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New FCA Detroit plant to produce Jeep Grand Cherokee L

Breana Noble Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Detroit's newest auto assembly plant will produce a larger, three-row version of Jeep's most popular vehicle, and it will be called the Grand Cherokee L.

Combining the utilitarian tradition of the Grand Cherokee with advancements in technology and premium options, the 2021 Grand Cherokee L seeks to tap into up to 75% of the large SUV segment — much of which is currently unexplored by Jeep without a three-row option, Christian Meunier, global head of Jeep, told The Detroit News.

The openings in the seven-slot grille of the 2021 Grand Cherokee L are wider, and the front fascia is larger than in previous generations.

"This is a chance to expand the Grand Cherokee nameplate and volume and take care of our customers and make them happy," Meunier said. "It’s a big opportunity to also keep the customers in the family because when you get kids or you expand or you need more space, now between this and Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, we’ll have everything needed to keep them in the family."

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV formally will unveil the vehicle during a virtual event at noon Thursday on YouTube. The vehicle launches at the east-side Mack Assembly Plant in Detroit at the end of this quarter. It will start hitting dealers in the second and be exported worldwide. Pricing has not yet been announced, but will be "premium" in the segment, Meunier said. Details on the redesigned two-row Grand Cherokee and its 4xe plug-in hybrid version will come in the second half of 2021.

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland features an interior with room for the whole family and an optional rear-seat monitoring camera to key an eye on children and pets.

Long one of the best-selling, two-row, mid-size SUVs in the U.S. market along with the Toyota Highlander, the Jeep Grand Cherokee adds a third row that should expand the midsize ute’s reach to take on three-row competitors like the Ford Explorer and Chevy Traverse.

The Grand Cherokee L grows over a foot in length compared to the current model, but is not as large as the forthcoming Jeep Wagoneer. The three-row Grand Cherokee is longer than class leaders Traverse or Dodge Durango. A rare mainstream brand that is cross-shopped with luxury makers, the Jeep may also get a look from luxury shoppers of Audi’s three-row Q7, for example.

"It's really remarkable with the Grand Cherokee today and it will be even more with the new one," Meunier said, "that duality between the premium appearance, the sophistication, appearance and the charm, but also the ruggedness. It's strong off-road, but it's also very, very good on-road."

The redesigned Grand Cherokee features a new architecture shared by both the two-row and three-row versions. Sixty percent of the vehicle is steel with aluminum making up the closures like the hood and tailgate.

The Grand Cherokee gets a three-row in the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

It was designed from the bottom up, Meunier says. That's in contrast to Jeep's first attempt at the three-row with the three-row Commander that debuted in 2005 and ended in 2010, said Sam Fiorani, vice president of vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions LLC. The Commander was just 2 inches longer than the Grand Cherokee, comprising space in the back rows.

"Since the Commander, the market has blossomed for three-row crossovers," Fiorani said. "There are so many Grand Cherokee owners out there that there's likely a large number that have families and could appreciate that third row and extra space and a larger model."

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L features slimmer LED headlights and tailights.

The standard 3.5-liter Pentastar V-6 engine offers 290 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque. It can pull up to 6,200 pounds and has a driving range of nearly 500 miles.For even more power, the 357-horse V-8 comes optional.

Future performance variants of the Grand Cherokee may come with even more capability. The current Grand Cherokee Trackhawk boasts 707 horsepower and a $100,000 price tag that challenges the BMW X5 M.

The Grand Cherokee L comes with four trims: Laredo, Limited, Overland and Summit. It offers three available 4x4 systems, five terrain modes and up to 10.9 inches of ground clearance and 24 inches of water fording.

The Grand Cherokee L's design took inspiration from Jeep's original full-size SUV, the Wagoneer. One example is the forward-tipped grille that further lengthens the already longer hood and cab from the current Grand Cherokee. The openings in the seven-slot grille are wider, and the front fascia is larger than in previous generations. The LED headlights also get a slimmer design.

The vehicle offers more than 110 safety features, including Active Driving Assist. That is FCA's name for Level 2 hands-on-wheel, eyes-on-road automated driving capability such as lane-centering and adaptive cruise control. A hands-free version of the technology will be available later this year on the 2022 Overland and Summit models.

There is even more technology inside the vehicle starting with the up to 10.1-inch digital touchscreen installed with the Android-powered Uconnect 5 infotainment system that FCA says is five times faster than the previous generation. Also new is a 10.25-inch frameless digital gauge and cluster with nearly two dozen menus to select driver-assist technologies, media options, and other features.

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L features a Uconnect 5 10.1-inch touchscreen with an available rear-seat monitoring camera system.

The Grand Cherokee L is the first production Jeep to offer a fully digital rearview mirror and a windshield Head-up Display that shows speed, navigation and other information without having to look away from the road.

"If you’re building a high-volume family vehicle, it has to have pretty aggressive technology," said Karl Brauer, an analyst at auto search engine iSeeCars.com. "Buyers are looking for that entertainment capability and technology."

A 360-degree camera, a rear-seating monitoring camera and a McIntosh 19-speaker audio system also are available. The Grand Cherokee L is the first FCA vehicle to offer an electronic remote release to fold second-row seats flats. Palermo leather, Waxed Walnut wood and 21-inch wheels are available on the Summit Reserve Package. Mopar will offer 75 accessories for the vehicle.

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve features standard 10-inch display screens, including a frameless digital gauge cluster and 10.1-inch Uconnect 5 touchscreen radio, hand-wrapped, quilted Palermo leather and open-pore Waxed Walnut wood accents, all-new LED lighting with ambient features, driver and front passenger seat massage and personalized climate zones.

The vehicle also is the first Grand Cherokee to have a front axle bolted to the engine for better noise and vibration management as well as a front-axle disconnect that automatically switches between two-wheel and all-wheel drive.

Fiat Chrysler paid $1.6 billion to transform its Mack Avenue Engine Complex into the first new assembly plant in nearly 30 years. The investment is creating 3,850 new jobs in the city. After current Fiat Chrysler employees are transferred, available positions will go to newly hired Detroiters first. An American flag decal on the Grand Cherokee L will pay tribute to it being made in Detroit.

"I think there is a lot of pride from people making the product in Detroit and designing it there," Meunier said. "There is a lot of pride in the company there."

The Jeep Grand Cherokee gets a three-row on the new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L that will be built at the new Mack Assembly Plant on Detroit's east side.

Technology previously used in FCA's body shop that match laser light with radar will be used at the end of the production line to ensure greater repeatability and accuracy than conventional camera-based measuring systems checking body-panel geometry. A new track on site also will conduct testing to ensure quality for things like noise level in the vehicle's cabin.

"Quality is all about the attention to detail and about processes and consistency," Meunier said. "We always like to say the only things tougher than Jeeps are their owners."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble