If you’ve always fancied yourself in a new Jeep but you really need three rows of seats, your options are about to go from “none” to “spoiled for choice.”
Jeep has already revealed, in concept form, a monster three-row SUV (think: GMC Yukon rival), built on a modified Ram pickup frame, that will revive the Wagoneer nameplate, including a flagship Grand version (lookin’ at you, Escalade?).
Completely separately from that, there’s also this: a three-row version of the next-generation Grand Cherokee dubbed the Grand Cherokee L. It looks to be a quantum leap better-executed than Jeep’s last attempt at a three-row – the compromised, unloved and deservedly short-lived 2006-2010 Commander.
Although Jeep has chosen to keep the new two-row Grand Cherokee under wraps for now, most of what we now know of the L should also apply to the stubby version when it appears later this year.
To justify the stretch to an L derivative, Jeep head Christian Meunier notes that 75 per cent of the “full-size” competition are three-row SUVs (some might take issue with calling the current Grand Cherokee full-size; its dimensions rank at the small end of what is usually considered the mid-size segment).
The new Grand Cherokee L is 14 inches longer than the current two-row, which translates to 5.2 metres, putting it in the same company as the Mercedes GLS and the Buick Enclave – at the small end of full-size, let’s say. Interior dimensions fit that segment too, albeit with a bit less third-row legroom than direct competitors. Second-row buckets are standard, a bench optional.
Head of exterior design Mark Allen said his team intentionally kept the proportions of the current Grand Cherokee. Width is unchanged but “the track has been pulled out to look more stable, the windshield pulled back and sped up.”
He lists classic Jeep design cues such as the seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches and the glassy greenhouse. “It’s got to look good for a long time, so (there’s nothing) flash-in-pan.” A leaning-forward grille looks “confident without being angry or mad” and maintains long-hood proportion with the long roof on the three-row.
Other exterior details include standard LED lighting, real exhaust outlets in the bumpers, a covered tow-hitch receiver and wheel sizes up to 21 inches. The exterior colour palette will reflect a trend to more adventurous colours on premium cars, Allen added.
Code-named WL75, the new Grand Cherokee rides on an all-new unibody architecture that makes ample use of aluminum to save weight. Independent suspension all around will offer optional active damping and height-adjustable air springs (Quadra-Lift), and there are three different all-wheel-drive systems. Suitably equipped, the new model claims up to 10.9 inches of ground clearance, maximum approach and departure angles of 30 and 24 degrees, respectively, and a 44:1 crawl ratio.
The added length for a third row doesn’t affect 4WD performance, says chief engineer Fil Grado. “The departure angle is still Jeep-worthy and very aggressive.”
Historically in Canada, though, the Grand Cherokee’s off-road-optimized Trailhawk trim has the lowest take rate of all the Jeep models that offer it. The real push here is not up-mountain, but up-market, with Jeep promising “premium on-road refinement and craftsmanship, superior luxury and comfort (and) the most safety and advanced-technology features in its class.”
One luxury built into the new design is improved visibility – “being able to see out … takes the stress off you,” says Allen. “Lack of stress is luxury.” Hence, thinner body pillars and a lower belt-line allow more glass.
Interior design head Chris Benjamin, for his part, talks about “beauty in contrast” – for example, like that between the stitched saddle seat and the hard machinery on a motorcycle. “There is beauty in juxtaposition. We wanted to be daring and stand out.”
Hand-crafted wood sculpts its way and curves behind the centre display, contrasting with the “cold meticulous execution of the screen,” Benjamin adds. “Everyone on this program was an artisan, and we crafted it to be something special. The rotary shifter is a piece of jewellery. The entire area is simple and clean, the knob flanked by two toggles for ride height and Selec-Terrain. The IP leans away from you for a feeling of spaciousness.”
Interior materials on the higher trims include hand-wrapped, quilted Palermo leather, open-pore waxed walnut wood and real metal accents.
Technology includes 8.4- or 10-inch main screens, plus an available 10-inch digital cluster and 10-inch head-up display; over-the-air upgrades; wireless CarPlay and Android Auto; 4G LTE WiFi hotspot; and Amazon Alexa voice recognition. The latest Uconnect5 Android-based interface is five times faster than its predecessor. Audio options peak with a 19-speaker McIntosh system.
Driver-assist technologies will allow hands-on automated driving at launch, with hands-free capability to become available later in the year.
An electrified 4xe powertrain is in the pipeline, but for now, the new model is propelled by a choice between the carryover 3.6-litre V6 or 5.7-litre V8 engines hitched to eight-speed automatic transmissions. Tow ratings are 6,200 and 7,200 lbs., respectively.
The Grand Cherokee L is due in showrooms in the second quarter in Laredo, Limited, Overland and Summit trims. The two-row model and 4xe will follow later in the year.
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