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2018 Ford Explorer vs. 2018 Jeep Cherokee: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Eric Brandt August 2018
  • The 2018 Jeep Cherokee is a compact crossover and the 2018 Ford Explorer is a midsize SUV with three rows of seats.

  • The Cherokee is a small, but capable SUV and the Explorer has more room and stronger on-road performance.

  • The Explorer is well-suited to big families who don't want a minivan and the Cherokee is a good small SUV on-road and off.

Sometimes two vehicles that are technically in different segments can compete for the same discerning shoppers. A good example is the 2018 Jeep Cherokee and the 2018 Ford Explorer. These two SUVs have a lot of differences, but they also have a lot of appeal to many of the same people in the market for a crossover.

The Jeep Cherokee is a compact crossover with smaller dimensions and fewer seats than the midsize Ford Explorer. The Cherokee has the distinction of having an off-road demeanor that stands out in its segment of crossovers that never leave the pavement. The Explorer, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a dependable, versatile family vehicle that can do just about anything you ask of it.

Let's take a look at what makes the Explorer and the Cherokee different, what's similar about them, and which one is right for you.

Exterior

These are two very different-looking SUVs. The Ford Explorer has an aesthetic that's traditional in its boxy profile, yet modern in its finer details. It's a very handsome SUV that manages to look both rugged and premium. The Explorer isn't as truck-like as it used to be, but you wouldn't know it from its strong appearance.

The Jeep Cherokee has a look that's unconventional, especially for a Jeep. It does retain a couple signature Jeep design cues, most notably a seven-slot grille. But take one look at it from any angle and it's clear that what you're looking at is something a little different.

The Explorer is quite a bit bigger than the Cherokee. This Ford is on the bigger end of the midsize SUV segment and it's 10 inches longer than the compact Cherokee. It's also a few inches wider and taller than the Jeep.

Interior

The aesthetic differences between the Cherokee and the Explorer continue when you step inside. The Explorer's interior design won't likely be mistaken for one from a luxury brand, but it's a nice-looking, well-designed interior. It can seat up to seven people or six people if you opt for second-row bucket seats in one of the higher trims. The third seat is a little cramped, but it's not bad compared to other three-row midsize SUVs and it's fine for kids or shorter adults on brief rides.

The interior of the Jeep Cherokee is a little more interesting and more surprising than the one in the Explorer. Like the exterior, the Cherokee has a lot of personality on the inside. Front-seat space is towards the bottom of its class, but the back seats in the Cherokee are actually pretty roomy. Unlike the Explorer, the Cherokee is not available with a third row of seats.

Mechanicals

The Ford Explorer is available with three different engines and the Cherokee is available with two. The base engine in the Explorer is a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. It's pretty strong for a base engine and returns respectable fuel economy at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

The Explorer gives you the option of getting a smaller engine than the base V6 that makes more torque and returns better fuel economy. It's the 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost inline four that makes 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. This is the most efficient engine available in the Explorer, returning 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy.

Finally, the most exciting engine in the Explorer is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 that makes 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers put this Explorer into performance SUV territory without breaking the bank. Unfortunately, it's also the least efficient Explorer engine at 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy.

The base engine in the Cherokee is a little underwhelming, but the available V6 delivers in both fun and capability. The base Cherokee engine is a 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir 2 inline four that makes 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque, which is adequate, but nothing thrilling. The available 3.2-liter Pentastar V6, however, is a much stronger performer making 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque. Those are performance numbers similar to the naturally aspirated V6 in the Explorer, but it returns better fuel economy at 21 mpg city/29 mpg hwy. Incidentally, that fuel economy is almost identical to the 4-cylinder in the Cherokee which gets 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.

Both the Cherokee and the Explorer come standard with front-wheel drive and are available with all-wheel drive. The Explorer's available AWD system is called Intelligent 4WD with Terrain Management System. It allows you to select which terrain you're going through when you go off road so the AWD system knows what to do to deliver the best capability.

AWD is a little more complicated on the Cherokee, which makes sense considering its off-road pedigree. It starts with Active Drive I which delivers seamless AWD and uses brake traction control to keep the torque distribution balanced. If you upgrade to Active Drive II, you get a two-speed power transfer unit and a Low mode which locks the driveshafts. For maximum off-road capability in the Cherokee, you can get the Active Drive Lock system which comes standard on Trailhawk models. Active Drive Lock features a locking rear differential and includes "Rock Mode," making it the most capable of the three AWD systems.

Despite being in different segments, the Cherokee and the Explorer have a similar towing capability. The maximum towing capacity in the Explorer is 5,000 pounds and the Cherokee isn't far behind at 4,500 pounds.

Features and Technology

Safety, comfort and technology are bigger priorities in these SUVs than their rugged appearances might suggest. Ford's available Safe & Smart package is a nice pack of features that will make you more confident behind the wheel. This package includes rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning. The Explorer is also available with the SYNC 3 infotainment system, which is pretty user-friendly and responsive to voice commands.

The Cherokee is available with similar safety tech like forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and blind spot monitoring. Instead of SYNC 3, this Jeep offers a Uconnect infotainment system, which, like the Ford system, is fairly easy to use and compatible with voice commands. Both systems are also available with navigation, premium audio and a mobile app that can help you locate your car.

Like with any other car, the higher trims of the Cherokee and the Explorer offer additional features. If you want a rugged SUV with real off-road capability, and you also want some nice features like modern safety tech, leather seats and navigation, you can have it all.

Pricing

Since the Cherokee is smaller and has a weaker base engine than the bigger Explorer, it has a much lower starting price. You can buy a Cherokee for as little as $24,395, while a base Explorer will set you back at least $32,140. The price of the Explorer can easily get into the $40,000 range and even over $50,000 if you go all the way up to the luxurious Platinum trim.

The Cherokee could be considered more of a value proposition than the Explorer. You can get a really nice Cherokee for less than the starting price of the Explorer and the surprisingly luxurious Overland trim still starts at well under $40,000. If you're interested in the Trail Rated Cherokee Trailhawk, that lands in the mid-$30,000 range.

Conclusion

The Ford Explorer and the Jeep Cherokee have more differences than they have similarities. The Explorer is more of a family car, so if you have a growing family and want the convenience of up to seven seats, the Explorer would be a much better fit for you than a Cherokee. But if you don't need more than five seats and you just want a fun, off-road-capable crossover that stands out from the crowd, then the Cherokee is a great, affordable option.

Size and price are the two biggest differences between these two SUVs, both of which should definitely be considered. The extra space in the Explorer will cost you, but it does make it the more versatile SUV of the two. However, your dollar goes a long way with the more affordable Cherokee.

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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 Jeep Cherokee: Which Is Better? - Autotrader