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2018 Ford Explorer vs. 2018 GMC Acadia: Which Is Better?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Chris O'Neill September 2018
  • The GMC Acadia was all-new for 2017.

  • The 2018 Ford Explorer offers Sport and Platinum models.

  • The 2018 GMC Acadia offers a Denali trim and an available All-Terrain package.

Two of the leading midsize family crossovers on the market are the 2018 Ford Explorer and the 2018 GMC Acadia. Both offer seating for up to seven and ample cargo room for everything you and your family can throw at them. While the Explorer has been around for several years in its current iteration, the GMC Acadia was all-new for the 2017 model year. Below, we'll compare the two to see if the Explorer can still keep up in 2018.

Background

The Explorer was fully redesigned for 2011 and marked a dramatic change from the Explorer from decades past. For the first time ever, the new Explorer was based not on a rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame truck platform, but rather on a front-wheel-drive, unibody platform, allowing for improved driving dynamics, fuel efficiency and a better alignment with competing midsize SUVs. Over the years, Ford has refreshed and updated the Explorer you see on dealer lots today, and Spot and Platinum models are now available, offering additional performance and luxury.

The GMC Acadia was fully redesigned for 2017. The new version is more compact and much slimmer overall than the previous model, which was a bit bulbous in its proportions. Like many General Motors products, the Acadia shares its platform with other GM SUVs, namely the seven-passenger Chevy Traverse and the Buick Enclave, giving buyers additional options from which to choose. Like the rest of the GMC lineup, the Acadia offers a high-end Denali trim level, along with an available off-road package that adds a few off-road-oriented features.

Powertrain

The Explorer is available with three different engines. Base and XLT models are fitted with a basic 3.5-liter V6 making 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque and earning 20 miles per gallon in combined driving with FWD, and 18 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. Limited models come with a 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder making 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, good for 22 mpg combined with FWD or 21 mpg combined with AWD. At the top of the pile is the potent 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, found on Sport and Platinum models. The top-of-the line turbo 6 makes 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, and earns 19 mpg combined with AWD, which is standard.

The Acadia offers two engines -- a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and a 3.6-liter V6. The 4-cylinder, which oddly isn't turbocharged, makes 193 hp and 188 lb-ft of torque. Regardless of whether paired with FWD or AWD, the 4-cylinder Acadia earns 23 mpg overall. Step up to the V6, and the Acadia makes 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque. With FWD, the V6 earns 21 mpg combined, while the AWD V6 model earns 20.

Space

The Explorer is 198.3 inches long, 78.9 inches wide and 70.0 inches tall, and offers 7.8 inches of ground clearance.

The Acadia is a bit more compact, at 193.6 inches long, 75.4 inches wide and 66.0 inches tall, while offering 7.2 inches of ground clearance.

Inside, the Explorer boasts 41.4 inches of front seat headroom, and 42.9 inches of front seat legroom. Second-row Explorer passengers get 40.6 inches of headroom and 39.5 inches of legroom. Move to the third row and the Explorer offers 37.8 inches of headroom and 31.1 inches of legroom.

The Acadia is smaller in all areas except for second-row legroom. Front-seat Acadia passengers get 40.3 inches of headroom and 41.0 inches of legroom. In the second row, the Acadia offers 39.6 inches of headroom and 39.7 inches of legroom, two-tenths of an inch more than the Explorer. In the third row, the Acadia offers 37.2 inches of headroom and 31.1 inches of legroom.

The Explorer offers considerably more cargo room behind its third row, but other than that, things are close. With the third row folded, the Explorer offers 44 cu ft. to the Acadia's 42. Deploy their third rows, and the two vehicles offer 21 and 13 cu ft., respectively. Fold all three rows and the Explorer offers 81 feet while the Acadia offers 79.

Infotainment

Both the Explorer and the Acadia offer good infotainment setups, although the Acadia offers more as standard.

While entry-level models come with a lower-end unit, the Explorer offers an 8.0-in touchscreen running Ford's Sync 3.0 system, which is good, along with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. The Explorer is also available with integrated 4G LTE with Wi-Fi connectivity. The Explorer offers four 12-volt outlets and three USB ports.

Entry-level Acadias offer a 7.0-in touchscreen, while an upgraded 8.0-in screen is available for a small price premium, and comes standard on higher-end models. Regardless of screen size, all Acadia models come standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay along with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity. GMC's IntelliLink system is also said to be intuitive and easy to use. The Acadia offers one 12-volt outlet and five USB ports, and a basic auxiliary port.

While both vehicles have competent infotainment offerings, we recommend opting for the higher-end units in each model.

Features

In terms of notable features, the Acadia offers storage under the rear cargo floor, an available foot-activated power tailgate, heated front and second-row seats, cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, a power adjustable steering column and a Bose audio system. Other notable offerings include a blackout trim package; an All-Terrain model that introduces a unique four-wheel-drive system and an off-road traction select system; and of course the top dog Denali model, which ups the ante with luxurious touches inside and out.

The Explorer offers most of the same features as the Acadia, but adds available massaging driver and passenger seats and power adjustable front pedals. Buyers can opt for a Sony audio system, and perforated leather is available on Limited, Spot and Platinum models.

Safety

While the Acadia earns good scores across the board from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Explorer performs poorly in small-overlap front testing; suffice to say, the Acadia performs much better than the Explorer in crash testing, thanks to this major flaw.

Both the Acadia and the Explorer offer ample driver-assistance safety features. Available on the Acadia is blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, front parking sensors, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning, a following distance indicator and a driver's seat that vibrates to alert the driver of hazards. Adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection are added on the Denali model. The Explorer offers available adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, parking assist and rear cross-traffic monitoring.

Still, on both vehicles, many of these features are spread out across mid- and high-end trim levels, or bundled with other, non-safety-related options packages. This should be seen as a drawback of both of these vehicles, as competitors like the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander offer many, if not all of these features, as standard.

Reliability

Both the Explorer and the Acadia should have about average reliability. Ford and GMC both offer 3-year/36,000-mile basic and 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranties, on par with the rest of the industry.

Autotrader's Advice

Altogether, the Explorer is bigger and offers a better range of engines, the most potent of which makes the Explorer a much better performer than the Acadia. Still, the Explorer is dated, having been on sale now in its current generation since 2011, and does not perform well in the most modern crash tests. The Acadia, on the other hand, employs a more modern design overall, having been redesigned just last year, and is efficient in its dimensions, though it's a bit smaller inside than the Explorer. Both vehicles offer competent infotainment systems, room for seven and most of the other features one should expect from a three-row crossover today. While the Explorer offers the potent Sport model and luxurious Platinum model, the Acadia offers an All-Terrain package and the luxurious Denali trim level. As a result, we're inclined to call this comparison a draw. If space and power are your priorities, then you might find the Explorer to be more your style, while the Acadia excels in the area of modernity and efficiency.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Ford Explorer vs. 2018 GMC Acadia: Which Is Better? - Autotrader