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Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer: A comparison

How history repeats! The rivalry between the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee dating back 20 years has been re-energized with the recent launching of their respective 2011 iterations. In 1992, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a bigger, more luxurious version of the Jeep Cherokee, made a smashing debut at the Detroit Auto Show and soon became Chrysler’s best-seller. The Grand Cherokee (GC) was designed to compete with the blockbuster Ford Explorer, which was introduced in 1990. The GC and the Explorer fueled the SUV boom in the heady 1990s, with GC sales peaking to 300,000 units in 1999 and total sales passing three million by 2005.  Meanwhile, from its intro in 1992 up to 2010, six million units of the Explorer have been sold.

The 4×4, truck-based, body-on-frame Ford Explorer was the pioneering sport utility vehicle with big towing and cargo capacities. Americans fell in love with the rugged all-terrain character and commanding view of the road provided by the high-positioned driver’s seat of SUVs like the Explorer and the Jeep Grand Cherokee although these vehicles guzzled gas profligately and most of their owners rarely ventured off-road.

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But with the price of oil skyrocketing and global warming drastically changing weather patterns, “green,” fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicles gained favor among consumers and the popularity of SUVs with excessive thirst for petroleum began to fade. Let us compare how, for the 2011 model year, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler adjusted to the new market trend.

Engine

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Ford totally redesigned the Explorer for 2011, equipping it with a new, more fuel-efficient, naturally aspirated 290 hp, 3.5 liter, 24-valve V6 engine with variable valve timing and 346 Nm @ 4000 rpm max torque,  mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Average fuel consumption is rated at 17.8 miles per gallon (7.49 km per liter.) To manifest its seriousness in pursuing fuel economy, Ford removed the V8 engine option from the 2011 Explorer lineup.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is powered by Chrysler’s first new V6 engine in a decade, the Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 variable valve-timed DOHC engine that produces 286 hp and 347 Nm peak torque at 4300 rpm. While Jeep claims average fuel consumption of 8.76 km per liter in combined highway and city driving, its 5-speed automatic transmission is behind the times and does not allow manual shifting. The 5.7 liter V8 Hemi powerplant is available in the Overland variant of the Jeep GC.

Platform and suspension

Ford replaced the truck-based frame of the Explorer with a unibody platform shared with the Ford Flex, thus transforming it into a car-based crossover. The 2011 Jeep GC is based on the same platform as the Mercedes Benz M-Class. A 5.3-inch increase in the wheelbase and the unibody architecture bolted and welded together make the new Jeep GC roomier and more structurally rigid than before. The rear suspension of both the Explorer and the Jeep GC is independent multilink—no more live axles of the past. The wheels are 20-inch alloys.

All-wheel drive system

Both the Explorer and the Jeep GC have an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system similar to the Land Rover’s, managed by a console dial that adjusts throttle and transmission calibration to suit varying road conditions.  In the Explorer, it is called the Terrain Management System with Hill Descent Control while in the Jeep GC the Select-Terrain System allows the driver to choose among five programs for different road conditions: sand, mud, rock, snow, sport and auto. Both vehicles can tackle casual off-road challenges.

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Performance

I test-drove both the Jeep GC Limited and the Ford Explorer Limited on two separate weekends and found neither to provide quick acceleration on demand although both V6 engines smoothly and steadily build power. The Explorer has an edge over the Jeep GC because its 6-speed tranny can be manually operated and it weighs less (2146 kg compared to the Jeep GC’s 2949 kg). Both vehicles maneuver nimbly in tight quarters despite their size and handle corners well. Steering feel is somewhat light but responsive and braking control is good.

Ride quality

On the highway and even on rough pavement, both vehicles are stable, carlike, comfortable, quiet and composed with near-luxury levels of isolation from road and wind noise. The V6 engine can be heard only during full-throttle acceleration. Its 2011 iteration is the first Grand Cherokee that feels better on the road than off.

Exterior

While the 2011 Jeep GC appears sleeker and more refined than its predecessor, it seems aesthetically minimalist when compared with the handsome, wide-bodied Explorer with its body-colored grille and blacked-out pillars. But there’s something to be said for the muscular, upright, unadorned look with no unnecessary lines to fuss over.

Interior

Both vehicles have premium cabins with supportive leather seats, high-quality, soft-touch materials and neat ergonomics. In the Explorer, which seats seven, the third row 50/50 seat can be power-folded flat to increase cargo space. Ambient lighting allows the driver to choose from seven preset light colors. In the Jeep GC, real wood trim on the dash, doors and chunky steering wheel plus a usefully arranged center stack of controls enhance class and convenience.

Controls

Ford has replaced its traditional audio and climate controls with MyFord Touch LCD Touchscreen paired with voice-activated Ford SYNC to govern the Explorer’s entertainment, climate, phone and connectivity systems. But these new high-tech things are finicky to operate, being bugged with start-up kinks and sometimes malfunction. The Explorer’s Sony audio system, on the other hand, is impressive with subwoofer and 12 speakers. The Jeep GC has a 360 GB hard drive with 6700 song capacity, Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth and a CD/DVD/ MP3/HDD Media Center with nine speakers and subwoofer.

Safety

Both vehicles are equipped with a complete suite of the latest, state-of-the-art active and passive safety features, too many to be listed here.

Price

The Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.6L Limited costs P3,680,000 while the all-new Ford Explorer Limited is yours for P2.3 million.

SUMMING UP: The 2011 Explorer and Grand Cherokee are lifestyle vehicles, not 4×4 SUVs capable of serious, hard-core off-road adventures.

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TAGS: auto, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Motoring
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