By Jim Bray
Can a Hemi engine turn a venerable SUV into a sports car? Can a new V8 turn
a longtime Japanese favorite into a Hemi beater?
Those are just two of the questions I asked myself during back to back weeks
driving the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited and Toyota 4Runner V8 Sports Edition.
Both of these SUVs are nothing if not world class, both have been around
for many years in one form or another, and both are capable off roaders.
Jeep says the Grand Cherokee is all new for 2005 and is
reclaiming its legendary class-leading status while offering
countless improvements including new steering, front suspension,
and QuadraDrive II.
Toyota, meanwhile, says the 2005 4Runner features a brand new V8 engine offering more
power than ever before and an extensive array of stability and
traction management technologies for outstanding off-road capability, on-road
comfort and all-weather safety.
Sounds like a pretty good reason to compare these two, even though it isnt
quite an apples to apples comparison thanks to disparities in trim
levels. The Jeep was loaded, the 4Runner was only
nearly loaded. Close enough to get a good idea of the vehicles capabilities,
My tests were limited to on-road scenarios, alas, due to a lack of time and
opportunity to really head into the hinterland. But Car
and Driver Magazine recently ran them head to head with other competitors
including versions of the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Volkswagen Touareg.
Those lucky editors put six SUVs through their paces in what appeared
to be some pretty grueling territory and the Jeep ended up at the head of the
pack, handily beating the rest. Perhaps surprisingly, the Toyota came in second
On the asphalt, I found my subjective results put the two a lot closer together,
my opinions relying nearly as much on personal and family taste than anything
really good or bad about either vehicle.
The new Grand Cherokee is longer than its predecessor, by seven inches or so
and looks lower but less boxy
than before. The current generation 4Runner looks almost like an older
4Runner after a heavy weight had been dropped on it (and the resulting dents
hammered out, I suppose), though that isnt really a fair analogy for
what is actually a handsome vehicle. It just goes to show, I suppose, that
this low, wide look must be a trend.
The addition of the Hemi gives the Jeep a huge power advantage and it also
adds a massive amount of "fun to drive" to the equation, something
I was surprised to find I cared about with an SUV. Id never driven a
Hemi-powered vehicle before and now I see what the fascination is: this thing
MOVES! Boy, does it ever!
There are actually three choices of engine to choose from with the Grand Cherokee.
The base is a 3.7-litre, SOHC 12-valve V-6 sporting 210 horses and 235 lb-ft
of torque. Next is a 4.7-litre, SOHC 16-valve V-8 that makes 230 horsepower
and 290 lb-ft. The Hemi is a 5.7-litre V-8 that seems to be more than willing
to put out its 325 horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque at an instants
The Hemi also features DaimlerChrysler's Multi Displacement System, which
means it's capable of shutting down four of its cylinders when you dont
need them, to help increase gas mileage. The process is seamless; you cant
tell when youre driving a four banger or an eight banger unless you goose
the gas, at which time it become obvious which version has snapped to attention
for you by the way you're pressed back into the seat.
Its probably just as well that the multi displacement system
is included, too, because the Hemi tosses back gasoline like I toss back, er,
milk. If you have a lead foot and didn't have MDS, this would be a thirsty
The 4Runners V8, on the other hand, is a lovely and smooth 4.7 liter,
32-valve DOHC engine with Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i).
It produces 270 horsepower at 5,400 rpm (up from the 235 hp of the previous
4Runners), and 330 lb/ft of torque at 3,400 rpm (up from 320 lb/ft).
V6 4Runners get Toyotas high output, low mass 4.0-litre, DOHC 24-valve
engine with 245 horses at 5,200 rpm and 283 lb/ft of torque at 3,400 rpm. The
V6 also is equipped with Toyotas VVT-i and, like the V8, uses a two-stage
Acoustic Control Induction System (ACIS) to improve engine performance in all
The Toyota V8 is smooth and pulls well and gets better gas mileage
than the Hemi. The Transport Canada ratings of 17 city 25 highway for the Jeep
versus 21/28 for the Toyota didnt seem to match the dollar output I had
at the pump, though, but my lead foot undoubtedly contributed to that.
The Jeep is available in rear wheel drive as well as three different four-wheel-drive
systems. Quadra-Trac I is on tap for the 3.7-liter V-6, a permanent, single-speed
four-wheel drive system. The sequel,
Quadra-Trac II (available on the V-8s) includes a two-speed transfer
case with both high and low range activated by pushing a button. Electronically-controlled
clutches vary torque distribution between the axles. Quadra-Drive II, also
available on the V-8s, ups the ante by adding electronically controlled differentials
to both axles for even better traction when things get dicey.
Over in Toyota land, the 4Runner features full-time 4-wheel drive (4WD) using
a Torsen limited-slip center differential the driver can lock for maximum traction
on those dicey days. Torque splits 40 per cent front and 60 per cent rear under
normal conditions, but if things start going wonky as far as traction is concerned
the system directs more power to whichever axle has the most grip. You also
get a Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system that works with the antilock brakes
to control engine and brakes to enhance cornering stability though it
doesnt work when the centre differential is locked.
Toyota also includes Active Traction Control (A TRAC) and an Engine Control
Module (ECM). A-TRAC combo applies the brakes to restore traction to the wheel
thats slipping while the ECM modulates the engines power. And if
that isnt enough, Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) automatically increases
stability when the 4Runner is starting on an incline and theres also
a Downhill Assist Control (DAC) that uses the brakes to maintain the vehicles
speed at 5 to 7 km/h (2 to 4 mph) for a controlled descent when gravity would
have it otherwise.
Who says you cant fool Mother Nature?
Both vehicles sport five speed automatic transmissions. The Jeeps also
has a fake manual mode that lets you shift by moving the level side to side.
The side to side motion felt weird to one used to manual modes that shift forward
and backward, but it works fine.
The 4Runner is strictly automatic and you know what? I whine and complain
about fake manuals all the time but I missed it! I discovered that I
use it more than I had thought, usually for downshifting when going down hills.
Jeep has replaced the front solid-axle suspension with independent control
arms and it results in a vehicle that handles well and offers a smooth, almost
car-like ride. The new rack-and-pinion steering doesnt hurt, either.
The 4Runner uses a double wishbone, independent suspension up front, with
front coil-springs and shock absorbers. Its rear is slung by a 4-link suspension
with gas shocks, coil springs and stabilizer bar.
Both vehicles handle surprisingly well, but I thought the 4Runner was slightly
Both vehicles also feature four wheel disc brakes with ABS and a good set
of all-season tires.
Obviously, both of these vehicles are fully equipped for whatever you want
to throw at them.
Inside the Jeep is a very nice cabin, though I thought the material on the
sill between the instrument panel and the windshield looked a tad cheap. The
leather seats were very nicely finished, however, and included a memory setting though
it was disabled (er, challenged) in my test unit. The seats include
bun warmers and power adjustments as well. I thought they needed more lumbar
support, however, since my lower back got tired quite quickly.
The power adjustments can be combined with adjustable pedals to secure the
perfect driving position.
Ingress and egress (which in English means getting in and out)
was better in the Jeep than the Toyota, though once inside I preferred the
4Runners driving position and seats, despite the fact that my Sport Edition
4Runner didnt have leather or power seats. But they had better side bolstering
and seemed more comfortable for day to day urban driving.
Both vehicles instrumentation is full and clear and switches, stalks
and other controls are well located and easy to figure out. I thought the Jeeps
steering column-mounted stalks (lights, wipers, etc.) were a little harder
for my stubby fingers to reach than the 4Runners, but only a little and
it wasnt a big deal.
My family preferred the 4Runners rear seat, if only because we liked
how they tucked away the seatbelt receptacles and theres only a minimal
centre tunnel that needs to be straddled by a mid-seat passenger. We drove
both vehicles with three across in the back and there was decidedly less whining
in the Toyota.
I was really torn between the two vehicles stereos. The Jeeps
Boston Acoustics system rocks, whereas the Toyotas is anemic at best.
On the other hand, the 4Runners is better ergonomically, which comes
in handy at speed. For example, switching from AM to FM or CD is easier in
the 4Runner. On the other other hand, the Jeep had a 6 disc CD changer while
the Toyotas was limited to a single CD at a time. Advantage Jeep: I could
live with its ergonomics better than I could live with the Toyotas weak
Both vehicles have rear seat entertainment. The Grand Cherokees is a
DVD video system with a ceiling-mounted LCD screen, which is adequate but definitely
not videophile quality. The 4Runner has no video but the ankle biters in back
can put on wireless headphones and listen to their own music source regardless
of what mom and dad are playing up front. For example, the front passengers
can have the radio on while the kids listen to a CD thats playing in
the same head unit. Its neat, though for some reason the headphones kept
shutting off when I tried them.
Maybe they didnt like my choice of music....
The view from both vehicles is excellent, with very good greenhouses all around.
I give the edge to the 4Runner, though, because I thought the Jeeps windshield
was a little short top to bottom and this tended to cut off the view of traffic
lights a little. It isnt a serious shortcoming, however.
The 4Runner has a nicer sunroof, if only because of an interesting windbreaker
that raises and lowers a bit depending on vehicle speed, helping quiet the
banshee wail of the wind when youre at moving along at a good clip.
Both vehicles also offer the normal gaggle of gadgets, including power windows,
mirrors and locks and they both feature keyless entry. The 4Runners security
system caused me a bit of angst the first night I had it home when it started
howling, a false alarm that may have been caused by a neighbor but it
was easy to shut off without having to leave the house.
You also get a pervasive panoply of safety devices, from seatbelts to airbags.
Irritations? Well, the silly place Toyota mounted the fuel door opener, out
of the way and nearly hidden below the instrument panel, is downright dumb.
And the HVAC controls are strangely designed. Little things, indeed, but theyre
little things that Japanese carmakers usually do so well but which in this
case were better handled by the domestic marque.
The only thing about the Jeep that really rubbed me the wrong way was its
thirst (which was partially self-inflicted by exuberant driving) and the lower
back comfort of the drivers seat.
So which would I buy? That is a really tough one especially since,
to be honest, I probably wouldnt buy either, since Im more of a
car guy. But for sheer, brash fun (and if ongoing costs such as fuel were no
consideration) Id have to lean toward the Jeep and the awesome Hemi I
couldnt resist winding up through the revs. For everyday driving comfort
and feel I preferred the 4Runner, but I dont think I could live with
that stereo and the tighter ingress/egress.
A split decision, leaning grudgingly toward the Jeep. As a long time Toyota
fan (Ive owned four over the past quarter century, including a Supra
I kept for 20 years), I feel as if Im tempting a lightning bolt.
But what can you do? The Jeeps combination of power and execution and,
yes, attention to detail, is simply awesome.
I never thought Id say that.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, as-tested price: $54,025 Cdn.
Toyota 4 Runner V8 Sports Edition, approximate as-tested price: $53,440