Ford Explorer Timberline vs Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Which off-road SUV is more capable on paper?
Has anyone else noticed this weird trend going on in the automotive industry? I'm not talking about the all-too-common CUV trend, and I'm not talking about the move to electric propulsion. I'm talking about increasingly more automakers apparently trying their hand at joining Jeep in the trenches. Not to help them, but to slice their head open with a saber. What I mean is that more and more automakers seem to be creating “properly” off-road-oriented models in an effort to steal Jeep's off-road-loving consumer base away from them. KIA recently unveiled the new 2023 Sportage with a new off-road trim level called “X-Pro”, Honda's made a new trim level for the Passport called the Trailsport, and now Ford has joined the #JeepIsOver party by creating this:
The Explorer Timberline
Photo Credit: Ford
Similarly to the aforementioned automobiles, the Timberline is a tough, “go anywhere” package for the Ford Explorer. Which, if you ask me, is a bit of an oxymoron when a vehicle is called “Explorer”, but I digress. It's got the usual adornments: Black plastic cladding on its bumpers, more aggressive rubber, off-road style graphics all over, tow hooks all over, tons of marketing speak meant to inspire confidence, and –impressively– skid plates (among other things). That might sound like a halfhearted effort on the part of Ford, but all of those things –and more unmentioned like the slightly increased ride height– are standard affair even for Jeep, so Ford has done their homework. Indeed, the Timberline isn't one of those pointless and infuriating posers that just wears boots and tries to act like it's outdoorsy. At least not completely anyway.
That admittance at the very end is my problem though, I don't completely buy the fact that the Timberline is as capable as a Jeep. Ford has done the homework, but I get the impression that they've sort of done the bare minimum. Ford may have done the assignment, but Jeep created it. Jeep is serious about its off-road chops and has been for decades now. Can the Timberline really keep up with a comparable Jeep? Well that's what I seek to answer today.
Before I do though, I need to set a ground rule and make something clear. Beginning with the ground rule: We'll only be comparing ground clearance, Approach Angle, Breakover Angle, and Departure Angle between both three-row SUVs. That may sound arbitrary, but the press release for the Timberline only gives us those four metrics to play with, so we'll make do with what we've been given. As far as disclaimers I need to make, I'll be using the Grand Cherokee L with the Quadra-Lift Air Suspension. Now don't worry, I'll be using both its lowest and its highest settings so you can get a good idea of how the Ford stacks up to the Jeep. Also, while it might be puzzling to use that suspension system considering you can't order it with the L anymore (thanks to the chip shortage), Jeep seems particularly secretive about the aforementioned metrics for GC Ls without said suspension. As such, we've simply got to make do with what we have.
With that out of the way, let's begin.
The Explorer Timberline: 23.5 Degrees
The Grand Cherokee L Overland w/Quadra-Lift in Position 2: 30.1 Degrees
The Grand Cherokee L w/Quadra-Lift in Standard Position: 20.6 Degrees.
Clearly the Timberline doesn't stand a chance against the Grand Cherokee L in this area. It's simply outclassed when it comes to not scrapping its chin on an elevated surface... sort of. If you have a Grand Cherokee L without the Quadra-Lift Air Suspension, then the Grand Cherokee L is actually worse off, providing you only 20.6 degrees to play with. In which case, the Timberline gets a half-point here. If against the right Grand Cherokee L, it will be victorious. If not? It'll be handily outdone.
The Explorer Timberline: 18.9 Degrees
The Grand Cherokee L w/Quadra-Lift in Position 2: 22.6 Degrees
The Grand Cherokee L w/Quadra-Lift in Standard Position: 18.2 Degrees.
Honestly, I'm more impressed that the Timberline even got within a shout of the Grand Cherokee L here. 18.9 Degrees of breakover angle is nothing to sneeze at (even if it doesn't best the Grand Cherokee L). Nevertheless, the Jeep once again comes out on top.
The Explorer Timberline: 23.7 Degrees
The Grand Cherokee L w/Quadra-Lift in Position 2: 23.6 Degrees.
The Grand Cherokee L w/Quadra-Lift in Standard Position: 21.5 Degrees.
Well would you look at that! The Timberline comes out on top here! Despite not having the ride height of the GC L (which we'll get into soon), the Timberline has a point of a degree more clearance! While I can't substantiate this claim, I have a feeling that the GC L has a bit more rear overhang than the Explorer does, thus why it loses out in the “not smacking my butt on a rock” department. Speaking of clearance though...
Photo Credit: Ford
The Explorer Timberline: 8.7 Inches
The Grand Cherokee L w/Quadra-Lift: 9.9 Inches (Position 1) to 10.7 Inches (Position 2)
And now we're back to business as usual, but not by as much as I expected. Indeed, to give credit where credit is due, the Explorer Timberline is closer to the Grand Cherokee L than I thought it'd be. Hell, it even eclipses the Grand Cherokee L's ride height when the Jeep is in its normal setting (providing you with 8.3 inches of ground clearance to play with). Not to mention the fact that the Ford is at a distinct disadvantage here, having to make do with non-adjustable suspension. Taking all of that into account, the Timberline's 8.7 inches of clearance is nothing to scoff at, and easily more than enough for most consumers.
End Of The Trail:
Photo Credit: Jeep
So, can the Timberline really keep up with a comparable Jeep? In short: Mostly. It did lose out in all areas except departure angle, but for the most part the Grand Cherokee L didn't thrash the Explorer like I thought it would. OK, yeah, it certainly did in Approach Angle, but nowhere else was the Grand Cherokee L so dominant. For a brand that hasn't centered its entire image around off-roading, Ford has done an admirable job in making the Explorer... uh... a better Explorer. At least given the numbers we've seen today, a proper head-to-head comparison or more metrics like water-fording and the like would give us a better idea of how close or how far the Timberline is to the Grand Cherokee L.
At this point, you're probably expecting me to end the article, right? Well hold your horses, because there's actually one last thing I want to talk about...
CarBuzz, an automotive outlet you might've heard of, made an interesting point in their own article on the subject (no I didn't copy them, I actually found their article long after I began writing my own, still rather unfortunate –though slightly funny– nonetheless). At the end of their article, they make the point that it doesn't necessarily matter if the Explorer Timberline isn't as capable as its Mopar competitor, because the Ford is meant to be more of a lifestyle vehicle than a hardcore off-roader; think Ford's version of a Subaru Outback. In layman's terms: The Timberline is about giving you all the off-road “go-anywhere” looks but with less of the capability. Regular Car Reviews made the same observation when it came to the RAM 1500 Rebel: Providing Raptor-esque looks without the beefed-up components to handle dune-running and other hooligan activities. In that sense, comparing the Timberline to the Grand Cherokee L is sort of like comparing apples to oranges. If Ford really wanted to go after Jeep, they would, and that would be an extremely fascinating comparison indeed...
What do you guys think though? Feel that Ford did a pretty good job equipping the Explorer with more off-road goodies, or do you think it's just another “soft-roader”? Let me know!