2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee goes big with 3 rows of seats

The new Grand Cherokee L gets a ton of useful tech, but its engine choices carry over unchanged.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
5 min read
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

The three-row L is a foot longer than today's Grand Cherokee.


After 10 long years, a brand-new made its debut Wednesday, and the big news is that it now offers a third row of seats. In fact, this three-row variant is technically a separate model, called the Grand Cherokee L. And while the L gives us a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the Grand Cherokee range, it's the only version Jeep is talking about for now. Information about the two-row models will be released later this year.

Watch this: Jeep shows off the three-row 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Bigger and more refined

Naturally, the Grand Cherokee L is much bigger than the current, five-passenger Grand Cherokee. Its wheelbase is about 7 inches longer than the current SUV, and at 17 feet in overall length, it's a full foot longer than today's model.

The Grand Cherokee L needs all that extra space to accommodate its new third row, which can house two passengers. Those folks in the way-back will have 37.3 inches of headroom and 30.3 inches of legroom, which isn't too bad. Behind that bench, you'll find 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands to 46.9 cubes when the seats are folded flat. Drop the second row and the Grand Cherokee L can accommodate 84.6 cubic feet of cargo.

In terms of design, you'll notice a bit of old-school Wagoneer in this new Grand Cherokee. Sure, a proper Grand Wagoneer is returning soon, but Jeep is smart to bring a few design cues from its first full-size luxury SUV to this latest Grand Cherokee. The hood is longer than before and the seven-slat grille is angled ever so slightly forward, which highlights the new LED lights. We really like the floating roof design, which is achieved by adding a piece of trim along the A pillar that extends along the roofline, stretching all the way back to the LED taillights. A variety of wheel sizes will be available, with 21-inch rollers available as part of the swanky Summit Reserve package.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L: Bigger, bolder, better

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Lots of luxury, tons of tech

The Grand Cherokee's updated cabin is sleek and sophisticated, and includes ambient LED lighting, plenty of open-pore wood and nice leather and metal accents. Audiophiles will enjoy the available McIntosh sound system, and people who want to get comfy-cozy will appreciate the heated and ventilated first- and second-row seats. The front chairs even have massaging seat backs.

A 10.1-inch color touchscreen is home to Jeep's new Uconnect 5 infotainment system, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Below that you'll find redundant climate controls and a wireless charging pad that can accommodate two phones at once. A finely cut, backlit, rotary gear selector finishes off the center console, flanked by push levers for the terrain management system and air suspension.

The driver is treated to a 10.2-inch reconfigurable digital gauge cluster. This screen can display 24 different menus, everything from driver assistance systems to the available night vision and traffic sign recognition tech. Speaking of safety tech, the Grand Cherokee L comes with a whole bunch of goodies, including blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a hands-on driving assistant that combines lane-centering functionality and adaptive cruise control. No, that last one isn't anything new, but Jeep says it paves the way for a more advanced, hands-off system that should arrive in 2022.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

That's one fancy interior.


Two all-too-familiar engines

Under the hood, you'll find the same 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that's lived in the Grand Cherokee since 2011, making 290 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque. Also on hand is the familiar 5.7-liter V8 with 357 hp and 390 lb-ft. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and the V8 features cylinder deactivation for improved fuel economy. Were you hoping Jeep would use one of Chrysler's new eTorque mild-hybrid options? Yeah, so were we.

When it comes to towing and payload, the 3.6-liter Grand Cherokee L can tow 6,200 pounds while the larger V8-powered Jeep can handle 1,000 pounds more. There's a fairly large range in overall payload, too, from 1,200 pounds in the four-wheel-drive Summit with the V8 to 1,410 pounds in a Limited with the V6.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L specifications

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L V62021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L V8
Engine 3.6-liter V65.7-liter V8
Power 290 hp357 hp
Torque 257 lb-ft390 lb-ft
Transmission 8-speed auto8-speed auto
Wheelbase 121.7 in121.7 in
Length 204.9 in204.9 in
Width 77.9 in77.9 in
Height 71.5 in71.5 in
Weight (base) 4,618 pounds5,330 pounds
Ground clearance 8.5 in8.5 in
Payload (max) 1,410 pounds1,240 pounds
Towing (max) 6,200 pounds7,200 pounds
Cargo capacity (max) 84.6 cu-ft84.6 cu-ft
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

The L should be as happy in the woods as any other Grand Cherokee.


Off-road modes and air suspension

Just like the engines, the Jeep's four-wheel-drive systems are the same as before. Quadra-Trac I features a single-speed transfer case and full-time four-wheel drive. Quadra-Trac II adds a low range and the ne-plus-ultra Quadra-Drive II improves things further with an electronic limited-slip differential. One new thing, however, is a front-axle disconnect, which puts the Grand Cherokee L in two-wheel drive if it senses all-wheel drive isn't needed. The Grand Cherokee L's terrain management system has modes for Auto, Sport, Rock, Snow and Mud/Sand, and adjusts parameters like power delivery, steering weight, suspension tune, transmission and throttle mapping and the traction and stability control systems.

The Quadra-Lift air suspension gets a bit of a boost for 2021 (pardon the pun), with a greater range of travel and quicker activation. So equipped, the Grand Cherokee L has an extra inch of suspension travel compared with the outgoing Jeep. The L's stock ride height is 8.5 inches, but the Jeep can hunker down in Aero mode for a better fuel economy, and Park mode lowers the SUV for easier entry and exit. Off-Road 1 raises the clearance up to 9.9 inches while Off-Road 2 stretches a little higher, to 10.2 inches.

When set in Off-Road 2, the Grand Cherokee L can ford 24 inches of water. This also helps the SUV achieve an approach angle of 30.1 degrees, a departure angle of 23.6 degrees and a breakover angle of 22.6 degrees. No, those aren't numbers, but they're great for a three-row unibody crossover.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
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2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

The shorter, five-passenger Grand Cherokee will be revealed later this year.


Competition and future models

Speaking of three-row unibody crossovers, the Grand Cherokee L's competitors are kind of all over the place. The Land Rover Defender 110 and Discovery are the most obvious choices, but they're much smaller. You could theoretically consider the , too, but it uses body-on-frame construction and it's more expensive; this one will better compete with the upcoming Grand Wagoneer. There are plenty of three-row SUVs on the market, like the , Hyundai Palisade, , , , , and so on, but none of those can match the Jeep's off-road capabilities. Not even close.

Now, you might be asking: Why introduce a three-row Grand Cherokee when the Grand Wagoneer will soon be available? The answer comes down to platform/size and price. The Grand Wagoneer is much larger and uses body-on-frame construction while the Grand Cherokee L is smaller and has a unibody design. There's definitely room for both, especially since customers are hungry for SUVs of all shapes and sizes. Pricing for both models is still TBD, but we do know a fully loaded Grand Wagoneer is expected to crest $100,000, while a Grand Cherokee L won't even come close to that.

Look for the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L to arrive at dealers this spring. The two-row Grand Cherokee will debut later in 2021, and a plug-in hybrid 4xe version is coming. Hopefully the high-performance Trackhawk and off-road Trailhawk models will return, as well.