The longest Jeep Grand Cherokee ever was a long time coming.
When it went on sale earlier this year, 2021 Grand Cherokee L was the first three-row Jeep since the Commander went out of production in 2010. But it’s not anymore.
The brand has already added the even larger Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer to the lineup in the months since, forcing customers with lots of people to haul who previously had no choices in Jeep dealerships to have to make one.
It’s a good problem to have, because it turns out they’re all very good.
But while the Wagoneers are full-size trucks that leverage sister brand Ram’s expertise, the Grand Cherokee L is an all-new vehicle that’s not just a stretch of the Grand Cherokee that’s been on sale since 2011 and built with some Mercedes-Benz engineering that gave it a quality boost.
The Grand Cherokee L — and the fully redesigned two-row 2022 Grand Cherokee that will follow it later this year — is a ground-up design, the first launched by Jeep during the Stellantis era and, well … it nailed it.
Jeep managed to keep both the solid feel of the outgoing vehicle and the weight down with an extensive use of aluminum, the latest high strength steel and new design methods including mounting the front axle directly to the engine.
There are two of those available, which are the main carryover elements from the outgoing Grand Cherokee. The base engine is a 293 hp 3.6-liter V6 and the upgrade a 357 hp 5.7-liter V8, both matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The Grand Cherokee L is offered in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions across the familiar gallery of Laredo, Altitude, Limited, Overland, Summit and Summit Reserve trims at prices ranging from $38,790 to around $70,000.
The Overland is the most off-road capable model. (Jeep)
There are three full-time all-wheel-drive systems found on various models with increasing levels of capability. Quadra-Trac I is a single-speed system for all-around use, Quadra-Trac II adds a low range transfer case for rough terrain while Quadra-Drive II throws in a limited-slip rear differential for max traction on slippery surfaces and comes standard on Overlands equipped with the optional Off-Road Group package and Summits.
(Fox News Autos)
The Overland and Summits also get a Quadra-Lift air suspension system with adaptive dampers and a closed-loop compressor system that doesn’t get gunked up with dirt and can provide up to 10.9 inches of ground clearance at full stretch. At least they should get it, but the feature has been sporadically unavailable due to the ongoing semiconductor chip shortage, so check that window sticker before you pull off the lot.
If you do that in a V8-powered Summit Reserve like my test car, it’ll take about a block to notice how smooth and serene it is. The Grand Cherokee L straddles the line between mainstream and premium and easily holds its own against the competition at whatever price you pay for it.
The Summit Reserve’s leather and open-pore wood-trimmed interior was named one of WardsAuto’s 10 Best and deservedly so. It’s gorgeous to look at and even nicer to sit in, even before you activate the massaging front seats.
The second row reclining captain’s chairs in the Summit Reserve are heated, ventilated and flip forward for easy access to the third row, which is just a pair of seats with plenty of room for heads, but not a whole lot for legs. It’s closer to the Toyota Highlander’s than the cavernous Kia Telluride’s, despite the Grand Cherokee L being longer overall.
They’re fine for kids, though, and can swing adults in a pinch. There’s also a lot of luggage space behind them and the cargo area is huge when they’re folded down, which can be done with the touch of a button in the Summit Reserve.
I didn’t try any serious off-roading, but spent a day on gravel roads with more than a few bumps, ruts and rocky stretches in them and the Summit Reserve felt right at home despite riding on 21-inch wheels with relatively low-profile tires. A 360-degree camera system with a front camera washer helps on narrow trails.
On pavement it’s an absolute champ and the V8 gets a surprisingly good 22 mpg highway, but just 14 in the city. It’s rated to tow up to 7,200 pounds and the V6 can handle 6,200 pounds.
A Night Vision Camera with thermographic technology is optional. (Jeep)
The Grand Cherokee L’s assortment of electronic driver aids includes an optional night vision system in its digital instrument cluster and an Active Driving Assist that combines adaptive cruise control and an aggressive lane-centering feature.
You need to keep a hand on the wheel for it to operate, but just barely. It has a sensor in the rim so a light touch will do. Later in the model year a hands-free version will be available that uses facial recognition technology to make sure you’re watching the road and will be able to operate on thousands of pre-mapped highways, similar to GM’s Super Cruise.
It may have taken a long time to get here, but the Grand Cherokee L was worth the wait and sets the new standard for the class, as long as its long enough for you.
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Base price: $38,790
Type: 4-door, all-wheel-drive, 6 passenger SUV.
Engine: 5.7L V8
Power: 357 hp, 390 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
MPG: 14 city/22 hwy