When we dropped down out of the hills, we found ourselves on the flat floor of the California desert. Route 78 dips south of the Salton Sea and then turns north through irrigated fields, becoming a long, straight two-lane highway. As the sun sank behind the mountains to the west-creating a Technicolor sky -- we put the pedal to the metal, trying to make time as we pushed toward Kingman, Arizona.
Six-cylinder power launched both of these SUVs, and both have new V-6 engines this year. The Explorer now uses the same 3.5-liter unit found in the Edge, with 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. That's a big improvement over the outgoing SOHC V-6's 210 hp and 254 lb-ft, not to mention the weakling 155-hp V-6 at the Explorer's debut. It's no wonder that when Ford added a V-8 -- as gas prices tumbled and Ford learned that many Explorer owners used their vehicles for towing -- it proved a popular choice. However, the V-8 is no longer available on the new Explorer -- and Ford's Ecoboost V-6 isn't offered here, either. The new optional engine, arriving midyear, is an EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which will have less output (237 hp, 250 lb-ft) but better fuel economy.
The first Grand Cherokee came with a 4.0-liter straight six that wasn't exactly new back then, and Jeep, too, soon offered an optional V-8. Eventually, the 4.0 would be replaced by a 3.7-liter V-6, but it was the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that garnered all the attention. With the 2011 Grand Cherokee comes Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6. The 3.6-liter, aluminum-block V-6 blows away the old 3.7-liter's 210 hp and 235 lb-ft, making 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque -- virtually the same output as the Explorer's. But as we rolled north along the California/Arizona border, the Jeep seemed to have an easier time passing pickups and semis. Those who don't find it quick enough, however, at least have the option of more power with the Hemi.