CHATHAM, Mass. – The Jeep Grand Cherokee has set standards within the mid-size sport-utility vehicle (SUV) segment since it literally crashed into America’s psyche at the 1992 Detroit International Auto Show and now extends its market reach by entering into the three-row portion of this segment with the all-new 2021 Grand Cherokee L.

Almost 15-inches longer and three-inches higher than the two-row 2021 Grand Cherokee (which will be replaced by a new two-row version later this year), the new Jeep still comfortably fits within the mid-size group (comparably sized to the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer). Jeep is also moving into the large-SUV segment with the upcoming 215-inch-long Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

Platform remains monocoque for car-like safety, comfort and poise

The new Grand Cherokee continues to be based on a monocoque (or unibody) design like virtually all cars, minivans and crossovers, unlike the traditional SUV body-on-frame. This has led to the Jeep engineers being able to better manage passenger comfort and needs, including on-road performance, without sacrificing off-road prowess. It also has meant having the ability to design passenger-car-like crush zones for added safety.

The 2021 Grand Cherokee L Overland 4X4 we drove performed more like a modern luxury car than a lumbering truck. The standard 3.6-liter V6 produces 290 horsepower and 257 pounds-feet of torque which provides more than adequate on-road performance along with the ability to tow a trailer of up to 6,200 pounds.

The Overland version comes with the Quadra-Trac II® four-wheel-drive (4WD) system which operates as an all-wheel-drive system (AWD), putting power to the wheel(s) which needs it the most automatically. This system, the top 4WD of the three offered in the Grand Cherokee L, also has an electronic rear limited-slip differential for added traction when necessary.

The driver can configure these powertrain capabilities to adjust the Grand Cherokee L Overland to varying road conditions with the Selec-Terrain® traction-management system to handle five basic driving scenarios – Automatic, Sport, Rock, Snow, Mud/Sand.

The powertrain components, including the eight-speed automatic transmission, are engineered to provide the varying capabilities Jeep owners might demand without sacrificing operational efficiency. This has resulted in quite reasonable fuel economy for a vehicle of this size, weight (approximately 5,000 pounds) and skills – I got 21.9 miles per gallon, about a mile-per-gallon better than the federal Environmental Protection Agency says it will do in everyday driving (the EPA rates it at 18 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway).

I was impressed with my results, considering how much I pushed the Jeep and how little of my driving mix included highway time.

Safety and driver-assistance features abound

The media information boasts of 110 advanced safety and security features, including L (Level) 2 driver-assist systems with hands-on automated driving (advanced hands-free L2 automated driving is coming in 2022).

The list of standard and optional advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) includes a night-vision system which uses thermographic technology to augment the reach of the Grand Cherokee L’s headlamps. Infrared sensors search for the heat signatures of pedestrians and animals in the road ahead, at distances up to 219 yards (200 meters). When located, an alert with their positions relative to the vehicle are outlined in the instrument cluster directly in front of the driver.

The Overland also came with a comprehensive heads-up display which worked amazingly well in all lighting conditions – even in sunlight while I wore polarized sunglasses (which is not the norm)!

The list of standard ADAS contains:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • active lane-management system
  • forward-collision warning plus with automatic emergency braking (AEB)
  • ParkView® rear back-up camera
  • ParkSense® front and rear parking-assist with stop
  • blind-spot and cross-path detection
  • advanced-brake assist
  • pedestrian/cyclist emergency braking
  • automatic high-beam headlamp control
  • electronic-stability control

The Advanced ProTech Group III option package added:

  • Intersection-collision-assist system
  • Night vision (as described above)
  • surround-view camera system
  • Integrated off-road camera system

Technology inside helps pamper passengers

The Grand Cherokee L, like all its namesakes, carries an aggressive, attack any terrain persona, but once inside the occupants will find a technology-filled, luxury cabin.

The all-new 2021 Jeep® Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve model’s spacious interior features standard 10-inch display screens, including a frameless digital gauge cluster and 10.1-inch Uconnect 5 touchscreen radio, hand-wrapped, quilted Palermo leather and open-pore Waxed Walnut wood accents, all-new LED lighting with ambient features, driver and front passenger seat massage and personalized climate zones.

While working on this review, Ward’s Communications, a major automotive-industry trade publication, named the new Grand Cherokee L to its list of 10 Best Interiors.

“Utterly breathtaking interior,” noted Wards 10 Best judge Drew Winter. “A stunning mixture of rich colors and lavish materials.”

The Nappa leather wrapped seats in the front are electrically adjusted with memory, heating and ventilation, while the second-row captain’s chairs are heated (as is the steering wheel which also has electric adjustment for height and reach).

A rear-seat-facing camera system allows moms and dads to keep track of young occupants in the second row, including those in rear-facing child seats. The driver and/or front passenger can keep track of what’s going on back there without having to turn around or go through any other seat gymnastics, thus helping to keep focus where it belongs – on the road ahead and driving.

The automatic climate-control system has four zones (as part of a luxury option group) – one for each front passenger, then one each for the second and third rows.

Jeep’s UConnect 5 Navigation infotainment system (upgrade option) brings a 10.1-inch color display, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto along with navigation, AM/FM/Satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio amplified by a McIntosh 950-Watt, 19-speaker (with subwoofer) sound system.

The grandest Grand Cherokee of them all

Then Chrysler President Bob Lutz, with Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, drove the first Jeep Grand Cherokee from its assembly in the factory in downtown Detroit, up a staircase and through a plate-glass window into the 1992 Detroit International Auto Show.

Since crashing onto the scene as a 1993 model, the Grand Cherokee has made an indelible mark on the nation’s automotive landscape and SUV market. Its monocoque design provided a platform for potential luxury unseen in the class and the new Grand Cherokee L Overland builds on this platform.

The new Grand Cherokee is smooth, powerful, comfortable and filled with luxury, technology and ADAS to rival anything on the market, regardless of price or segment. I did not get to test its off-road capabilities, but the 2021 Overland I drove came with the Off-Road Group of options (265/60R18 OnOff Road Tires, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, skid plates, 230mm rear axle) and was Trail Rated – which means it has been thoroughly vetted in the mountains of the Southwest.

This comprehensively equipped Grand Cherokee L Overland priced out at $65,070 (including $1,795 destination charge), not an insignificant amount of money, but in today’s SUV market, very competitive and actually, a value proposition. This is a lot of SUV and more than capably carries the Jeep and Grand Cherokee names into new territory.

Next week TBR Drives the Mazda CX-5 compact SUV.