Going off-road is easier than ever. It used to be that you’d have to manually lock hubs and shift levers (only when stopped and the transmission in neutral), and the vehicles used for off-roading were crude, uncomfortable, and bare-bones. All that has changed. Now, you can ride in luxury on the trail and can proudly take the neighbors out to dinner that night in the same vehicle. Switching to trail mode is just as easy, thanks to electronics and the creation of Terrain Response (Land Rover) and similar systems—turn the knob to choose the terrain you’re driving over, and go—that have come along since.
There are now a few sport/utilities that use a version of this technology, including the Land Rover LR4, Grand Cherokee, and Toyota 4Runner, and more are on the way. The Jeep said this model offers the highest level of luxury of any Grand Cherokee to date, without sacrificing its off-road ability. Based on a version of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class platformt, it's also the only one here that comes with a choice of V-6 or V-8 engines. Can it hold its own against the rugged 4Runner and the luxurious LR4?
We decided to take to the streets and the mountain back country to find out which V-6 and V-8 SUV provides the best mix of on-road comfort, luxury, and off-road capability. Our loop started in Santa Barbara, California, with freeway and highway driving. From there, we turned onto a narrow, twisting road through a well-heeled residential area (the natural habitat of vehicles like these). The paved road ends, becomes dirt, and gets much worse after that. The trail runs through the mountains of Los Padres National Forest, elevation levels change dramatically (from 37 feet in town to 4051 near Santa Ynez Peak), and all along the way, there are stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Lake Cachuma. Once down the hill, the dirt road gives way to pavement, and the twisty two-lane joins up with Highway 101 near the beach.
The competitors: a V-8-powered Grand Cherokee Overland versus the Land Rover LR4, and a V-6-powered Grand Cherokee Limited versus the Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition. All are new or have been significantly modified within the last two model years. For this test, all have four-wheel drive and are equipped with a dial similar to Land Rover's Terrain Response--the Grand Cherokees use Selec-Terrain and the 4Runner (Trail only) has Multi-terrain Select.
Round One: 2010 Land Rover LR4 HSE V8 vs. 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland V8
Round Two: 2010 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition V6 vs. 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee V-6 Limited V6