2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4 Review: Baller Status

October 20, 2021 2:18 p.m
Quick Facts

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4 Quick Facts

5.7-liter V8 (357 horsepower at 5,150 rpm; 390 lb-ft at 4,250 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive

14 city / 22 highway / 17 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

16.7 city / 10.9 highway / 14.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100 km)

Basic price

$60,690 (US) / $77,990 (Canada)

As tested

$67,575 (US) / $83,680 (Canada)

Prices include $1,795 destination charge in the US and $1,995 to $2,895 for shipping, PDI and A/C tax in Canada and, due to cross-border equipment differences, cannot be directly compared.

When the Grand Cherokee originally debuted back in 1993, Americans were just warming up to the idea of ​​daily driven sport utility vehicles. The idea was pretty straightforward: Take the capabilities of the Cherokee XJ, tune it for real-world drivability, tweak the looks, and add some creature comforts that move the scale away from utilitarian and toward premium.

Nearly three decades later, the concept is largely the same, but the all-new Grand Cherokee L is worlds apart from the first-generation ZJ. Aside from the third row (a first for a Grand Cherokee), this ornate SUV rolls around on decidedly massive 21-inch wheels, has massaging front seats covered in quilted Palermo leather and a 19-speaker McIntosh sound system, and floats on an adjustable air suspension with adaptive dampers – the latter of which is also a first for the model.

It might be easy to dismiss this as Jeep abandoning all semblance of its off-road heritage – the giant rings really reinforce that notion here in Summit Reserve trim. But the ability is still there, as evidenced by the presence of Quadra-Trac all-wheel drive and a traction management system with five unique off-road modes, along with approach, break and departure angles of 28.2, 22.6 and 23.6 degrees, respectively the 10, 9 inches of ground clearance that the air suspension provides at its highest setting.

In reality, this is a case of an automaker just doubling down on what we already knew: Grand Cherokees spend a lot more time commuting and hauling the family around than they do crawling, and people like to have nice things to use when they do it. Jeep is clearly taking half measures in that regard, and the results are impressive.

As with the Grand Cherokees that came before it, the fifth-generation SUV is supported by a unibody chassis. The platform is all-new and tailor-made for the Grand Cherokee (for now, anyway), and about 60 percent of this new architecture uses high-strength steel, while aluminum is used for elements like the front subframe, struts, hood, and rear. hatch to keep the weight down.

The new look reflects the big changes underneath – the beltline has been lowered compared to the outgoing model to allow for a more spacious cabin and improved outward visibility, and the body adopts the simpler, technology-focused design language first seen on the new Grand Vagnare. It’s less distinctive than the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee, but the streamlined aesthetic does an admirable job of disguising this machine’s bulk. Its Big, which measures a full 15 inches longer and an inch and a half wider than the two-row model of the outgoing generation. A two-row version will join the range at the end of the year, along with a 4xe hybrid variant expected in early 2022, but all are noticeably larger than the Grand Cherokees that came before them.

The increased dimensions pay dividends in interior space, however, and the cabin is where things start to get really interesting. It’s also completely reworked, and in this top-of-the-line trim, it’s a genuinely lavish affair, outfitted with acres of high-quality leather and premium materials such as open-pore waxed walnut. The new layout is complemented by luxury features such as the aforementioned heated, ventilated and massaging front seats, active noise cancellation and a sharp-looking 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Uconnect 5, the latter of which has five times the processing power of the previous generation system and supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Summit Reserve package also gets you that McIntosh stereo, and that’s worth noting again because it’s a brand normally associated with ultra-high-end home audio equipment, and Jeep is the only automaker the company currently works with. It’s not quite on par with the Naim system in the Bentley Bentayga I drove earlier this year, but it sounds good enough to fully justify the $3,000 price tag for the optional package, which includes the 21-inch wheels, the nice quilted leather, heated and ventilated second-row seats, and a few other odds and ends that add to the overall poshness of this thing.

A 3.6-liter, 293-horsepower naturally aspirated V6 is the standard powerplant regardless of trim level, but buyers can treat themselves to the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 (a $3,295 option) if they need a little more grunt. The eight-pot offers 357 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque (along with a much better engine soundtrack) and ups towing capacity by half a ton to 7,200 pounds. The power is routed through an eight-speed automatic regardless of which engine sits under the hood.

Once at the helm, I spent some time just looking over the interior and enjoying the seriously kickass stereo before heading out into the world. You can find some signs of the Grand Cherokee’s sub-$40,000 starting price if you look hard enough, but overall, the interior of the Grand Cherokee L is a remarkable achievement for a vehicle in its price range. The Summit Reserve package certainly puts the best foot forward, but the inherent parts make it a segment leader regardless of spec.

The combination of air suspension and adaptive dampers is a revelation out on the road, providing a luxury car-like ride quality in the Auto driving mode during everyday driving despite the large wheels and low-profile tires. It’s a relaxed affair, with near-seamless shifts and very little noise from the outside world seeping into the cabin even at highway speeds. A downward click of the center console’s drive mode selector shifts the Grand Cherokee L into Sport mode, which lowers the suspension, stiffens the dampers and tunes the transmission for a more urgent response. Weighing in at well over 5,000 pounds, the L isn’t sporty by any means, but it doesn’t feel headstrong and out of sorts when asked to hurtle down a mountain road.

If there’s a weak link in the Grand Cherokee L’s armor, it’s actually the power plant. Everything about this SUV expresses quiet, simple luxury except the engine. As mentioned earlier, the 5.7-liter Hemi is an optional upgrade over the standard V6, but even the larger plant seemed stressed when called upon to move the Grand Cherokee L with any urgency. While almost every other part of the Grand Cherokee has seen constant improvements over the years, the 5.7-liter Hemi hasn’t seen much revision since its last significant update way back in 2009, and in 2021 its age is really starting to show.

We can, of course, expect the inevitable SRT model to tackle this properly with a 6.4-liter Hemi making somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 horsepower. And if the fifth generation gets its own Trackhawk variant, it’s safe to assume it will erase any notion that this SUV lacks power. But both of these models are likely to command a lot more coin and appeal to a different type of buyer.

Meanwhile, the new Grand Cherokee L sets the tone for models to come, indicating that luxury will be a much bigger focus. While that may seem a little incongruous with a brand that made its reputation where the pavement ended, the reality is that Jeep is tuning in to real-world use cases where on-road comfort and drivability are paramount and off-roading is an extreme scenario. To this end, this sports tool authoritatively handles its primary role, not only in terms of the functions and available technology, but also from a dynamic point of view. And with any luck, it will only get better from here.

What’s new for 2021

For the debut of the fifth-generation Grand Cherokee, almost everything except the powertrains – the platform, the body, the interior, the suspension and the technology undergo extensive revision. The L model introduces an optional third row for the first time in Grand Cherokee history.

Who should buy the Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4

Anyone who wants Land Rover posh, almost S-Class tech and a third row for Jeep money, but doesn’t mind the mid-engine options.

[Images © 2021 Bradley Iger/TTAC]

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