Used to be, when it came to any kind of truck, we would advise friends and family to pay another $1500 for the optional V-8. The resale value was better, fuel cost was not a big factor, and the V-6 was a dog anyway.

These days, unless you tow, a V-6 really is the way to go. Today's V-6 engines are making V-8 horsepower and are backed by modern transmissions that mean there's no waiting when you ask for power. Gas prices are bouncing all over the place, but they never stay low for long, so a V-6 can bring significant relief in operating costs. The two V-6s in this test are very different vehicles, both successful in achieving different goals.

Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition
Our 2010 4Runner is Toyota's Trail Edition, the most trail-ready model Toyota offers. It's loaded with features aimed at the experienced outdoor recreational enthusiast, and is also the only way you can buy a 4Runner with Toyota's Multi-terrain Select system.

The Trail Edition is set up to see a lot of dirt, plain and simple. The truck-based Trail is the real deal, filling a niche largely abandoned by other manufacturers. There's nothing frilly or overly sophisticated: It's based on a sturdy steel frame, with an equipment package aimed at enhanced trail utility, including a part-time 4WD system actuated not by pushbutton, but by a lever. There's active traction control, plus a locking rear differential -- solid insurance in a really slippery environment. Inside is a conspicuous absence of luxury cues like wood or leather. The dash material is textured hard plastic. Seats are made from a water-resistant fabric. (Opting for a Limited model instead will provide a cabin much more in line with the luxury of the Grand Cherokee, but lacking many of the off-road features of the Trail.) Even the roof rack is more heavily built, and more conspicuous, than on typical SUVs.

The 4Runner suspension uses a live axle in the rear, located by a long-travel four-link arrangement, with independent control arms in front and rather stiff Bilstein shocks at both ends. Ride quality is not stellar. The suspension shrugs off impacts, like speed bumps and potholes -- in fact, the harder they hit, the better it feels. But it rides very firmly at low speeds on a rugged dirt road, where the stiff damping allows vibrations to come through. On pavement, the brakes are strong enough and certain, but hard braking yields an unusual amount of front-end dive. In the corners, there's enough body roll to require the driver to concentrate on selecting consistent lines and allowing time for the chassis take a set and return to neutral. Such are the tradeoffs that come with a long-travel off-road suspension. We got used to it, but during our testing most of us chose to take downhill sections of challenging mountain roads at lower speeds in the Trail Edition.

The 4Runner's 4.0-literV-6 actually makes 10 horsepower more than the V-8 that was available in the prior model, allowing Toyota to drop the V-8 option altogether, as well as the four-cylinder engine for the 4Runner. Towing capacity is now limited to 5000 pounds, but otherwise the new V-6 is an entirely satisfactory powerplant, more than adequate to drive around town and an easy highway cruiser. We got 7.6 seconds, 0-to-60, and 15.8 in the quarter mile, good numbers for any V-6, and not all that far behind the V-8s in this test. The Toyota is EPA rated at 17/22 city/highway mpg. Our actual mileage numbers for this test are far lower across the board, because we spent so much time on the trail, operating in 4-Lo, with the air-conditioning blasting. In the 4Runner, we averaged 14.3 mpg overall; your mileage would probably be better.

As an everyday commuter and grocery getter, the Trail Edition 4Runner is less at home in suburban sprawl than out on a rocky trail, where it becomes a thing of beauty and a tool of rare strength.

Jeep Grand Cherokee V-6 Limited
The Grand Cherokee is a luxury sport/utility based on the idea that a remarkably big slice of off-road capability can successfully be included in a comfortable, modern, highly sophisticated package. It's designed with the gentleman rancher in mind.

When it comes to refinement, Jeep has made great strides with the new Grand Cherokee. It's well appointed, with an interior that exudes quality. Materials tend toward leather and wood; there's minimal use of plastic. Anything that looks like metal actually is.

The design is well conceived and executed, with a clean center stack, thin accents of chrome, and an elegant interior lighting scheme. Our test unit had perforated inserts that allow for warm and cool seat ventilation. The steering wheel is heated, with audio controls on the back side of the wheel, and power adjustable. The power liftgate operates via the key fob or a button. Unlike the 4Runner, practically everything is powered, and there's a highly finished, design-driven element to the interior's appeal. The exterior appears sculpted and athletic, with 20-inch wheels, integrated foglamps, and power heated multifunction mirrors.

The Quadra-Trac II 4WD system has an excellent low-range ratio of 2.72:1, and an electronic throttle adjustment feature to prevent tire slip and surging while operating in low range. Quadra-Trac II is convenient, takes up very little dash space, and is unintimidating for novice off-roaders.

Selec-Terrain, Jeep's tunable traction control system, has separate settings for Sand/Mud, Snow, and Rock, plus an Auto setting that allows the traction electronics to adapt to terrain without need for human judgment. There's even a Sport setting for enthusiastic on-road driving.

While Jeep offers an air suspension, the standard suspension on our V-6 Limited 4x4 is highly competent. We were impressed when it came to on-road handling, and surprised to note excellent ride quality off-road as well. It has a shorter range of travel than the 4Runner, but is better controlled, with less tendency to rebound. It makes for flatter cornering, with less roll in the corners and virtually no front-end dive or side-to-side head toss. Off-road, especially at lower speeds, the multilink/coil independent suspension damped out annoying thumps and bumps from rocky sections of trail and dirt road.

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.

Toyota should get a round of applause for the Trail Edition. If you require a locking rear differential or have so much gear to carry that you need a real roof rack, you'll want to be in the 4Runner. The rest of the time you'll want to be in the Grand Cherokee. If you had both in your garage, you'd drive the Grand Cherokee most of the time and pull out the Trail Edition on weekends.

Our suspicion is that, among $40,000-plus SUVs, most people would rather have a more versatile coach that they can enjoy driving every day, knowing that, if there's a camping vacation in the future, they can still pull it off. If we're talking about versatility, and a choice between these two, it's the Jeep that comes out on top.

First Place: Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
Great daily driver, with an elegant cabin and easy-to-use four-wheel drive. Short of crossing obstacles where you'd need a locking rear diff, it will take you just about anywhere.

Second Place: Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition
Fantastic off-road, but old-school -- it's too specialized to be as much fun day to day. A Limited brings more lux, but you can't get all the 4WD gizmos.


  2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 2010 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD Front engine, 4WD
Engine type 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 220.0 cu in/3605 cc 241.4 cu in/3956 cc
Compression ratio 10.2:1 10.4:1
Power (SAE net) 290 hp @ 6400 rpm 270 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 260 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm 278 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Weight to power 16.9 lb/hp 17.6 lb/hp
Transmission 5-speed automatic 5-speed automatic
Axle/final/low ratios 3.73:1/2.67:1/2.57:1 3.06:1/2.54:1/2.72:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 15.7:1-18.9:1 18.4:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.7 2.6
Brakes, f;r 12.9-in vented disc; 12.6-in disc, ABS 13.3-in vented disc; 12.3-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 8.0 x 20-in, cast aluminum 7.5 x 17-in, aluminum
Tires 265/50R20 107T M+S Goodyear Fortera HL 265/70R17 113S M+S Dunlop AT20 Grandtrek
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 114.8 in 109.8 in
Track, f/r 63.9/64.1 in 63.2/63.2 in
Length x width x height 189.8 x 76.3 x 69.4 in 189.9 x 75.8 x 70.1 in
Ground clearance 8.6 in 9.6 in
Apprch/depart angle 26.6/26.5 deg 33.0/26.0 deg
Turning circle 37.1 ft 37.4 ft
Curb weight 4887 lb 4749 lb
Weight dist., f/r 52/48% 53/47%
Towing capacity 5000 lb 5000 lb
Seating capacity 5 5
Headroom, f/m/r 39.9/39.2 in 39.3/38.6 in
Legroom, f/m/r 40.3/38.6 in 41.7/32.9 in
Shoulder room, f/m/r 58.7/58.0 in 57.8/57.8 in
Cargo vol behind f/m/r 68.7/35.1 cu ft 89.7/46.3 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 3.1 sec 2.6 sec
0-40 4.5 3.9
0-50 6 5.7
0-60 8.4 7.6
0-70 10.9 9.8
0-80 13.7 13
0-90 18 16.6
Passing, 45-65 mph 4.4 sec 3.9 sec
Quarter mile 16.3 sec @ 86.6 mph 15.8 sec @ 88.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 128 ft 129 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.73 g (avg) 0.73 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.7 sec @ 0.57 g (avg) 29.0 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 2100 rpm 1800 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $39,600 $36,510
Price as tested $45,205 $40,879
true car truevalue price** $43,487 $37,217
Stability/traction control Yes/yes Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, fr knee
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance 3 yrs/36,000 miles NA
Fuel capacity 24.6 gal 23.0 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 16/22 mpg 17/22 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.06 lb/mile 1.02 lb/mile
MT obs fuel econ 12.8 mpg 14.4 mpg
Recommended fuel Unleaded regular Unleaded regular
* Accurate at time of printing.

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