The Jeep needed more traction-control assist in situations where the 4Runner did not need it at all. But in terms of being able to negotiate the occasional rugged section of a rocky road without getting stuck, there is no big difference. The Grand Cherokee delivers a huge advantage in handling and ride comfort, on road and off.
By relying on electronic traction control, Jeep engineers could concentrate on tuning the suspension and chassis for superior on-road performance. The better-controlled chassis allows for more secure steering. The Grand Cherokee's steering feel is outstanding, with impeccable turn-in, nice on-center feel, and easy side-to-side transitioning. It makes the Grand a pleasure to operate on winding roads, and easy to control on the highway. Brake feel is equally confident and progressive, as the chassis limits disconcerting front-end dive or uncertain lines through diminishing-radius corners.
But we're less impressed with the 3.6-liter, 290-horsepower V-6. It's tuned to make more horsepower than torque -- the opposite of the Toyota V-6 -- and it's being asked to move around an SUV that weighs 4887 pounds. Don't get us wrong -- with the 3.6, the Grand is perfectly driveable, and it's a sweet, smooth-revving, modern engine. But there are moments when it's necessary to use the higher end of the rev range a little longer, and a little more often, than what we see with the 4Runner's larger, torque-first V-6, which powers a vehicle that's lighter by 180 pounds. That might be why we averaged 12.8 mpg in the Grand Cherokee, 1.6 less than the 4Runner, even though the 3.6 V-6 is smaller. But it's in the heavier vehicle, so it has to work harder around town. It's also a tick slower to 60 than the 4Runner.
A six-speed automatic's narrower gear ratios and the intelligent shift logic, could make the 3.6 really sing. As it is, it hums.