2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L vs 2021 Toyota Highlander

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  • 2021 Grand Cherokee L

    A silver 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Laredo is angled left.

    Starting at

    $38,635*

    2021 Toyota Highlander

    A white 2021 Toyota Highlander LE is angled right.

    Starting at

    $35,085

    357Max Horsepower (hp)295
    390Max Torque (lb-ft)263
    7,200Max Towing (lbs)5,000

    Jeep has updated the Grand Cherokee, starting with the introduction of the new three-row Grand Cherokee L version for 2021. Unlike the Toyota Highlander, the Jeep Grand Cherokee L offers true four-wheel drive in keeping with its Jeep stablemates, a welcome performance option in comparison to the all-wheel drive systems of other midsize SUVs. However, Toyota redesigned the Highlander as of last year, so it sports a new look and features. With all the new styling and capability, which SUV is the better fit for your needs? Here, we will compare the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L vs 2021 Toyota Highlander to find out how each SUV stacks up for performance, space, and features.

    Though both of these SUVs offer three rows of seating and a number of the same features, these two vehicles differ in a number of significant ways. In particular, buyers seeking a more upscale vehicle with a classy, stylish interior may find the Jeep Grand Cherokee L offers a more unique and luxurious design while also providing more space for cargo and third-row passengers. The performance of the Jeep brand overall is legendary, and unfortunately for the Highlander, the Grand Cherokee L handily out-performs an all-wheel drive vehicle with its four-wheel drive systems. Jeep also offers an extra V8 powertrain option for the 2021 Grand Cherokee L, giving the Jeep a clear advantage in power and performance.

    Styling for the exterior of the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L takes some cues from its larger sibling, the Grand Wagoneer, though it certainly maintains its own identity with an attractive sloped roofline, signature seven-slot grille, and modern lines. With the Highlander's new style, a similar sloping roofline is more elegant than its past look, with a front fascia closely resembling the Camry's aggressive sporty front end, and its haunches are wide with flared fenders over the rear wheels. Each of these SUVs offers several trim levels for a balanced range of features across the lineups and a number of seating configurations for each trim level.

  • Performance

    A maroon 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is shown driving down an empty road after winning a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L vs 2021 Toyota Highlander comparison.

    Few SUVs are capable of keeping up with a Jeep when it's outfitted with one of its Quadra-Trac four-wheel drive systems, though Toyota is attempting to bring more performance to the table with its torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. The greatest weakness of the Highlander is its powertrain. Toyota has only one engine available for its SUV, a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. This is paired with a modern eight-speed automatic transmission, but it comes standard with front-wheel drive instead of the more capable rear-wheel drive.

    Extra Power, Extra Towing

    At entry-level, Jeep provides the 2021 Grand Cherokee L with its Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 290 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque. This engine is also paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission but comes standard with rear-wheel drive. An available 5.7-liter V8 engine for the 2021 Grand Cherokee L can be had with the upper trims for more power, making 357 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. Both Jeep engines have towing capacity that is fairly good for the segment, with the V6 able to tow up to 6,200 pounds and the V8 able to handle up to 7,200 pounds. In comparison, the 2021 Highlander can only tow up to 5,000 pounds.

    Off-Road Performance

    Both SUVs offer available improved performance for differing terrain. The 2021 Highlander offers all-wheel drive as an option across its lineup, and it includes several driving modes to tune the vehicle's performance. Upper trims gain access to the improved all-wheel drive with modes for mud, sand, and rocks.

    With the 2021 Grand Cherokee L, Jeep has the option of true four-wheel drive in three Quadra-Trac systems, starting with Quadra-Trac I for entry-level models to provide drivers with full-time four-wheel drive and a brake lock differential. Quadra-Trac II comes with a two-speed transfer case and an available Selec-Terrain system, while the Quadra-Drive II system adds an electronic limited-slip differential.

    Trail Rated

    The Overland trim level is Jeep's Trail Rated model for the 2021 Grand Cherokee L, which will deliver the most capable off-road specs like improved water fording, a raised ground clearance of 10.9 inches, and the Quadra-Lift air suspension with adaptive damping. No matter how many modes you add to all-wheel drive, it simply can't compete with the capability of true four-wheel drive for off-road performance, which is why Jeep is the brand you want if you plan to off-road or drive through rough terrain.

  • Interior

    The front black and brown interior is shown in a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

    Three-row SUVs like the Grand Cherokee L and Highlander are exceptionally convenient when you need to transport larger groups or lots of cargo. Having the option of fitting more people in a vehicle is a nice perk, especially if you make good use of all of the seats. However, if you go with the 2021 Highlander, you won't want to sit in the third row for long. You only have 27.7 inches of legroom in that third row, which won't be comfortable for anyone except young kids. Though the third row of the 2021 Grand Cherokee L isn't ideal for adults, it gives occupants 30.3 inches of legroom, which makes a big difference in comfort. Both SUVs have second-row sliding seats for easy access to the back row, and the second and third rows in both vehicles fold flat for extra cargo space.

    Cargo Space

    Though Jeep and Toyota both provide a fairly spacious interior for cargo overall, the 2021 Grand Cherokee L edges out the 2021 Highlander in cargo space. For the Jeep, the rear cargo area with all seats in place has 17.2 cubic feet, plenty of room for groceries, backpacks, or equipment you need to bring on daily drives. Folding down the third-row seats opens the cargo space to 46.9 cubic feet, and with all rear seats folded you gain 84.6 cubic feet total. In comparison, the 2021 Highlander's rear cargo area only has 16 cubic feet with all seats in place. Folding the third row of seats opens up to 48.4 cubic feet, and then having all seats folded allows for 84.3 cubic feet. Dimensions are close, though Jeep has a noticeable advantage across the board.

    Features

    In terms of conveniences and interior seating, both SUVs start with cloth seats at entry-level and have eight-way power driver's seats. Tri-zone climate control is also standard in both vehicles, as is keyless entry with push-button ignition. However, there are differences, like voice-controlled climate for the Jeep at the entry-level, then having available leather upholstery for the second trim level, and building up to class-leading 16-way powered front seats with a massage function and memory for the uppermost trim. Toyota doesn't have leather until you spring for the Limited trim near the uppermost level, and the most adjustable seats are only 10-way with memory. There is also no voice activation available for climate controls for the Toyota. In its top trims, the 2021 Grand Cherokee L becomes luxurious with quilted Nappa leather seats and real wood trim, refinements you won't find in the 2021 Highlander.

  • Tech

    A close up shows navigation on the infotainment screen in a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

    You might think Toyota would be unbeatable when it comes to safety features, but Jeep has its own set of driver-assist and passive safety features that can rival Toyota in every respect. Comparing technology features may also surprise potential buyers when the 2021 Grand Cherokee L stands up against the 2021 Highlander.

    Screens and Sound

    At the entry-level, each SUV has a generously sized infotainment screen, with the Highlander's being 8 inches and the Grand Cherokee L's measuring at 8.4 inches. While the Highlander has standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Jeep also gives entry-level buyers standard wireless connectivity for smartphones.

    For sound, both vehicles come standard with a six-speaker audio system, but only Jeep offers buyers access to a premium McIntosh audio system with 19 speakers that deliver sound quality on par with live music. While upper trims for the Toyota do gain access to a better sound system by JBL with 11 speakers, audiophiles are likely to agree that the McIntosh system far out-performs for sound quality.

    Safety

    Safety technology at the entry-level is similar for a few of the driver-assist features, as each SUV comes standard with forward collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control. Differences arise between the two vehicles with features like predictive brake assist and anti-roll stability for Jeep in comparison to road sign assist and lane departure alert for Toyota.

    Upper trims see the biggest differences in safety technology between the two SUVs. Toyota provides its safety systems to all of its trims, then only offers front and rear parking assist along with downhill assist control for its upper trim as added features. Jeep has more safety features for the 2021 Grand Cherokee L than any other SUV in its class, including full-speed collision warning with active braking and pedestrian/cyclist protection, active driving assist for semi-autonomous driving, intersection collision assist, and even a night vision camera that uses infrared technology to detect animals and people. These advanced systems aren't found on the 2021 Highlander on any trim. For both safety and technology, the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L has the upper hand.

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