By Derek Price
It has seven slots on the grille. It’s designed for off-roading, and it’s sumptuous on the inside.
None of that is different, yet the Jeep Grand Cherokee has been completely redesigned to continue its longstanding mission in a new world.
Debuting first as the three-row Grand Cherokee L this year, followed by the regular two-row Grand Cherokee as a 2022 model, this all-new Jeep feels fresh in some ways and familiar in others after driving it for a week.
The creamy highway ride and confidence-inspiring traction and ground clearance off the pavement are instantly recognizable Grand Cherokee hallmarks, but they’re encased under a fresh layer of technology and luxury.
A new platform underpins the whole thing and accounts for the most noticeable changes in the way it feels over the road.
The freshly designed architecture does the heavy lifting — figuratively and literally — for the Grand Cherokee L. It’s engineered to meet several important but seemingly contradictory goals, including getting better gas mileage, keeping noises at bay and withstanding the brutal off-road conditions Jeeps are expected to face.
More than 60 percent of it is made from high-strength steel, Jeep claims, including some next-generation blends that give designers more options for stamping detailed parts with extraordinary strength.
Overall, it feels more sprightly now, despite having bigger dimensions and more ground clearance than before. That means the new Grand Cherokee, debuting next year, ought to feel even more dramatically light and nimble with its shorter wheelbase.
Of course, true off-road capability is what sets Jeeps apart from the plethora of crossovers and SUVs available today, and the new design helps this new vehicle live up to the brand’s reputation.
There are three different 4×4 systems available, plus the Quadra-Lift air suspension that can raise or lower the vehicle more than 4 inches for different situations. Its highest setting, only available at low speeds for off-roading, provides 10.9 inches of ground clearance and 24 inches of water fording depth, which is four more than the last Grand Cherokee.
It’s also capable of lowering the vehicle when parked to make loading cargo and passengers easier, or when driving at highway speeds to improve fuel economy.
I loved the air suspension on my tester, and not just for the “check out what this Jeep can do” flashiness of the system. It delivered one of the silkiest, smoothest rides of any off-road vehicle I’ve driven, including Toyota Land Cruisers and Range Rovers that cost a whole lot more.
The highest trim levels in the Grand Cherokee L easily rival those pricey luxury brands. Open-pore wood trim, soft Palermo leather, active noise cancellation and ventilated rear seats — all part of the $3,000 Summit Reserve Group — made my tester feel indulgent, not just nice.
And that’s before you look at the technology packed inside.
The new Grand Cherokee is available with the latest UConnect system that runs wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a heads-up display that projects onto the windshield, digital rear-view mirror and camera that shows the back-seat passengers.
I loved the design and functions on the new UConnect system, but I did experience some bugs in it. Apple CarPlay would randomly stop working on my iPhone 10, a problem I haven’t experienced in other cars.
A 950-watt McIntosh premium audio system is optional. It sounds fantastic pumping music through 19 speakers, including a 10-inch subwoofer, but the bodacious size and placement of all the “McIntosh” logos that come with it seems obnoxious.
Overall, though, the new Grand Cherokee L is exactly what it ought to be. It coddles passengers in luxury, has real Jeep capability baked inside and comes in a family-friendly, three-row format.
It even gets decent gas mileage. My tester was rated for 25 mpg on the highway and a less impressive 18 in city driving.
Pricing for the Grand Cherokee L starts at $38,635 and tops out at $63,635 for the Summit Reserve.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4 ($58,995). Options: Premium paint ($345), Summit Reserve Group ($3,000), Luxury Tech Group ($245). Price as tested (including $1,695 destination charge): $64,280
Wheelbase: 121.7 in.
Length: 204.9 in.
Width: 77.9 in.
Height: 71.5 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter V8 (357 hp, 390 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 25 highway
Why buy it?
A complete overhaul makes the new Grand Cherokee more of what it’s always been: capable and luxurious. The extended-length L model, the only one available at launch, includes a third-row seat.