Ah, how the mighty have fallen. In the era of crossovers, EVs, hybrids, and the soon-to-come city car, the old SUV seems to have taken a backseat for both automakers and consumers alike. Ford made a fortune off them in the 90s, only to face a severe cash flow and diluted product lineup that, by 2005, the company was forced to bet the farm and take out a huge line of credit just to stay in business.
While their gamble has paid off, it's obvious to see the 4x4 SUV is no longer the centerfold of their product portfolio. GM has also deviated from their SUV love fest, but a brand such as Jeep has no choice but to continue building them. Why? An SUV is a Jeep as much as a Jeep is an SUV. For 2011, Jeep has completely redesigned the Grand Cherokee. It shares a platform with the next-generation Mercedes-Benz ML, which is a shared custody item leftover from the DaimlerChrysler divorce.
The Toyota 4Runner was redesigned for the 2010 model year and features a host of upgrades over its predecessor, most notably the more angular exterior design. Finally, the Nissan Pathfinder, currently in its third-generation, received a facelift in 2008 but its design is still easily the most dated of the three. To keep things fair for this comparisson, all three have their V6 engine options on hand. The Grand Cherokee features Chrysler's all-new 3.6-liter Phoenix V6, with 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and can tow up to 5,000 lbs.
Although this engine doesn't carry the vehicle's 5,000 lbs as well as a V8 could, it's still a very respectable engine that should suit the daily needs of most drivers, unless one lives in the mountains. It's mated to a five-speed automatic, but a six-speed auto is desperately needed. All told, it returned it 16 mpg city/ 22 mpg highway. Along with its Quadra-Trac II four-wheel-drive system, the Jeep performs very well off-road and in all weather conditions. The interior is full of real-wood accents with bits of chrome along the dash and door panels.
Overall, the entire cabin is a beyond words improvement for anything from Chrysler. This level of sophistication and quality would not have seemed possible just a year or so ago. Base price: $30,215. The Toyota 4Runner has over 25 years of experience under its belt. The latest model features an optional 4.0-liter V6 with 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque with a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs. A V8 is no longer offered. The exterior styling is now more masculine and brawnier than before.
It retains the body-on-frame construction and live rear-axle configuration, making it minority amongst modern SUV/CUVs. It's off-roading abilities remain fully intact as well as its high quality interior, a Toyota signature. It also features an optional fold-flat third-row seat, something the Jeep lacks. Overall, it's a competitive and overly competent vehicle that deserves the reputation it carries. Base price: $29,525. Finally, there's the much admired Nissan Pathfinder.
Over the years, it's developed into a more luxurious SUV, with the Xterra filling the slot of down and dirty off-roader. Still, the Pathfinder has no problem doing its share of work. It's powered by a 4.0-liter V6 with 266 hp and 288 lb-ft of torque and has a towing capacity of 6,000 lbs. A V8 is optional, but not necessary due to the strong V6. It has a third-row seat that's even more accommodating and accessible than the 4Runners's. Interior quality is good, but not at the level of Toyota or even near that of the Jeep.
It's sturdy, truck-based frame is showing its age fast. While it may work for some, the Pathfinder's underpinnings simply make it the most unrefined of the three. A redesign is desperately needed in order for it to remain competitive. Base price: $28,500. All three of these SUVs have similar power, towing capacities, prices, and size dimensions. With the Nissan Pathfinder's advanced age, it's simply not a strong enough competitor to take home the top prize for this comparisson.
And while the Toyota 4Runner does everything well with typical Toyota precision, it's the new Jeep Grand Cherokee that inspires us most to ditch our office desks and head for the nearest mountain pass. The new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 is that good, but we can't wait to see what the 5.7-liter V8 version is capable of doing.
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