I approach the top of a gnarled rocky hill in the Jeep Grand Cherokee L 2021, miscalculate my path and hit a large rock while driving on top of the dirt. Feeling bad about my mistake, I tell a nearby Jeep representative that I am sorry.
“That’s fine,” he replies. “We can make more skid plates.”

The Jeep Grand Cherokee L 2021 is a new three-row version of the venerable Jeep. It’s bigger and more mature, but that doesn’t mean it feels as at home off-road as it does on the sidewalk.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

A new era

The Grand Cherokee L is the first fifth generation Grand Cherokee, with a two-row version to follow later this year. It’s a smart way to improve sales for the model, as Jeep says the main reason buyers didn’t go for the last-gen model was because of the lack of a third row. It’s also the first three-row jeep since the unfortunate 2006-2010 Commander, but it’s soon joined by another three-row moneymaker, the larger bodied Wagoneer.

I’m in an Overland model with the optional off-road groupset that adds an electronic limited slip rear differential, 18-inch wheels with Michelin Primacy XC A / S tires and skid plates for the gas tank, transfer case and front suspension, and Subfloor. I beat one of these, but the big crossover is no worse.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

As an Overland, it also has a unique front apron with a better approach angle, hill descent control, air suspension with five modes and 4.2 inches of stroke, adaptive dampers and front tow hooks. For off-road use, this tester is of course also equipped with the Quadra-Trac II all-wheel drive with 2-speed transfer case.

The Selec Terrain system that comes with all-wheel drive has five modes of traction, but I’m in rock mode which shifts into gear to allow for a 44: 1 creep ratio. The air suspension is also in its Offroad 2 setting, which increases the ground clearance from the standard 8.5 inches to 10.9 inches. This ride height generates approach, tilt and departure angles of 30.1, 22.6 and 23.6 degrees, respectively. While these numbers can’t keep up with the numbers on the outgoing two-row model, they are still enough to handle a grueling off-road run.

My rock bashing escapade came at the end of a trail that included hill climbs, hill climbs, and off-camber exercises that approached all 30 degree angles, a jump through deep water, and some intricate rock crawling. The Overland handled them all well, despite some scratches on these replaceable skid plates. The bona fides of the new Grand Cherokee L seem to be intact, new generation or not.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

Comfortable cruiser

The air suspension is also a boon to the dynamics on the road, which is important since Jeep engineers made the suspension softer. As standard in the Overland and Summit models, it is equipped with adaptive dampers, which can be tightened in the available Sport mode, which also reduces the ground clearance from 8.5 to 7.7 inches. The suspension upgrade helps the Grand Cherokee L feel bound by fairly direct steering and respond to driver input. It’s not as firm as the previous two-row model, which makes it comfortable to ride even with the 21-inch wheels available, but it’s also quite responsive and doesn’t offer as much road feel.

The soft suspension hurts handling with the basic steel suspension in the Laredo and Limited models, which tend to float on the freeway and lean a little too much in curves. The standard 18-inch tires contribute to a very smooth ride. Jeep could stand on both the base and air suspension to tighten the dampers.

It seems that the new EUV platform could handle this coordination. Jeep says the rear-wheel and all-wheel drive unibody platform is completely new, and it’s 13% stiffer in torsion and 18% stiffer in transverse direction. The front subframe is now firmly attached to the body, and the front axle now runs through the engine oil pan, lowering the engine and creating a lower center of gravity. Somewhere between the chassis setup and the larger body – the L-body style is 15.1 longer than the outgoing two-row Grand Cherokee with a 7.0-inch longer wheelbase – the Grand Cherokee L isn’t as sporty and controlled as its two-row predecessor.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

The powertrains are not new, at least for the time being. The well-known 3.6-liter V-6 is standard. Its 293 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque get the roughly 4,700 lbs. SUV from 0 to 100 mph in 7.5 seconds. It has good oomph from a stop and even at highway speeds, and allows for a maximum towing capacity of 6,200 pounds. The 5.7-liter V-8 turns the dial to 357 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. It costs $ 3,295, cuts the time from 0-60 mph to 6.7 seconds, increases the trailer load to 7,200 lb, and adds a muffled V-8 chirp, though all Grand Cherokee Ls do a good job to muffle the sound.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

Bigger, more spacious, more luxurious

With the L, the Grand Cherokee grows inside and out. The additional length provides two inches of legroom in the second row and creates space for a seat in the third row for two passengers. The second row shifts 7.1 inches back and forth to balance space with the third row, and its tilt and slide function makes it easy to return to. The interior is large enough so that both rows of seats have enough legroom. The third row also offers enough headroom for 6-foot-2 passengers and enough shoulder room for a couple of adults to kick back there for touring the city. The seating surfaces sit too low to support your thighs on long journeys, but that goes for any three-row SUV.

In its final generation, the Grand Cherokee has built a reputation as a mainstream SUV that could also compete with luxury models. The fifth generation of the Grand Cherokee L does the same.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

At the top of the product range, the Grand Cherokee L is equipped with diamond-quilted leather upholstery and open-pore wood paneling, most of the dashboard and center console are wrapped and sewn, and it gets a headliner made of synthetic suede. The look and feel would be at home in an Audi or BMW, and the prices reflect this. The Overland model starts at $ 54,690 and the Summit costs $ 63,690.

However, on the $ 45,690 Limited, and in particular the $ 38,690 Laredo models, the casing and seams are giving way to hard plastics, the open-pored wood is replaced by shiny plastic, and the synthetic suede headliner changes to fabric. The Limited is the more welcoming of the two with standard leather upholstery, but the Laredo can hit $ 45,000 with a pretty drab interior.

The good news is that the Grand Cherokee L is well equipped in every trim level. The Laredo comes as standard with fabric upholstery, an 8-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat, 3-zone automatic air conditioning, a 10.3-inch digital instrument, an 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as LED -Fitted exterior lighting, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

Infotainment is also maturing with the new Uconnect 5 system for 2021. Its processor is five times faster and offers up to five start screens that owners can customize with their favorite functions. The digital instrument cluster is also customizable.

Jeep also gives the Grand Cherokee L a sense of responsibility by adding some much-needed safety features, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, blind spot monitoring and rear crossroad detection. This means that the Grand Cherokee L is fully competitive in terms of safety after the fourth generation lagged behind for years.

With its L-shaped body, the fifth generation Jeep Grand Cherokee 2021 is a comfortable, safe, luxurious and mature family crossover that still wants to play out and in the mud. It might not be quite as fun on the road and its basic interior could use some flair, but the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L can handle a rockfall on its underside like a champ. Bash anything you want. Jeep will do more.

Jeep flew us into picturesque Detroit, where we drove the Grand Cherokee L and toured its birthplace, so that Motor Authority could bring you this firsthand report.

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