Think of the spot Jeep is shoving the new three-row Grand Cherokee variant into—between the two-row Grand Cherokee and the upcoming full-size three-row Wagoneer—as lucrative white space that needed to be filled. Until the 2021 Grand Cherokee L came around, Jeep lovers needed to leave the brand if they wanted a third row of seats (to hold up to seven passengers) or the extra room for gear that the regular Grand Cherokee could not provide. There was no guarantee these customers would migrate to the Dodge Durango three-row SUV or even the family-friendly Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the only relevant options found elsewhere in Jeep’s Stellantis née Fiat Chrysler parent company portfolio. But, it seems, neither will those eager would-be Jeep buyers elbow those vehicles into irrelevance by selecting the new Grand Cherokee L, at least according to FCA executives we talked to.
Three-Row Jeep Grand Cherokee Been a Long Time Coming
For starters, loyal Jeep owners want the off-road capability that the brand is synonymous with, meaning Durango or Pacifica sales are unlikely to be cannibalized by buyers who weren’t intenders before, anyhow. Plans to add a longer, seven-passenger Grand Cherokee go back many years, Jim Morrison, Head of Jeep Brand for FCA North America, tells us. Those plans finally came to fruition with the launch of the fifth generation of the popular Grand Cherokee SUV, which has historically only been offered as a five-passenger vehicle.
Customers had been asking for it for a long time so they could stay loyal to the nameplate when their families outgrew it, Morrison says. It made sense to launch Grand Cherokee L first, before the non-L two-row model to meet demand for a larger vehicle, knowing the outgoing 2020 model still meets the needs of those wanting the smaller two-row Grand Cherokee.
Morrison thinks the three-row model could account for half of Grand Cherokee sales. There are about 1.5 million E-segment (midsize) utility vehicles sold a year and 70 percent of them have a third row.
But What About the Three-Row Jeep Wagoneer?
Morrison and Christian Meunier, global president of the Jeep brand, don’t think the Grand Cherokee L will be cross-shopped with the upcoming Grand Wagoneer, either. The two Jeeps will live in different size and price classes, with the Grand Cherokee L designed for the midsize three-row segment and featuring unibody construction and the full-size Wagoneer being larger, pricier, and more rugged with traditional body-on-frame construction.
Wagoneer and Grand Cherokee L customers are different and the pricing of the two will be very different, Christian Meunier, global president of the Jeep brand, says. The Wagoneer will start in the $60,000-$80,000 range. The more premium Grand Wagoneer competes with luxury competitors such as the 2021 Cadillac Escalade and the Land Rover Range Rover, and pricing can top $100,000.
The Grand Cherokee L will be priced in the core of the midsize segment, putting it up against vehicles such as the Ford Explorer, Kia Telluride, and Toyota Highlander, which start in the low-to-mid-$30,000 range. That said, the Jeep’s available Summit Reserve luxury package has premium amenities that will load the vehicle and the sticker price.
Death Knell for Dodge Durango?
The three-row SUV also has a different customer than the Dodge Durango, Morrison says.
When the Jeep Commander, a Grand Cherokee-based three-row SUV offered from 2006 to 2010 model years was discontinued, the Durango became its successor. The expectation is the current Dodge Durango will run through 2023 and then be replaced by a new Dodge crossover. Asked if the Durango is now in danger of being replaced by the Grand Cherokee L, Meunier was adamant. “Not at all. They are totally separate. The Dodge Durango will remain. We don’t see a lot of substitution between the two products going forward.”
Keeping the Durango for dealers makes some sense given FCA’s efforts to create stand-alone Jeep franchises, allowing them to create a unique Jeep experience in the showroom. So far about 600 dealers in the U.S. have signed on to do so, Meunier says.
The New Two-Row Grand Cherokee Is Still a Thing, Arrives Later
Offering the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L as the first variant of the next-gen SUV bridges the plus-size Jeep gap until the Wagoneer family hits dealerships.
The all-new regular-size, five-passenger, two-row 2022 Grand Cherokee won’t hit the market until the third quarter of this year and slides into the next model year. So does another new variant: a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe, the plug-in hybrid version of the two-row SUV. It also arrives in the second half of the year. Meunier would not say which one comes first but said the respective launches are “close to each other.”
All versions of the Grand Cherokee in all sizes will be manufactured in the new $1.6 billion Detroit Assembly Complex’s Mack Plant.
A Jeep That Rides Like an Alfa Romeo?
The fifth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee rides on a new purpose-built platform designed to accommodate two sizes, three AWD/4WD systems, an air suspension, two powertrains, and electrification for the 4xe plug-in hybrid. The critical electric wiring harness is all-new, as well as the entertainment system.
The Grand Cherokee SUV draws heavily from the FCA parts bin, and it has been a widely held belief that the new chassis is borrowed from the Giorgio platform that underpins the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Unfortunately, Jeep executives cannot confirm this, so we can’t assume the new Jeep will share the Stelvio’s sublime road manners. Yet.
Past generations of Grand Cherokees were always better off-road than on-road, Morrison says. This new generation is “unbelievable on the road,” he says, largely courtesy of the newest independent suspension design (the aging outgoing model was the first to ride on a fully independent suspension). The new platform reduces noise, vibration and harshness and the SUV improves structural rigidity by 125 percent. The result is a smooth ride in a quiet cabin, Morrison says.
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