The early 1990s are starting to seem like a long time ago. McMansions were barely a twinkle in the Toll brothers' eyes. Apple stock was less than fifteen dollars a share. The Iraq war was going great. A tea party was something for little girls. And Justin Bieber hadn't even been born.
In the U.S. car market, perhaps the biggest difference between then and now is that the SUV, as an automotive force, was in its infancy. Sure, Wranglers, Blazers, Broncos, Scouts, and the like had been bouncing along on the fringe of the American automotive scene for a while, but their numbers were small.
The Ford Explorer, which debuted in the spring of 1990, is the vehicle that, more than any other, brought the sport-utility vehicle out of the wilderness and into suburbia. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, which followed in 1992, was the second most influential agent in the mainstreaming of the SUV. Both were smash hits, and in May 1992, we pitted the Grand Cherokee against the Explorer down at the Y.O. Ranch in Texas.
Both SUVs have had a long history since then, and after nearly twenty years on the market, the Explorer and the Grand Cherokee have just undergone intensive redesigns. It seemed like the perfect reason to get these rivals together to assess how they've changed and how (and whether) they still compare with each other. To do it, we took a journey from suburbia, where the Explorer and the Grand Cherokee reside in real life, to the iconic American West, where they live in our collective imagination-and in the advertising imagery that helped make them such a success.
We set out from the northern reaches of San Diego County, part of the Southern California suburban megalopolis that, like countless others, has over the past two decades become SUV territory. Our two trucks were at home in that upscale area not only because they were surrounded by so many of their brethren but also because of their rather upscale sticker prices. Identically upscale, as it turns out-in V-6, four-by-four, Limited spec, both retail for $39,995.
Where the most deluxe Ford Explorer originally was the Eddie Bauer, the Limited is now the top trim level. Eddie has been retired, and the XLT and the base car sit below the Limited. The cheapest, two-wheel-drive Explorer starts at $28,995.