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Alfa bones, Jeep muscle, go-anywhere heart: redesigned 2021 Grand Cherokee

by Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee different?

Everything. The first all-new Grand Cherokee in a decade will grow larger and get new styling and fresh powertrains, including a plug-in hybrid. Jeep’s popular SUV will remain in the midsize-crossover class but enlarge enough to seat seven, up from five. It’ll gain its first four-cylinder engine and expand infotainment tech.

Under the new skin will be a substructure adapted from that of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, a premium crossover from another brand in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) portfolio. International provenance isn’t new for this all-American icon. The outgoing 2011-2020 Grand Cherokee is based on the 2006-2011 Mercedes M-Class midsize crossover, a remnant of Chrysler’s one-time alliance with the German automaker.

Should I wait for the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee or buy a 2020?

Wait for the 2021 to enjoy the latest in looks, performance, and technology. Jeep will again offer a variety of trims, from basic to near-luxury, and a range of capabilities, from cruiser comfy and off-road ready to mega-muscle. It’s possible, however, coronavirus-related production disruptions will delay the ’21 Grand Cherokee’s planned late-calendar-2020 launch.

Given that, buying a 2020 Grand Cherokee would get you into a proven midsize crossover that’s aged remarkably well. Its Mercedes DNA is evident in laudable refinement and confident road manners. Models like the off-road-conquering Trailhawk defend its Jeep cred. And the rip-roaring 707-horsepower Trackhawk honor Mopar’s hot-rod heart. Steep discounts on the ’20 ought to be available as dealers clear inventories ahead of the redesigned model and try to recoup sales lost to the pandemic.

Whenever it launches, expect the redesigned Grand Cherokee to replicate a core lineup that’ll start with mainstream Laredo and Limited grades, slot in the Trailhawk, and stretch to posh Overland and Summit trims. On-road performance should again be represented by the V-8 SRT and the dialed-to-11 Trackhawk models.

Will 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee styling be different?

Yes. It’ll be an updated take on the outgoing model, with a bit more aerodynamic sweep but the same tailored proportions and a rendition of Jeep’s trademark seven-slot grille. LED headlamps, an upgrade from bi-xenon, should be standard. A relatively high beltline and planed-off wheel openings are cues likely to carry over, with max wheel diameter apt to exceed the outgoing model’s 20-inchers.

As significant as any styling changes will be the longer body and stretched wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles). The new Grand Cherokee is expected to launch with two rows of seats and provide more rear legroom and greater cargo volume, elevating it from merely midpack.

An optional third-row seat will follow, perhaps for model-year 2022, creating a competitor for three-row midsize crossovers such as the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Chevrolet Traverse. (Also on Jeep’s agenda for ’22: a full-size body-on-frame SUV, the Grand Wagoneer, targeting the likes of the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator.)

Upgraded with higher-quality materials throughout, ’21 Grand Cherokee trim levels should again ascend from cloth upholstery in the Laredo, to perforated Nappa leather – complimented by real wood accents – in the Overland and Summit, to sporty leather/suede combos in the Trailhawk, SRT, and Trackhawk,

The new dashboard will transition to all-digital instrumentation and feature a 10.1-inch central infotainment touchscreen as standard or optional, depending on model. The outgoing Grand Cherokee offered 7- and 8.4-inch displays. Sources also say the center-console transmission shift lever will be replaced by a rotary knob, perhaps similar to the dashboard-mounted dial in FCA’s Ram 1500 pickup.

Any 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee mechanical changes?

Everything except a carryover engine or two. With its switch from a Mercedes platform to Alfa architecture, the next-gen Grand Cherokee should move from strength to strength. The Stelvio is among the world’s best handling crossovers. We hope its superb dynamics translate to a larger package that also meets Jeep’s off-road standards.

The 2020 Grand Cherokee was available with four engines. The next gen could offer five. Most likely to return at launch is FCA’s mainstay 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, updated to 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, from 295 and 260, respectively. It could employ Chrysler’s eTorque assist, a mild-hybrid system with a small electric motor that adds torque for extra muscle between shifts and away from a stop. It’s also central to a fuel-saving system that stops the engine when the vehicle is stationary and automatically restarts it when the driver releases the brake.   

Sources say the updated 3.6 V-6 may return as the base engine initially but be supplanted late in the model year or perhaps for ’22 by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. This could be the eTorque four borrowed from Jeep’s Wrangler, where it has 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Or it could be a version of the Stelvio’s base engine, an Alfa-engineered four with 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque.

Also a near-lock at launch is an eight-cylinder engine – and probably more than one. The ’20 Grand Cherokee offered three iterations of Chrysler’s other workhorse, the Hemi V-8. Optional on Limited, Trailhawk, Overland, and Summit models was a 5.7-liter with 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. They could graduate to the updated 5.7 with 395 horsepower, 410 pound-feet of torque, and eTorque assist.

The ’20 Grand Cherokee SRT used a 6.4-liter V-8 with 475 horses and 470 pound-feet, the Trackhawk a supercharged Hellcat 6.2-liter with 707 and 645, respectively. Don’t be surprised to see a similar V-8 hierarchy for the new Grand Cherokee.  

A 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 with 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque was available briefly during the outgoing-generation’s run. That engine, currently offered in the Wrangler and Ram 1500, could return as part of the redesigned Grand Cherokee’s powertrain lineup.

Expect an eight-speed automatic to remain the sole transmission with all these engines. It should again include steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for semi-manual operation.

Most reports also say the new Grand Cherokee will offer a plug-in-hybrid powertrain, too. Overseas editions of Jeep’s Renegade and Compass crossovers offer one. A plug-in Grand Cherokee, however, would likely get an engine larger than the 1.3-liter four-cylinder that teams with an electric motor in those models. Still, a system allowing battery-only driving for 30 miles or so before automatically switching to conventional-hybrid operation might be an attractive way for the next Grand Cherokee to further broaden its appeal.    

Like its predecessor, the ‘21 will be available with a range of four-wheel-drive (4WD) systems tailored to each model’s audience. All but the SRT and “…hawk” grades should come standard with rear-wheel drive. V-6-equipped models should remain available with all-wheel drive (AWD). More capable 4WD systems, depending on engine choice, are likely return branded Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. The last two have low-range gearing. The Trailhawks should again get Quadra-Drive II, the SRT and Trackhawk AWD systems engineered for maximum on-road handling.

Also available on selected models will be Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air suspension. On the outgoing model it could increase ground clearance to 10.8 inches, from the standard 8.6. Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II should again come with Jeep’s Select-Terrain snow, sand and mud, rock, and sport modes. Interestingly, the plug-in hybrid could well come with Jeep’s 4xe system, which in this application would use a dedicated electric motor to power the front wheels. 

Will 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee fuel economy improve?

2020 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk supercharged 6.2-liter V-8

Advances in design, materials, and powertrain efficiencies may well offset the redesigned Grand Cherokee’s larger dimensions, keeping curb weights and EPA ratings from big increases.

For reference, here are 2020 Grand Cherokee EPA ratings. With the 3.7-liter V-6, ratings were 19/26/21 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive and 18/25/21 with both AWD and 4WD.

Models with the 5.7-liter V-8 and standard 4WD rated 14/22/17 mpg. The ’20 Grand Cherokee SRT rated 13/19/15 mpg, the Trackhawk a sobering 11/17/13 mpg. The most recent ratings for the turbodiesel V-6 were model-year-2018’s 22/30/25 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 21/18/24 with AWD or 4WD. A plug-in hybrid would be expected to beat the diesel’s city ratings and equal or exceed its highway and combined numbers.

Expect the 3.6-liter V-6 and plug-in hybrid to use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. Jeep probably would continue to recommend midgrade 89-octane for the 5.7-liter V-8. The 6.4- and 6.2-liter engines would likely again require 91-octane premium, the diesel ultra-low-sulfur fuel.

Will there be new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee features?

Yes. Expect more comfort, convenience, and connectivity features, and perhaps some semi-autonomous-driving tech. Most important, we’d urge Jeep to make its full suite of safety features standard on every 2021 Grand Cherokee instead of continuing to limit some driver assists to upper-trim models.

Given that optimism, look for autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, lane-maintaining steering correction, and adaptive cruise control to be standard across the board. Semi-autonomous driving teaming cruise control with lane-centering steering assist is a likely option. So is bird’s-eye video, automatic parking assist, and an obstacle “erasing” video rearview mirror.

Chrysler’s latest Unconnect 5 software with Amazon Alexa support should be available, enabling owners to, for example, start the Grand Cherokee remotely from their home and access various Alexa skills, such as play music or create to-do lists, while in the vehicle. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, along with USB Type C ports, should also be available. 

Expect new amenities such as massaging front seats to join returning features like a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel and panoramic moonroof. Also back will be off-road packages with all-terrain tires and extra tow hooks and skid plates. And expect Jeep to continue to roll out a range of special-trim editions and packages.

Will 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee prices be different?

They’ll almost certainly increase, retaining one of the widest base-price spreads in the industry. We would, however, suggest Jeep end the practice in which the same option package may have a different cost based on trim selection.

Base-prices estimates here include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $1,495 for model-year 2020. Assuming the 3.6-liter V-6 and rear-wheel-drive as standard, expect the 2021 Grand Cherokee to start around $34,000 for the Laredo, $41,500 for the Limited, $49,500 for the Overland, and $54,500 for the Summit. To that, add $2,300–$3,000 for AWD or 4WD, depending on model. And figure some $3,000 to upgrade to the 5.7-liter V-8, which would include 4WD.

Other estimated base prices are $47,400 for the 2021 Grand Cherokee Trailhawk with the base V-6, $71,000 for the SRT, and $91,000 for the Trackhawk. Among possible engine options, expect the turbodiesel V-6 to cost around $4,500. It’s also possible Jeep would make the turbocharged four-cylinder an extra-charge item. A plug-in hybrid probably would be offered in Limited, Overland, and Summit trims at a premium of several thousand dollars over the base-engine model.

When does the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee come out?

If coronavirus interruptions are manageable, expect a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee release date in the third- or fourth quarter of 2020. If the disruption is deeper, there’s a possibility Jeep could delay introduction of the redesigned Grand Cherokee into calendar 2021 – perhaps even launching as a 2022 model.  

Best 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee competitors

Ford Edge and Explorer, Chevrolet Blazer and Traverse, Honda Passport and Pilot, Hyundai Palisade and Santa Fe, Kia Sorento and Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Murano and Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent and Outback, Toyota 4Runner and Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport; off-road rivals would include the Ford Bronco and Land Rover Discovery; high-performance competitors the BMW X6, Mercedes-Benz GLE, and Audi Q8

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]