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2018 Ford Explorer vs. 2018 Dodge Durango: Which Is Better?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Chris O'Neill September 2018
  • The 2018 Ford Explorer offers Sport and Platinum models.

  • 2018 marked the introduction of the potent Dodge Durango SRT.

  • Both the Explorer and the Durango offer room for seven.

The Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango are two of the older 3-row SUVs on the market. Still, both have managed to remain competitive in the segment thanks to updates over the years. As both offer room for seven and ample cargo space, it's likely that both have crossed your mind if you're searching for a new 3-row crossover. Below, we'll compare their major attributes to help you decide which is better.

Background

Last fully redesigned seven years ago, the 2011 Explorer introduced a new, front-wheel-drive unibody construction for the SUV that had historically utilized a body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive-based design. This allows for better fuel economy and improved driving dynamics, bringing it up to speed with the rest of the segment. The Explorer has been updated over the years to help it stay fresh, and Sport and Platinum models now represent the best that the Explorer has to offer.

The Dodge Durango was also introduced for 2011 and is based on the same rear-wheel-drive-based unibody platform that underpins the smaller Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the two vehicles share a variety of components. Outside of the norm, the Durango is offered in a number of stylish and potent performance-oriented trim levels, including GT Rallye, R/T and SRT models. Altogether, the Durango should appeal to anyone who is in need of family transportation but still yearns for a muscle car.

Powertrain

The Explorer is offered with three different engines. A basic 3.5-liter V6 making 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque is offered on base and XLT models. With front-wheel drive, this engine earns 20 miles per gallon; add all-wheel drive and this figure becomes 18 mpg. Step up to the Limited model and the Explorer comes with a 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with front-wheel drive, this engine makes 22 mpg, while AWD lowers this figure to 20 mpg. Top-of-the-line Platinum and Sport models introduce a powerful 3.5-liter turbocharged V6. This mill makes 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, good for a respectable 19 mpg combined with standard all-wheel drive.

The Durango is offered with three different engines as well. Most models come standard with Fiat-Chrysler's venerable 3.6-liter 'Pentastar' V6, which makes 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with the Pentastar, both rear- and all-wheel-drive Durangos make 21 mpg combined. Optional on most trim levels and standard on R/T models is a large 5.7-liter Hemi V8, putting out a total of 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. The 5.7-liter Hemi results in an overall four mpg loss from V6 models, earning 17 mpg overall regardless of drive wheels. Newly introduced for 2018 is a raucous Durango SRT model, which puts out a segment-leading 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. All this power comes at a cost though, and the all-wheel-drive-only Durango SRT earns only 15 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

Dimensions and Space

The Durango is 201.2 inches long, 75.8 inches wide, 70.9 inches tall and offers 8.1 inches of ground clearance.

At 198.3 inches, the Explorer is slightly shorter than the Durango, but at 78.9 inches wide, is over three inches wider. The Explorer is 70.0 inches tall, and offers 7.8 inches of ground clearance.

The Durango offers 39.9 inches of front seat headroom and 40.3 inches of front seat legroom. Second row passengers get 39.8 inches of headroom and 38.6 inches of legroom. Third row occupants get 37.8 inches above and 31.5 inches for their legs.

Inside, the Explorer has 41.4 inches of headroom and 42.9 inches of legroom up front. Second-row Explorer passengers get 40.6 inches of headroom and 39.5 inches of legroom. In its third row, the Explorer offers 37.8 inches of headroom and 31.1 inches of legroom.

The Durango offers 48 cu ft. of cargo space with its third row folded. With the third row up, the Durango has 17 cu ft., and with both the second and third rows folded the Durango offers 85 cu ft. of storage space.

The Explorer offers more space behind the third row, but less than the Durango when the third and second rows are folded. In 'day-to-day' configuration with its third row folded, the Explorer offers 44 cu ft. With the third row up, the Explorer offers 21 cu ft. With both the third and second rows folded, the Explorer offers 81 cu ft.

Altogether, while these figures are similar, the Explorer seems to utilize its space better, offering slightly more passenger space in its first and second rows, despite having shorter length and height than the Durango. While the Explorer offers slightly more cargo room behind the third row, the Durango bests the Explorer by a small margin with the third row folded and with the third and second rows folded.

Infotainment

The Explorer and Durango both offer good infotainment setups centered around the competent interfaces of their respective automakers.

The Explorer offers an available 8.0-inch touchscreen running Ford's Sync 3.0 system and offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, along with integration for Waze and Amazon Alexa. Also available on the Explorer is 4G LTE with Wi-Fi. The Explorer offers four 12-volt outlets and three USB ports.

The Durango offers either a 7-in or an 8.4-in screen, both running Chrysler's Uconnect system, which, like Sync, is pretty good. The optional 8.4-in screen includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Durango comes with three 12-volt outlets and three USB ports.

Features

The Explorer offers an available terrain management system, a dual panel moonroof, power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, heated front and rear seats, ventilated and massaging front seats, a heated steering wheel, power driver and passenger seats, memory driver's seat, power folding third row seats, a foot-activated power tailgate and a Bose-branded premium audio system.

Sport models offer that potent turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, while the Explorer Platinum turns things up even further with high-end interior and exterior treatments.

The Durango offers similar features to the Explorer, but lacks power adjustable pedals and massaging seats, and is available with only a traditional sunroof. Durango buyers can opt for a Beats-branded premium audio system.

In addition to a number of trim levels that add bold, aggressive styling cues, the Durango offers that new-for-2018 SRT model, which, thanks to its horsepower engine, ferries the Durango from zero to 60 in a brisk 4.4 seconds.

Safety

Indicative of their old ages, the Explorer and Durango both have some shortcomings in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, as neither performs well in the new small front overlap test.

Both vehicles incorporate an assortment of driver assistance safety features. Offered on the Explorer is available adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, front and rear parking sensors, parking assist, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic monitoring. Oddly, the Explorer lacks front automated emergency braking; one of the most common driver assistance safety features on the market.

The Durango's offering consists of adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection, forward-collision warning, front and rear automated emergency braking, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist.

Altogether, while neither Ford nor Dodge is as generous with offering these features on lower trim levels as competitors like Honda and Toyota, the nod for safety has to go to the Durango. While neither vehicle performs up to modern standards in IIHS crash testing, the Durango offers a more comprehensive driver assistance safety feature offering, while the Explorer requires buyers to pay for non-safety features to get the Explorer's full offering -- which still lags behind that of the Durango.

Reliability

Neither Ford nor Dodge have reputations for quality like that of Toyota and Honda. According to JD Power brand studies, buyers should expect about average reliability from the Explorer, and should be wary of below-average reliability from the Durango. Dodge and Ford both offer 3-year/36,000-mile basic and 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranties, in line with the competition.

Autotrader's Advice

Altogether, the Explorer and Durango are pretty middle of the pack. Both offer room for seven passengers, similar cargo space and competent, modern infotainment systems. Still, they're two of the older designs in the 3-row family crossover segment, and both are due for a redesign. The Explorer should be all-new for 2020, while the Durango's future hasn't yet been extensively outlined. When considering things like engine technology, reliability and resale value, the scales tip toward the Explorer. When looking for style, performance and, perhaps surprisingly, the better assortment of driver assistance safety features, the Durango comes out ahead. Either way, we recommend testing competitors from the likes of GM, Honda, Toyota and Mazda before committing to either a 2018 Ford Explorer or Dodge Durango.

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2018 Ford Explorer vs. 2018 Dodge Durango: Which Is Better? - Autotrader