Those looking for a vehicle with space, towing capability, and at least some ability to go off-road gravitate towards SUVs. And two popular choices, the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee have recently been updated. The Explorer recently won over the Toyota Highlander in KBB’s comparison. The Grand Cherokee, meanwhile, is a genuine competitor to Jaguar’s high-performance SUVs. And if you want, you can give the Jeep 1000 hp or a truck bed. But between the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is the better buy?
Ford Explorer specs and features
There are 5 trims of Ford Explorer to choose from: $32,765 base, $36,675 XLT, $48,130 Limited, $54,740 ST, and $58,250 Platinum.
The base, XLT, and Limited trims come standard with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, making 300 hp and 310 lb-ft. The Limited trim is also available in hybrid form, which combines a 3.3-liter V6 with a 35-kW electric motor and 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery. Roadshow reports the output is 318 hp and 322 lb-ft.
The Ford Explorer Platinum and ST, meanwhile, have a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6. In the Platinum, it makes 365 hp. In the sportier ST, that gets boosted to 400 hp. Every Explorer, though, gets the same 10-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive is standard on all but the ST and Platinum, which get the otherwise optional all-wheel-drive system as standard.
Every Ford Explorer gets a 3rd-row, 8” infotainment touchscreen, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay as standard. The Platinum and ST, though, get a 10.1” version, Car and Driver reports. Advanced driver-assistance features like blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and emergency braking are also standard. But if you want the 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio, you’ll need to get at least the XLT trim.
Car and Driver recommends the Ford Explorer Limited. It offers leather upholstery, a heated and power-adjustable steering wheel, a power-folding 3rd-row, and additional ADAS features.
Jeep Grand Cherokee specs and features
Jeep Grand Cherokee buyers, meanwhile, can choose from one of 12 trims. From least to most expensive, there’s the Laredo, Laredo E, Upland, Altitude, Limited, Limited X, Trailhawk, Overland, High Altitude, Summit, SRT, and Trackhawk. The Laredo starts at $32,240; the Trackhawk starts at $87,095. All but the SRT, Trailhawk, and Trackhawk come standard with RWD, with optional four-wheel drive.
On trims below the $40,050 Limited, the Jeep Grand Cherokee comes with a 3.6-liter V6 making 295 hp and 260 lb-ft. The Limited and above, meanwhile, have the option of a 5.7-liter V8 which produces 360 hp and 390 lb-ft. The SRT adds even more power with a 475-hp, 470-lb-ft 6.4-liter V8. And the Trackhawk comes with the 707-hp Hellcat supercharged 6.2-liter V8.
The wide variety of trims also means a large arrangement of standard features. Luckily, even the base Laredo has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Lower trims do offer some ADAS features: blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Additional safety features are optional extras, standard only on the High Altitude and above.
Car and Driver recommends the $47,145 4WD-equipped Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited X. It has leather seats—the front ones are heated—a larger 8” infotainment touchscreen, SRT-style vented hood, and optional dual-pane sunroof.
Which is the SUV for you?
Apart from the high-power Jeep Grand Cherokees, the Jeep and Ford Explorer are fairly close in price. From a size perspective, though, the Explorer has the advantage. The Jeep doesn’t offer a 3rd-row, while the Ford is exclusively a 3rd-row SUV.
But the Grand Cherokee is the better tow vehicle. With the 5.7-liter V8 and towing package, the Jeep can tow up to 7200 pounds. The Explorer, though, even with the towing package, can only tow up to 5600 pounds.
However, even the base 4WD Explorer offers multiple terrain-specific driving modes, for snow, trail, and so on. That’s an option for the Jeep’s lower trims and isn’t available at all on the Laredo. Also, despite the Grand Cherokee offering optional air suspension, CarMax reports the Ford Explorer is more comfortable, with a better on-road ride.
That being said, the Jeep is definitely the more off-road-focused of the two SUVs. It has a low-range transfer case and a higher ground clearance than the Explorer. Trims like the Trailhawk also come with skid plates, tow hooks, and an upgraded 4WD system.
Ultimately, choosing between the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee comes down to what you’ll be using your SUV for. If you’re more about moving family around, and mostly stick to urban or light off-road driving, the Ford’s better. But, if you’re more into off-roading, or want to blitz down the road in a high-power SUV, the Jeep’s the one to get.
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