Leaving the next morning from Kingman, we couldn't resist spending some time on old Route 66, the epochal cross-country highway. This part of "the mother road," as John Steinbeck called it in The Grapes of Wrath, stretches long and straight to the horizon, running parallel with the railroad tracks just to the south. Here you really get a sense of the vastness of the landscape. It's the kind of driving that affords you plenty of time to contemplate your surroundings. The Explorer's ultramodern driver interface is a stark contrast with the faded roadside retro. The Limited's standard MyFord Touch and Sony HD Radio, along with the optional navigation system, make for an Apple-like instrument panel that is the last word in modernity. Dual reconfigurable screens flank the speedometer; a large, eight-inch touch screen houses the nav unit as well as climate, phone, and audio functions; below that is a gloss-black flat panel with more touch-sensitive buttons. It all looks impressive, and the graphics are superclear, but neither the touch screen nor the touch-sensitive black panel provides the feedback or the positive operation of real buttons. And the screen is chock-full of info, making for very small touch points that demand a lot of attention to hit precisely. Elsewhere, the interior is less spectacular; there are few hard plastics and decent soft touch points, but the standard leather is pretty industrial-grade.
The Jeep has richer leather and lots of nice padding. There's not a lot of flash, but the overall interior quality level has risen dramatically. The Grand Cherokee's electronics seem old-tech, though; the touch-screen nav unit is essentially the same one Chrysler has offered for years, and the logic and the graphics are rudimentary. Too many functions are on-screen, but at least the Jeep has more traditional, and more user-friendly, climate controls. The Grand Cherokee cabin isn't as wide and spacious feeling as the Explorer's, but the Jeep doesn't seem like such a big bus from behind the wheel, either.