door, but it's the interior that will make consumers eager to sign on the dotted line. Even low-end models like the base Laredo 4x2 ($39,375 delivered) and Altitude ($42,575) have nice cabins, but top-shelf models like this Summit Reserve are both shockingly posh and tech-rich. Yes, I could grumble about the fingerprint-happy screen and piano-black trim, but I won't, because from the finely stitched Palermo leather on the massaging front seats to the vast, artfully sculpted expanses of open-pore waxed walnut and precise-feeling switchgear, this is a cabin to envy.

On the tech front, the Summit Reserve's Uconnect 5 infotainment suite runs on a 10.1-inch touchscreen that impresses with its snappy responses and crisp graphics, as well as wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration (lower-end trims make do with 8.4-inch displays). Music buffs will appreciate not just the superb fidelity of the 19-speaker, 950-watt McIntosh audio system, but also the digital representation of the audiophile brand's iconic blue swept needles. With dual-source Bluetooth, a passenger can even play DJ while the driver maintains phone access.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve

Uconnect 5 is snappy and key climate control and vehicle functions have accompanying physical switchgear to keep things intuitive.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Other niceties include a reconfigurable 10.3-inch digital infotainment cluster, a solid head-up display and available night vision. The best part of all of this tech may be that Jeep's designers have had the discipline to preserve a thoughtful amount of buttons and knobs, resisting the industry's trend toward streamlining physical switchgear at the expense of usability. You don't have to fish through a series of menus to change the climate control's fan speed or redirect air flow, and you can easily prod the button for the heated steering wheel or crank the volume knob when your favorite guitar solo comes on.

My tester was a 2021 model, but for 2022, you can even get the widescreen front-seat passenger activity display borrowed from the new Grand Wagoneer. This 10.3-inch touchscreen enables front-seat passengers to curate their own media, plot navigation routes and watch videos (Don't worry, you can't see the screen from the driver's seat). The passenger can even control a pair of optional 10.1-inch rear-seatback displays, so with native Amazon Fire TV support, second-row occupants can be anesthetized by streaming Peppa Pig via onboard Wi-Fi or a phone's mobile hotspot.

With the L's more family-focused mission, it makes sense that it comes with a host of advanced driver-assistance features. Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors with cross-path detection, lane-keeping assist and collision warning with automatic emergency braking are all standard across the board. My Summit tester also included birds-eye 360-degree camera coverage, drowsy driver monitor and intersection collision mitigation tech, among other features. I'm happy to report that I didn't have the occasion to check out all of my tester's active safety features, but those that I did worked well with the exception of lane-keep assist, which ping-ponged between the painted lines more than expected.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve


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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve

With its available air suspension dialed to its highest setting, the Grand Cherokee L can ford 2 feet of water.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Now that the standard-length Grand Cherokee is hitting the market for 2022, you might be tempted to go with the shorty, and I certainly wouldn't blame you. It's better proportioned, more capable off-road and slightly cheaper. That said, there's a big reason to consider taking the L: space. The two-seat third row is reasonably sized for adults taking short journeys, and small kids will be fine back there for longer hauls. But even if you end up driving around with the rearmost row stowed most of the time, the added cargo space might just be worth the extra money it takes to get an L on your tailgate. 

With all three rows upright, there's 17.2 cubic feet of space in the cargo hold. Fold the second row, and you're looking at 46.9 cubes. Drop all the seats behind the first row and there's a vast 84.6 cubic feet. Unsurprisingly, those numbers compare favorably with the two-row Grand Cherokee (37.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats or 70.8 with them folded). That's like getting a whole 'nother trunk.

Over the years, I've driven hundreds of two- and three-row SUVs, and I've found that even when two-row models offer plenty of room for passengers, they often aren't up to the job of transporting four or five people's worth of stuff for a weeklong road trip without adding a rooftop box. That's the general benefit of going with a three-row SUV even if you don't need the extra seats -- the added cargo space really makes these vehicles more useful.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve


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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve

Even if you don't need a third row, the L's extra cargo capacity might be worth considering.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Of course, Jeep's new Wagoneer is larger still, and it has a roomier third row and more cargo space, as you'd expect. But the Big W is significantly more expensive than a loaded Grand Cherokee L, starting at nearly $71,000 for a Series II with two fewer driven wheels and less equipment. Just as importantly, Jeep's full-sizer doesn't actually feel substantially more luxurious than this Summit Reserve L until you get to higher trims that cost tens of thousands more. Even then, the difference isn't as huge as you might think. Plus, to my eyes, the Wagoneer's oversquare rump and hinky windowline lend it an awkward, minivanlike appearance in profile and from any rearward aspect.

Like I said, GC L for the win.

Score Breakdown

Performance 9Features 9.5Design 9Media 9.5

Specs


See full specs
Engine V6 Cylinder EngineDrivetrain Rear Wheel DriveMPG 21 MPGPassenger Capacity 6Body Type SUVs

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