While I was in Indianapolis we rented a 2005 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4x4 from Hertz. I was definitely interested in how it would measure up against my 2005 Grand Cherokee, but you'll have to wait until the end to find out if I made the right decision.
On my last trip to Indy I drove a colleague's company 4Runner there and back instead of flying. I really enjoyed it, but it is the Limited model, far more posh than this rental and much more expensive. It is loaded up, with heated leather, sunroof, high-end sound system, etc. etc. indefinitely. I liked it a lot. It was powerful, comfortable and well appointed, and it made me seriously consider the 4Runner when I was looking for a new truck. It handled the trip down to Indiana with no drama or effort over several hours in intermittent blowing snow, and it returned decent fuel economy while we traveled down at a brisk pace for a noon meeting. All in all, a great SUV.
The SR5 is a different story. Ungainly-looking in silver and with a depressing charcoal interior, my first impression was that this is not a place I wanted to spend a week, let alone 100,000 miles. Even my old Corolla had a pleasant tweed burgundy interior (I'm not sure if I'm kidding either), so to see Toyota offer something so drab 18 years later is a dissappointment.
Look at this: Can you get more gray?
The uphostelry is mousy and felt-like. It is not nearly as pleasant as the tight-weave cloth in the Jeep. You can sit on it and live to tell, but it is unsatisying aesthetically. I fail to understand why Toyota chose to go with an unappealing two-tone approach, instead of just finding one tone people could live with. The driver and passenger seat adjustments are manual, no big deal in itself but the Jeep has a power driver's seat. The steering wheel is all plastic, nothing new there for Toyota, but for some reason it feels more synthetic than the plastics used in the '95 Camry and '98 RAV4 I have driven extensively. You sit low in this truck, or perhaps I'm just short. Whatever, the impression for me was sort of like driving my bathtub around. Cool in a '32 Ford, silly in a sport utility. Buy this if you're 6'5". Here's a shot of the wheel and gauges:
The controls have a substantial, quality feel to them that one comes to expect from Toyota products. The shift lever has positive actuation through the gears, the buttons for the climate control and stereo enagage with authority, and there is a smoothness to the action of turning on the windshield wipers or headlights. It feels as though you are investing in a quality product that would work every day for a decade. Jeep is making strides in this direction, but Chrysler products still have not caught up with Toyota in this regard. The dash knobs on the Jeep do not feel as though they would fall off in your hand, they are just about 90% as good as these.
The downside is that Toyota has made some questionable ergonomic choices here that detract from the experience. The overall climate/stereo effect here is both discordant and a distraction from driving, because Toyota has chosen to use some of the display components from the excellent Limited model interface, but when combined with the downmarket stereo the look is less than upscale. The climate control butttons themselves are tough to read on the move, non-intuitive for new users, and needlessly complicated. I mean, look at this:
The Jeep has a fan dial, a temperature dial and a position dial, just like cars have had for decades. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel here. It is not innovation, it just smacks of gimmickry. Camry: Dials. RAV4 and Corolla: Levers. All of those cars were substantially less expensive than this truck, and they were all easier to use by feel without having to take one's eyes off the road. Simple solutions are better.
The engine is another story.
This is a powerful motor, and it is stronger than the Jeep V6 by about 35 horsepower, while returning better fuel economy. When you boot it it sounds great and really hustles. The ride is a bit pillowy compared to the Grand Cherokee and I would rather have the Jeep in the curves, but in a straight line this thing is more fun.
It is also more expensive, both to lease and to buy (after Jeep incentives), which made the Jeep that much more compelling. On balance the two are similar in their approach but differ in the execution, but I think the Grand Cherokee is simultaneously more fun to drive and more affordable than the 4Runner. It is definitely more cheerful inside, at least with the tan interior. Styling is subjective and there is an argument for both, and certainly the Toyota has a reputation for immense reliability over time. For two years I am sure I made the right decision. If I had to keep the car for ten years? Tough call. The Jeep makes me feel cool, for what that is worth, but I have never viewed cars as mere A to B transportation so style carries some weight with me. On balance the Jeep gets the nod unless it is the 4Runner Limited, which is out of my league. Over and out.