2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee - First Drive: A good 3-row Jeep.


I just kept thinking a vehicle like this isn't supposed to do that. First when I watched the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L bob and dip over a series of cement moguls. Then when I was behind the wheel climbing a rock wall or tipping sideways more than 30 degrees.

This is a three-row family vehicle - complete with available FamCam technology.

It shouldn't be able to point its nose to the sky and then plunge over a precipice with ease.

It just shouldn't.

But it did.

It's not Jeep Wrangler trail ready, but the Overland model is trail rated.

Tom Seel, vehicle line executive for Grand Cherokee L, summed it up simply: "It's a three-row vehicle, but it's still a Jeep."

Yes. It is. And I was very impressed with its off-road capability.

On-road comfort

But it also does darn well on road as well. The first portion of our drive was on Michigan highways, then we hit wending country roads, complete with a double-wide tractor blocking a lane and a half in a no-passing zone.

All-told, I was on solid pavement for about two hours, and I really liked the cabin quietness and seat comfort as well as the planted feeling you get while driving at higher speeds.

One of the biggest differences I noticed was in terms of visibility. The audio system speaker is removed from the A Pillar, which means it gets a bit narrower. Usually, I must duck around the pillar to check front blind spots, but I didn't find myself doing that in the Grand Cherokee L.

Another design change that helps with visibility: a lower belt line. In addition to bigger window coverage, the lower belt line helps this three-row SUV drive much smaller than it is.

I constantly forgot I was actually driving a three-row vehicle with enough third-row legroom for a 6-foot, 4-inch man to sit back there in moderate comfort.

'Real' adults in the third row of the Grand Cherokee L

I always say I'm the size of a 10-year-old. So, for me to sit in a third row and be comfortable is NBD, but to put someone who's more than 6-feet tall back there? BFD. During the video review, I pulled Mario Holmes, an engineering manager at Jeep, into the third row with me and we didn't bump shoulders. Plus, he still had a couple inches of legroom.

While his knees did pop off the seat bottom, the extra cushioning will help prevent any tailbone soreness.

It's also worth noting that Jeep moved the air vents in the third row from the ceiling and floor to the C Pillars so that the air can more easily hit the upper body of the third-row passenger. Other amenities back here include a couple of Easter eggs on the windows, cup holders and phone storage as well as USB-C and USB-A charge ports.

If equipped with a center console, the third-row passenger also has rear-flip access to that storage bin.

So, speaking of storage, before we leave the third row, let's talk about cargo volume behind the third row, which is about 17 cubic feet. This is about as much as you'll get in the trunk of a midsize sedan, and one thing the Grand Cherokee L has going for it is the fact the tail end design is more upright, so you should be able to fit smaller roller boards upright, stacked next to each other - and still shut the door.

We'll have to wait for an at-home test to see how many roller boards will actually fit back there, though.

Second-row amenities

As you would expect, if the third row is comfy(ish), the second row will be even better. Holmes was able to sit here with plenty of leg room as well, and in addition to comfy seats, it has a lot of available amenities including USB-A and USB-C ports, a 110-volt outlet, heated and cooled seats and sunshades.

One of the coolest available features, however, has to be the quad-zone climate control that lets outboard middle-row passengers set their own temperature. Just like the dual climate control in the front is a marriage saver, this quad-zone system is a family saver. Me? I'd be in the back with the heat up to 80 and heated seat on - pretty much no matter the weather -  which means I wouldn't have to disrupt the rest of the car that likely wants much cooler temperatures.

Power packed

I spent all my time during the press preview in an Overland model equipped with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine, which delivers 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. And, from highway merges to passing maneuvers, I thought this engine did well. It's not going to give you heart-pounding acceleration or a throaty V-8 growl, but it gets the job done. And that's a good thing, since Jeep anticipates this will be the volume seller.

There is, of course, a V-8 option in the form of the 5.7-liter Hemi that delivers 357 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. That engine will also deliver a max towing capacity of 7,200 pounds. So, maybe that's the luggage solution if you want to fill all the passenger seats. Tow it.

Devil in the details

The focal point of the cockpit area has to be the dial gearshift. With metal surrounding the edges and a glass top, it's one of those things you want to examine from every angle.

Frankly, everywhere you look in the cabin, the details are well thought out. From the stitching on the seats to the textures on the volume and tuning knobs.

And that's without getting into the available McIntosh premium audio system. From the speaker designs to the illuminated emblems to output level pages in the infotainment, this system not only sounds good with 19-speakers and 950 watts of power but also looks good.

I got to sneak a peek inside one of the more basic models with the smaller screen, middle-row bench and cloth seating surfaces, and I was still impressed with the material selections, stitching on the dash and overall look and feel.

Jeep paid a lot of attention to the details in the Grand Cherokee L, and it really shows.

The bottom line on the Grand Cherokee L

This review only scratches the surface of the details on the Grand Cherokee L. There is so much more information and detail to share, but I figure about 1,000 words is the max reading limit for anyone on the web, so I'm going to stop while I'm behind.

I focused on the on-road on the interior, but I'm sure we'll have another review down the road by Publisher Tim Esterdahl, which gets into the nitty gritty of the off-road tech and capabilities. So stay tuned.

From my perspective, though, Jeep knocked this all-new full-size SUV out of the park with the handling and attention to detail. Now, bring on that mid-size two-row Grand Cherokee! I can't wait to see it.

Oh, and before I sign off, I have three other (quick) things I need to say: This is not the same as the Grand Wagoneer, this is not built on the same platform as the Dodge Durango, and a two-row version of the Grand Cherokee is coming later this year.

Editor's note: Driving impressions in this "First Drive" review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Jeep covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.

Jill Ciminillo

Jill has been writing about cars for more than 15 years, representing the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers and the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. Jill recently served as the first female president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and currently sits on its Board of Directors as President Emeritus. Jill is a syndicated automotive writer and acts as the managing editor for the Pickup Truck + SUV Talk website.