2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4 Review: Baller Status
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4x4 Fast Facts
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 straight-forward: Take the capability of the Cherokee XJ, tune it for real-world drivability, tweak the look, and add some creature comforts that shift the scales away from the utilitarian toward the premium.
Nearly three decades later the concept remains 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 decked-out SUV rolls around on decidedly massive 21-inch wheels, boasts massaging front seats covered in quilted Palermo leather and a 19-speaker McIntosh audio system, and floats on an adjustable air suspension with adaptive dampers – latter of which is also a first for the model.
It might be easy to dismiss this as Jeep abandoning any pretense of its off-road heritage – the gigantic hoops certainly reinforce that notion here in Summit Reserve trim. But the capability is still there, as evidenced by the presence of the Quadra-Trac four-wheel-drive system and a traction management system with five unique terrain modes, along with approach, breakover, and departure angles of 28.2, 22.6, and 23.6 degrees, respectively, and the 10.9 inches of ground clearance provided by the air suspension 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 hell of a lot more time commuting and hauling the family around than they do rock crawling, and people like to have nice things to use when they’re doing that. Jeep is clearly through 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 underpinned by a unibody chassis. The platform is totally new and bespoke to the Grand Cherokee (for now, anyway), and about 60 percent of this new architecture utilizes high-strength steel, while aluminum is used for elements like the front subframe, shock towers, hood, and rear hatch to help keep the weight down.
The new look reflects the big changes underneath – the beltline has been lowered versus the outgoing model to allow for a more spacious cabin and improved outward visibility, and the bodywork adopts the simpler, tech-focused design language that we first saw on the new Grand Wagoneer. It’s less distinctive than the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee, but the streamlined aesthetic does an admirable job of hiding the sheer mass of this machine. It’s big, measuring a full 15 inches longer and an inch and a half wider than the two-row model from the outgoing generation. A two-row version will join the line-up by the end of the year, along with a 4xe hybrid variant that’s expected to arrive in early 2022, but all are noticeably larger than the Grand Cherokees that came before them.
The expanded dimensions pay dividends in interior space, though, and the cabin is where things start to get really interesting. It’s also completely reworked, and in this top-tier trim, it’s a genuinely lavish affair, outfitted with acres of high-quality leather and premium materials like open-pore waxed walnut wood. The new layout is complemented by luxury features like the aforementioned heated, ventilated, and massaging front seats, active noise canceling, and a sharp-looking 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Uconnect 5, the latter of which boasts 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 extremely high-end home audio equipment, and Jeep is the only automaker that the company is currently working with. It’s not quite on par with the Naim system in the Bentley Bentayga I drove earlier this year, but it does sound good enough to totally justify the $3,000 price tag for the options package all by itself, which includes those 21-inch wheels, the fancy quilted leather, heated and ventilated second-row seats, and some 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 spring for the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 (a $3,295 option) if they need a bit more grunt. The eight-pot offers 357 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque (along with a much better engine soundtrack) and raises towing capacity by half a ton to 7,200 pounds. Power is routed through an eight-speed automatic regardless of which engine is under the hood.
Settled in at the helm, I spent some time just looking over the interior and enjoying the seriously kick-ass stereo before venturing out into the world. You can find a few signs of the Grand Cherokee’s sub-$40K starting price if you look hard enough, but on the whole, 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 intrinsic elements make it a segment leader regardless of spec.
The air suspension and adaptive damper combo is a revelation out on the road, yielding luxury-car-like ride quality in the Auto drive mode during everyday motoring despite the big wheels and low profile tires. It’s a relaxed affair, with near-seamless shifts and very little noise from the outside world intruding into the cabin even at highway speeds. A downward click on the center console’s drive mode selector switches Grand Cherokee L over the Sport mode, which hunkers the suspension down, firms up the dampers, and sets the transmission up for a more urgent response. Weighing in at well over 5,000 pounds, the L isn’t sporty by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t feel wayward and totally out of sorts when asked to hustle down a mountain road.
If there’s a weak link in Grand Cherokee L’s armor, it’s actually the power plant. Everything in this SUV expresses quiet, effortless luxury except the engine. As mentioned earlier, the 5.7-liter Hemi is an optional upgrade over the standard V6, but even the bigger mill seemed stressed when called upon to move the Grand Cherokee L with any urgency. While nearly every other element of the Grand Cherokee has seen continual improvement over the years, there hasn’t been much revision to the 5.7-liter Hemi 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 properly address this 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 that it will obliterate any notion of this SUV lacking power. But both of these models will likely command a lot more coin and appeal to a different type of buyer.
In the meantime, the new Grand Cherokee L sets a tone for models to come which indicates that luxury is becoming a much bigger focus. Although that can seem a bit incongruous with a brand that earned its reputation where the pavement ended, the reality is that Jeep is tuning for real-world use cases where on-road comfort and drivability are paramount and off-roading is an outlier scenario. To that end, this sport-utility authoritatively handles its primary role not only in terms of the features and technology available but from a dynamic standpoint as well. 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, just about everything aside from the powertrains – the platform, bodywork, interior, suspension, and technology all receive massive overhauls. 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, near-S-Class tech, and a third row for Jeep money, but doesn’t mind the middling engine options.
[Images © 2021 Bradley Iger/TTAC]
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- Cprescott I remember when Fords were affordable.
- Cprescott As a once very LOYAL FORD buyer, I had to replace my 22 year old Ford (bought new in 1997) once it finally started to have problems at 180k miles. I would have gladly purchased something like this from Ford but they abandoned me as a car buyer. Oddly, Hyundai still builds cars in a variety of flavors so I became a customer of theirs and am very happy. Likely will consider another once this one gets up in mileage.
- SCE to AUX A friend once struck a mounted tire that was laying flat in the middle of her lane on the PA Turnpike. She was in a low late-90s Grand Prix, and the impact destroyed the facia, core support, radiators, oil pan, transmission, subframe, and suspension. They fixed it all.
- Dukeisduke Lol, it's not exactly a Chevrolet SS with Holden badging.
- Dukeisduke Years ago, I was driving southbound along North Central Expressway (south of Mockingbird Lane, for locals), and watched a tire and wheel fall out of the bed of a pickup (no tailgate), bounce along, then centerpunch the front end of a Honda Accord. It wasn't pretty.
I bought a '21 JGC L Overland HEMI in August. My fifth one. The longer wheelbase and air ride give it a smooth and quiet ride. You hear bumps but don't feel them. Power is adequate, I've yet to have to floor the accelerator. The interior is beautiful.
Anyone else think this is what the Grand Wagoneer should have looked like?