After a spell on Route 66 and the road that consigned it to a historical artifact, I-40, we headed south along 89A, which follows Oak Creek Canyon into Sedona. Here, the Explorer's electrically assisted steering showed a weakness. Although it's fine at straight-ahead, it has a vagueness off-center that makes placing the vehicle more work than it should be on long, sweeping curves. The Grand Cherokee's steering is heavier overall, but not unpleasantly so, and it's fairly consistent through both curves and straights.
We went to Sedona looking for an off-road trail we'd done years ago, in 1993, at the introduction of the Explorer Limited (denoted by its running boards and three fetching hues of bright white, forest green, and purple). The trail was at the back of a subdivision that butted up to spectacular, towering red rocks. Well, given the number of red-rock formations all around Sedona and the mushrooming subdivisions in the area, we didn't immediately find it. We did find a different trail, Soldier Pass, and after walking in only a few hundred yards, we feared that it was too much for the Explorer. But we let the Jeep have a go at it, since our Grand Cherokee had a four-wheel-drive system with a low range.
Both vehicles have a Land Rover-style terrain-selector knob. The Jeep's includes a mode for rocks, but you have to select low range first. Jeep claims improved approach and departure angles for the new Grand Cherokee, but that's with the Quadra-Lift air suspension and the front air dam removed. We didn't have the former and didn't bother with the latter, and the Jeep still managed fine on the section we tried. We had to pick our way very carefully, however, and it wasn't easy because the high hood makes for lousy sightlines when you're trying to place a wheel precisely. You really need a spotter.
Finally, we found what we'd been looking for: Broken Arrow Trail. A look at the first obstacle, a foot-high sheer slickrock step topped by a second, slightly smaller one, made us realize that any attempt to relive 1993 would relieve the 2011 Explorer of its front fascia, particularly as the Explorer lacks a low range to walk the truck slowly up the rock. (We should mention that the '93 Limited didn't fare so well, either. Several of the test Explorers suffered damage to their molded running boards.)