Is the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Really Worse Than the 2021 Ford Explorer?

If we learned anything from high school, it’s probably that popularity rarely equals quality. This is not a hard and fast rule by any means. There are plenty of great vehicles that are also popular, like the Mazda CX-5 or Kia Telluride. There are also many examples of wildly popular vehicles that are subjectively loved and not objectively very good—for instance, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler and the 2021 Ford Explorer. Consumer Reports gave them pretty rough scores, but somehow, the Explorer came out on top.

The Jeep Wrangler and Ford Explorer have long histories

These SUVs have been around for a long time. Both have sold many units for many decades. Granted, the Wrangler/CJ has been around for much longer than the Explorer and has a much more devoted and passionate fan base, but both models have left an impact on the motoring world. Interestingly, something as Iconic as the Jeep Wrangler would get a substantially worse score from Consumer Reports than the Explorer, especially given the previous model’s struggles with recalls, delays, and endless quality issues. 

The Ford Explorer has had a rocky past

The Ford Explorer has been a fixture of the road for quite some time. It has never been particularly pretty or exciting, but people like them. Not to mention the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Explorer were both in Jurrasic Park, so they got that going for them. 

The 2020 Ford Explorer is still affecting the 2021 Explorer. Although the 2021 model is doing much better on the quality front, the 2020 model had 10 recalls for multiple quality control blunders. This is now affecting the predicted reliability rating from CR on the 2021 Explorer. 

A silver 2021 Ford Explorer with a bag mounted on its roof rack driving down a dirt road
The 2021 Ford Explorer in action | Photo via Ford

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Overall, the 2021 Ford Explorer received a 42/100 on CR. The general positives include agile handling, intuitive controls, plenty of interior space. The negatives go shot for shot, though. CR didn’t like the ride comfort, low-speed gear changes were jerky, and it’s overpriced for the segment. Honestly, it seems to suffer from the same thing that all Explorers suffer from, being a bit too “meh.” Overall it isn’t a bad SUV; it just isn’t good enough to pull away from its rocky past – or a T-Rex.

Consumer Reports dunked on the 2021 Jeep Wrangler

CR gave the Jeep Wrangler an overall score of 29/100. That is one of the lowest scores on any modern car. Sure the Jeep is a little rough and tumble and maybe even caveman-ish at times, but that is what Jeep is all about. 

There are far too many configurations to list, so for the sake of simplicity, I am only covering what CR tested; the 285-hp, 3.6-liter V6 version with an eight-speed automatic. 

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with half doors
2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with half doors | FCA USA

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The only real positives CR gives the Wrangler is that it has a strong V6 powertrain and is super capable off-road. The negatives include a rough ride, poor fuel economy, low predicted reliability, loud cabin, and hard to get in and out of because of the height. These things are all true, but these are also things that people buy Jeeps for. Most Jeep owners want a more spartan ride with tall suspension, removable doors, and a rugged feel. It feels like critiquing a motorcycle for being short two wheels…

The complaints go on

The Jeep Wrangler isn’t meant to be anything like the Ford Explorer. CR critiques its handling as being clumsy and unresponsive. Well, yeah. It’s a Jeep. They knock the ride comfort as being stiff and noisy. Again, yeah. What do you want? Every single part comes off with a couple of turns of a wrench. Of course, it’s stiff and loud. That’s precisely what it is designed to be. Not considering this, in my opinion, is unhelpful and bordering misleading. Not to critique CR, I admire their consistency, but it doesn’t deserve a lower grade than the Ford Explorer.