2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee - Finally giving growing Jeep families an option with three rows.


Ten years after the fourth generation Grand Cherokee debuted, Jeep has added a third row, additional off-road goodies, and refined the drive. The all-new Grand Cherokee L is the first three-row Jeep since the Commander's discontinuation in 2010. It offers seating for six or seven passengers depending on the configuration and a big bump in overall refinement. Inside features an all-new spacious interior with standard 10-inch display screen, LED ambient lighting, driver and front passenger seat massage and personalized climate zones. Technologies include an updated Uconnect system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, head-up display, rear-seat monitoring and a premium McIntosh audio system. The Grand Cherokee L comes in six trim levels known as Laredo, Altitude, Limited, Overland, Summit, and Summit Reserve. Prices start at $38,635 for the Laredo 4x2 and range up to a starting price of $63,635 for the Summit Reserve 4x4.

Under the hood are two powertrain options with impressive range and towing capacity. Standard is a 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine that nets 293 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. This proven powertrain has been upgraded and refined to deliver a smoother 8-speed transmission and better engine stop-start system. Towing capacity is rated at 6,200 lbs and it offers a driving range of 500 miles... perfect for that family road. If you desire a little more punch under the hood, there's an optional 5.7L V8 that delivers 357 horsepower, 390 lb.-ft. of torque with 7,200 lbs of towing capacity.  All models, except the Summit Reserve, are available in either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Competition in the mid to large three row SUV segment continues to grow as it's arguably one of the most popular segments for families. Competing vehicles include the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas among others. After a week in the Grand Cherokee L Overland, here's what stood out...

Interior Design (+)

While I'm typically drawn to exterior style first, the inside of the Grand Cherokee L prominently stood out. The layout is well-designed utilizing premium materials and modern technology. Drivers face a new 10.25-inch frameless digital cluster with a wide variety of customization menus and information including fuel economy, speedometer, infotainment information, and driver assist features. Steering wheel mounted controls are user-friendly as is the infotainment system. The wide dash is outlined by a metal trim piece that highlights a variety of materials that are utilized in various trim levels including soft touch leather and natural wood accents of open-pore Absolute Oak and open-pore Waxed Walnut.

The cascading center console starts with the 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen in the dash that flows down into the climate controls, wireless phone charger, the gear selector, cup holders, and storage all embedded in a piano black cover. Drive Mode and the Quadra-Lift Air Suspension controls are placed on either side of a backlit, metal rotary gear selector that blends luxury and utility. The entire interior vibe feels refined thanks to the attention to details and variety of materials.

Infotainment (+/-)

I've generally found the Uconnect 5 system to be very intuitive and functional. The updated system is faster, features over-the-air updates, a customizable home screen, and much more.  It's all integrated into either a standard 8.4-inch or upgraded 10.1-inch digital touchscreen. The system is easy to navigate with quick access icons at the bottom such as home, media, comfort, navigation, or vehicle. Within each of these apps are more detailed options or controls. The comfort icon can control all of the climate settings as well as the massaging and heated/ventilated seats.  Also included is a rear-seat monitoring camera system that offers a high-definition images of the second-row, rear-facing child seat occupants, and a zoom-in option. It works well and allows driver to keep their heads forward while still seeing what the kids may be up to in the back.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard but I struggled with some connectivity. Initial set-up was easy with my iPhone 12 Pro and the wireless connection worked fine around the suburbs. I ran into some issues when traveling up north past Milwaukee, WI and lost my connection including the Google Maps I was utilizing via CarPlay. Despite many attempts to reconnect, I was unsuccessful. Even when attempting to connect with a cord, I still could not get Apple CarPlay to activate. I was able to get it reconnected when I was back in the Chicagoland area the next day. Perhaps it was a one-off glitch or this particular model needed an update, but I found this to be frustrating, especially in a vehicle like this that would likely be utilized for road trips through more rural environments.

Comfort (+)

From the seats to the space, Jeep designed a comfortable cabin that caters to passengers. Everything is where you want it to be and there's breathing room if you're packing up the family for a trip.  Base configurations accommodate six passengers with captain's chairs in the second row and there is an option for a second-row bench seat to accommodate seven. Front seats are supportive, comfortable and easily adjustable via power controls providing a nice seat position and view all around. The heated and ventilated seats worked well and the available massaging seats were especially nice for a long drive. Second-row captain's chairs are also available with heated/ventilated seats. Access to the third row is easy via sliding second row seats and the third-row was suitable for adults. An available four-zone climate control system ensures no matter where you're seated, the temperature can be easily adjusted.  

Cargo Space (+/-)

Overall cargo space is average for the class. The Grand Cherokee L offers 17.2 cu.ft. of space behind the third row which increases to 46.9 cu.ft. with the third row folded flat. A total of 84.6 cu.ft. is available when both rows are folded flat. By comparison the Volkswagen Atlas offers 20.6 behind the third row and 55.5 cu ft. behind the second row; Chevrolet Traverse 23/57.8 cu.ft., Buick Enclave 23.6/58 cu.ft., Honda Pilot 18.5/55.9 cu.ft., and the Kia Telluride 21/46 cu.ft.

Off-Road Capability (+)

Despite the addition of the third row, this SUV remains dedicated to its off-road roots...only now even more passengers can come along for the adventure. The Grand Cherokee L uses unibody construction rather than a body-on-frame chassis that is found on other off-roaders such as the Wrangler or Toyota 4Runner, but it doesn't impede its capabilities. For starters, 4x4 models come with a Selec-Terrain traction management system with five terrain modes known as auto, sport, rock, snow, and mud/sand. Each of these re-tunes the electronics, 4x4 torque split, braking and handling, steering and suspension, throttle control, transmission shift, traction control and more to maximize control in their appropriately named settings. Also available is hill-descent control which will allow drivers to control the speed down steep, rugged grades without the need for brake pedals (standard on Overland and Summit models).  The available Off-Road Group equipment package runs $1,095 and will add in 18" aluminum wheels with all-terrain tires, electronic limited-slip differential rear axle, and high-strength steel skid plates to protect the under carriage. The trail-rated Overland 4x4 also benefits from class-leading traction, ground clearance of up to 10.9 inches, maneuverability, articulation and up to 24-inches of water fording. Bottom line, there is no other three-row SUV with as much off-road capability.

Fuel Economy (+/-)

Ratings for the V6 are average for the midsize three row SUV Class and come in at 19/26/21 MPG city/highway/combined for the 2WD models or 18/25/21 for the 4WD models. Stepping up to the V8 will lower those figures to 14/22/17 MPG city/highway/combined. When it arrived, it offered a reasonable range of 410 miles and after a week of driving I averaged 15.6 MPG combined.

Overall Performance (+)

Regardless of which powertrain you opt for, both have a proven track record of reliability. My time was spent with the 5.7L Hemi V8 and it was powerful with quick acceleration and plenty of passing punch on the highway. The eight-speed transmission is smooth and impressively refined. While the V6 will be sufficient for most around-town uses, the V8 does increase the towing capacity and will be better suited for hauling. Weighing over 5,000 lbs, this is a lot of SUV to handle and both powertrains do it well.  It was composed and pleasant over road imperfections. The Quadra-Lift Air Suspension automatically adapts to various speeds and types of driving to maximize performance. It isn't agile around the corners, but it is well-weighted to minimize body lean and makes for a nice comfortable highway cruiser.

Exterior Design: Front (+)

The new Grand Cherokee L has an evolutionary design up front that works very well. The new face features slimmer LED headlight that extends into the grille. The signature seven slot grille is wider, shorter and more upright than the previous generation's angled grille. Chrome trim is used to accentuate the lines and the lower fascia has wide openings that look rugged and refined. The middle portion of the lower fascia along with the accent trim will vary based on trim level, bit all work really well to give the Grand Cherokee a modern update.

The side profile is again more upright and boxier than the previous generation. Trim adorns the roofline above the windows and creates a separation between the roof and body of the vehicle. This treatment stands out even more with the optional gloss black two-tone roof available on higher trims. Large wheel arches provide plenty of room for a variety of wheel/tire sizes and wheel travel for off-roading. Wheel sizes range from 18-21 inches and pair with all-season or off-road tires. All wheel designs work really well with each trim level and vary in finishes.

Exterior Design: Back (-)

Overall, I think Jeep did a nice job with the design of the first three-row Grand Cherokee. However, the rear proportions feel off to me with a much longer rear overhang compared to the very short front overhang. While I realize more space is necessary in the back for the third row and cargo, I don't see the disproportion in competing models as drastically as I do in the Grand Cherokee L. Around back are slimmer high-set LED taillamps with the JEEP badge in the model and license plate centered below a strong character line which creates a separate segment of the tailgate. Embedded in the rear bumper are two more layers with integrated cut outs for the exhaust. The design feels busy and a bit disjointed while losing some of the rugged character that is visible up front.  

All of these concerns disappear with the new 2022 two-row Grand Cherokee which utilizes the same basic design, but different proportions.  The design and layout work really well and small differences like a strip that connects the taillights provides a visually more appealing placement for the JEEP badge.

Final Statement:

The expansion of the Grand Cherokee line to include the new three row L model is a smart move as Jeep continues to grow in popularity. The new SUV is refined with a premium and comfortable interior that I would gladly spend a lot of time in on a road trip. The road manners are polished and the off-road capabilities are unmatched by any competitors. Despite my personal distaste for the back proportions, I like the overall exterior design.

First Impression Summary:

Test Vehicle:
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Exterior Color: Silver Zynith
Interior Color: Global Black Leather
Notable Options: Luxury Tech Group IV ($1,995), Advanced ProTech Group III ($1,995), Off-Road Group ($1,095), 5.7L V8 HEMI ($3,295), Uconnect5 Navigation/10.1" Display ($1,795)
MSRP as tested: $67,210 (with destination)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.