The 2021 Wards 10 Best UX winners are being revealed in random, non-alphabetical order one per day until Nov. 3. This is the eighth winner profile. Winning design teams will receive their trophies Nov. 17 during Automotive TechWeek in Novi, MI, where winning vehicles will be on display.
Yes, the ’21 Jeep Grand Cherokee L in Summit Reserve trim is swathed in genuine waxed walnut and top-shelf quilted Palermo leather. Yes, it’s a three-row SUV with an accessible and comfortable third row. But have we mentioned the audiophile-dream McIntosh sound system? Sorry, we were busy watching the dancing decibel meters.
If there’s a UX downside to Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee L, it’s that cool gadgetry might be a little too distracting as you enjoy watching the bluish-glow of the McIntosh’s throwback meters (pictured below) while listening to the 19-speaker, 950-watt system belt out clean, low-distortion sound.
Nifty-branded, high-end audio is just a small part of the story. Behind the scenes, Stellantis tells us, there’s five times more computing power driving the Uconnect 5’s 10.5-in. (26-cm) head unit, with all onboard systems accessible within two touchscreen presses.
Easy-to-program shortcuts make access even quicker and less distracting, while allowing simple shifting between native controls and applications accessed via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. As non-native apps have been integrated into vehicle screens, this has been a bugaboo for many automakers. Uconnect 5 solves it.
Also most welcome is the horizontal row of hard buttons above the touchscreen allowing easy access to key vehicle functions such as stability control, lane keeping, parking alerts and parking assistance.
In many vehicles, we tire of searching through screen menus, the instrument cluster or elsewhere across the dashboard to toggle these features on and off, but not in the Jeep.
Kudos as well for the top-center location of the emergency flasher switch. It’s not something you use every day, but when you need it, it’s usually an urgent situation where you’d rather not have to hunt for that bright red-orange triangle.
Below the touchscreen, UX designers included toggles to manage the air conditioning/heat, bracketed by simple volume and tuning knobs, finely machined with the same tactile feel of McIntosh amplifiers of old.
The reconfigurable 10.25-in. digital gauge cluster (pictured below) provides ample information, including new infrared-based night vision capable of spotting heat signatures of pedestrians or animals 219 yards (200 m) ahead.
From a styling perspective, our judges love the way the right-sized touchscreen flows so smoothly into the instrument panel, making it feel like an integrated piece of the interior furniture rather than a tacked-on afterthought.
Farther back, both the second and third rows are equally well-appointed, with little drop-off in materials, comfort, cupholders or features. We count 12 USB ports to keep all the equipment connected and charged.
Parents – or even drivers with rowdy friends – will appreciate the rear-seat monitoring Fam Cam (pictured below) that delivers high-definition views of the entire cabin, along with the ability to zoom in on each seat to keep a close eye on what’s being viewed on personal devices.
Judge Tom Murphy says the camera gives that childhood complaint a technological update: “Mom has eyes in the back of her head! Or at least in the headliner, looking down.”
We ran the Jeep’s hands-on Active Driving Assist features through the gauntlet and came away impressed with the smooth braking and acceleration provided by its full-range adaptive cruise control.
Still to come (’22 model year): Hands-Free Active Driving Assist, capable of Level 2 hands-free motoring at all speeds with added abilities such as lane centering and slowing the vehicle prior to entering tight corners.
Topping off the packaging, our $67,230 Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve offers ample surprise and delight, starting with entry/startup lighting cues, five interior illumination options and Jeep-heritage “1941” badging on the edge of the instrument panel. Nice touches, all.
What was that you said? The Jeep Grand Cherokee L is a Wards 10 Best UX winner?
Sorry, I’ll need to turn down the McIntosh. Say that again?