2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Ford Explorer: The Winner Isn’t Clear

The Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer are both popular midsize SUVs. Both are large enough to transport families and small enough to handle easily. They are similar in many ways, but they do also have some notable differences. Here’s how the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer measure up.

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee has a nicer interior

U.S. News says the Jeep “Grand Cherokee wins this one hands down.” It has nice finishes and high-quality materials along with a modern design. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces, and higher trims are almost like a luxury SUV. Both rows of seats in the Grand Cherokee are comfortable and supportive.

The Ford Explorer was recently redesigned for 2020, but it still looks more basic than the Grand Cherokee, especially in lower trims. It’s still nice looking, but the materials and finishes aren’t as good. The Explorer does have three rows of seats. The front seats are roomy and comfortable, but U.S. News found the second- and third-row seats to be “disappointing.”

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee has better interior features

Both the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer have plenty of standard features. They both provide “an infotainment system, automatic climate control, satellite radio, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and multiple USB ports,” according to U.S. News.

The Ford Explorer has a standard Wi-Fi hotspot, which is an option on the Grand Cherokee. Both SUVs also have available upgrades to the infotainment system and audio system. U.S. News likes the Grand Cherokee better since its UConnect infotainment system is “one of the best in the business.”

The Explorer has more cargo space than the Grand Cherokee and many competitors too. It has 18.2 cubic feet behind the third row. That expands to 47.9 cubic feet when the third row is folded down and 87.8 cubic feet with both the second and third rows folded down. The Grand Cherokee has 36.3 cubic feet behind the second row. That increases to 68.3 cubic feet with the second row folded down.

The 2021 Ford Explorer has more standard safety features and better ratings

The Ford Explorer has more standard advanced safety features than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Explorer comes standard with “pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist,” and other features, says U.S. News.

The Explorer also did better in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests. It got an overall safety rating of five out of five stars. The Grand Cherokee also got an overall safety rating of five out of five stars from the NHTSA for four-wheel-drive models but only four out of five stars for the rear-wheel-drive models.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named the 2021 Explorer one of its Top Safety Pick+ honorees. The IIHS awarded the Grand Cherokee Good for four of its six crash tests but gave it a Marginal rating for driver-side small frontal overlap crash tests and a Poor rating for passenger-side small frontal overlap crash tests.

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee has better acceleration and tows more

U.S. News says the Jeep Grand Cherokee “runs away with this one.” Its Trackhawk trim has the same engine used in the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, which is a 707-hp supercharged V8 engine. In addition to this powerful engine option, the Grand Cherokee also has a 295-hp V6 engine and two other V8 engines: a 360-hp 5.7-liter V8 and a 475-hp 6.4-liter V8.

The Explorer does have strong engines as well. That includes the 300-hp turbocharged four-cylinder base engine as well as a 365-hp twin-turbocharged V6 and a 400-hp twin-turbocharged V6 engine. The Explorer also has a hybrid powertrain option.

The 2021 Grand Cherokee is able to tow up to 7,200 pounds when properly equipped. The 2021 Explorer can tow up to 5,600 pounds when it is properly equipped. With less powerful engines comes better fuel efficiency for the Explorer. 

The 2021 Ford Explorer has a better ride and handling

The Ford Explorer has a comfortable ride and almost “athletic” handling, according to U.S. News. It does have a bit of body movement when driving on curvy roads. The Grand Cherokee has a firmer suspension. It’s very responsive at low speeds but less so at higher speeds. 

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is designed specifically for off-road driving. Optional features can be added to increase its capabilities, including “skid plates, a two-speed transfer case, and an available air suspension for increased ground clearance,” says U.S. News. The Explorer is good for off-road driving but can’t measure up to the Grand Cherokee.

The 2021 Ford Explorer is lower priced

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The 2021 Ford Explorer has a lower starting price than the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The base trim with rear-wheel drive starts at $32,225 for the Explorer and $34,200 for the Grand Cherokee. Four-wheel drive adds $2,000 to either SUV.

The Explorer is still slightly less expensive even in the mid-level trims and with four-wheel drive. The highest trim of the Explorer has a much less expensive starting price at $59,000 compared to the Grand Cherokee’s $87,895. However, the top Grand Cherokee trim has a more powerful engine than the top Explorer Platinum trim.

Which one is better?

The 2021 Ford Explorer has better safety, ride and handling, cargo space, and fuel efficiency. The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee has a nicer interior and a more powerful engine for towing and off-road performance. Deciding between the two SUVs means buyers will need to determine which qualities they value most.