Ask Mark Allen, who runs Jeep design, what he finds amusing, and he'll tell you it’s that Americans prefer sport utility vehicles and crossover utility vehicles to sedans, coupes, convertibles and station wagons.

“I was told over and over and over, and read it in magazines, that in the American market you can't sell a five-door hatchback. That’s every CUV on the road. Take a hatchback, jack it up, put a meaty tire on it, and suddenly it's OK,” he says.

“Look at convertibles; convertibles are dead, right?" he continues. "We sell hundreds of thousands a year; every Wrangler is a convertible. Something about changing the formula makes it acceptable. They don't buy it because it had four-wheel-drive capability, they buy it because it's a configurable convertible. It will never go in low range.”

Need proof? Manhattan is one of the Jeep Wrangler’s biggest markets.

Regardless, Americans are convinced that station wagons with 8 inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive are the ideal form of transportation in 2021. And that’s what makes the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee the perfect vehicle. No, its owners will never take it off-road. But they own it because they could, should they somehow lose their senses and suddenly decide to go boulder bashing in Utah. It’s like living near Manhattan or Los Angeles, but never venturing into the city because of the traffic. But they live nearby should they ever want to.

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Whether it makes sense or not is beside the point. But for those few owners who will use its capability, the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is a fine addition to the fleet.

For 2021, the Grand Cherokee will be offered as a two-row or longer three-row model, the latter known as the Grand Cherokee L. Jeep added the three-row model and 15 inches in length as three-row SUVs account for the lion’s share of demand in the GC’s market segment. It also explains why it debuts ahead of its two-row companion, coming soon as a 2022 model.

Offered in Laredo, Altitude, Limited, Overland, Summit and Summit Reserve trim, the Grand Cherokee L comes with either a 293-horsepower V-6 or a 357-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8 with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear- or all-wheel drive. Towing is rated at 6,200 pounds with the V-6, 7,200 pounds with the V-8.

Three all-wheel-drive systems are offered: the Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II with a rear electronic limited-slip differential. Underpinning it all is an independent front and rear suspension with an available Quadra-Lift air suspension that lifts the vehicle a little more than 4 inches, along with electronic adaptive damping that provides a sublime combination of off-road agility and on-road driving dynamics.

All of it merely sets the stage for what comes next.

As you might expect, the V-6 doesn't match the effortless power provided by the V-8. However, most drivers will find it satisfactory, and most GCs will come with it. Fuel economy is about what you’d expect at 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway with all-wheel drive. Rear-drive models improve those numbers by 1 mpg. A mixed driving loop returned 19 mpg. The new underpinnings deliver a far better driving experience, delivering a smooth controlled ride with minimal body lean in corners, good steering feel and response and strong braking. It’s so effortless, you may never notice this vehicle’s extra length. It’s also remarkably quieter than previous models.

But this is more than a family bus. Tromping around Jeep’s off-road proving grounds in Michigan, the Grand Cherokee easily bounded over boulders, waded through water and traversed logs with an ease you’d expect from Jeep.

But the first thing most buyers will notice is the Grand Cherokee’s updated appearance, which blends the brightwork from the Compass with a lean-forward grille that harks back to Jeep’s first three-row SUV, the Wagoneer, along with other styling nods to Jeep’s past.

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“I see the Grand Cherokee as the lineage of Wagoneer,” Allen said. “This car is the one that's always carried those little design cues.”

It continues inside, with a new horizontally oriented instrument panel, a clear nod to Jeep’s past. Finishes have been upgraded and feel far more stylish, with real wood, leather and suede. Better yet, the instrument panel benefits from a digital gauge cluster, infotainment system touchscreen and an optional head-up display. The latest version of Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment software provides impressive capability and is as easy to use as your smartphone, and just as customizable. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa are standard.

And the 19-speaker Macintosh audio system? As impressive as they come, and exclusive to the GC.

Once past the technology, you’ll find there’s bountiful space, with the second row gaining two inches of legroom thanks to seats that slide forward, back and tilt, making third-row access a snap.

Of course, it's comfort, space, technology and foul-weather capability that drive consumers to choose a Grand Cherokee, and who can blame them? This is one fine ride. Few, if any, will challenge their GC once the pavement ends, something it’s capable of mastering with ease. But it’s nice to know it’s there.

And that’s why people buy them. Just ask a Wrangler owner — from Manhattan.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit 4x4

  • Base price: $58,995
  • Engine: All-aluminum DOHC 24 valve 3.6-liter V-6
  • Horsepower/Torque: 293/260 pound-feet
  • EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 18/25 mpg
  • Fuel required: 87 Octane
  • Length/Width/Height: 204.9/76.7/71.5 inches
  • Ground clearance: 10.9 inches
  • Payload: 1,210 Pounds
  • Cargo capacity: 17.2-84.6 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 6,200 pounds

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