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AUTO CASEY: 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee moves to Italy, sprouts a third row

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee has a family-friendly interior, stylish body, lighter handling and untold luxuries.
Credit: Jeep
2021 Jeep® Grand Cherokee L Overland.

INDIANAPOLIS — We always knew the previous generation Jeep Grand Cherokee would be a tough act to follow. Co-developed with Mercedes, it drove like a big German SUV that three bulldozers couldn’t move off-course. Its liftable air suspension, bougie interiors and choice of powerful engines were a potent combination. An all-new longer three-row Grand Cherokee arrives for 2021, but does it meet the standard?

Honoring A Legend

Jeep is making much of the new Ram-based Grand Wagoneer that honors the ‘80s and ‘90s model, but the new Grand Cherokee is much closer in size, style and mission. You’ll mistake the latest Grand Cherokee for nothing other than a Jeep with its trademark seven-slot grille, LED headlamps, elegant roofline and slab sides. A slight prow to the hood, 18” wheels on our Overland edition and longer three-row body lend gravitas.

This is the first Grand Cherokee with a third row seat to accommodate all of your family or kids’ friends. Previously, only its platform-mates, the Dodge Durango, had the extra places. And, this one also fits real adult humans behind middle-row captain’s chairs with individual automatic climate controls, heated cushions and a panoramic roof above. Front passengers get heated and ventilated seats plus a heated steering wheel. It’s pretty posh.

Our Overland edition slaps on plush stitched dash coverings, faux woodgrain panels and touchscreen that seemingly waterfalls over the center console. Chrysler Group infotainment is among the easiest to use with simple icons for audio, phone and navigation augmented by voice and redundant knobs/buttons below. Proper volume and tuning knobs feel expensive and add simplicity to operation. GC gears are selected with a weighty metal dial between toggles for Selec-Terrain that configures the powertrain for all conditions and air suspension that can be raised for extreme off-roading.

Go ahead and connects devices through Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Wi-Fi hotspot. Wireless charging adds convenience. It was really easy to connect my phone and conjure drenching tunes through the McIntosh audio system. I liked the reconfigurable flatscreen instrument display and wide head-up display too. Emergency auto braking, lane keep assist, and rear cross path detection added margins of safety while adaptive cruise with lane centering made a drive to see my parents in Kokomo much less taxing.

Athletic Italian Personality

If the old Grand Cherokee spoke with a German accent, this one has been studying Italian. Trading its German underpinnings for those based on the Alfa Romeo’s Giorgio platform that also underpins the Stelvio, the big SUV feels lighter on its wheels and more engaging through twisty backroads. I miss the old model’s heavy highway feel, but quickly warmed up to the more engaging current generation. It takes less effort to move through morning traffic too. The air suspension smooths the ride, but can feel a little hollow at times.

We could have chosen the base 3.6-liter V6, but went all-in for the 5.7-liter V8 that delivers 359 horsepower, put to the full-time four-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy rates a thirsty 14/22-MPG city/highway. If you’re counting, that’s an additional 215 horsepower and 6 MPG over the classic Grand Wagoneer. That, and the new Grand Cherokee is wider, longer and comes with an additional row of seating.

As a fan of Mercedes cars and SUVs, I already miss the last generation Grand Cherokee, but everybody else will likely prefer the latest generation’s cavernous family-friendly interior, chiseled stylish body, lighter Euro handling and untold luxuries. Long-wheelbase editions start at $39,220, but came to $68,365 as tested. Competitors include the Subaru Ascent, Chevy Tahoe, Hyundai Palisade and Ford Explorer.

 Storm Forward!

Casey Williams is former auto correspondent for WFYI and the Indianapolis Star plus a contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Auto Page. He has reviewed vehicles and covered the auto industry for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Broad Ripple. E-mail him at AutoCasey@aol.com; check his reviews on YouTube at AutoCasey.

2021 Jeep GC L Overland

7-passengers, 4WD SUV
Powertrain: 5.7-L V8, 8-spd
Output: 357 hp/390 lb.-ft. 
Suspension f/r: Air Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Towing: 7,200 lbs          
Must-have features: Style, Capability
Fuel economy: 14/22-MPG city/hwy                                                              
Assembly: Detroit, MI
Base/as-tested price: $39,220/$68,365