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

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author photo by Eric Brandt September 2018

If you're in the market for a midsize SUV, two contenders that might be on your shopping list are the 2018 Ford Explorer and the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee. They're both versatile, capable SUVs with available all-wheel drive, and their similar pricing makes them pretty competitive.

Which one is right for you depends on your priorities and what you're looking for in an SUV. Let's take a look at what the Grand Cherokee and the Explorer have in common, what they don't and which is better.

Exterior

The different personalities of the Grand Cherokee and the Explorer begin with their exterior styling. They both have a look that makes them seem rugged, yet refined, but the Jeep is a little more on the rugged side and the Ford is a little more on the refined side. With some nice touches like the lettering on the hood and the floating rear window design, the Explorer has a bit more of a premium look to it. The Grand Cherokee, on the other hand, looks like it's eager to get off road.

The Ford Explorer is a bit bigger than the Jeep Grand Cherokee in all dimensions, especially in length. That's mainly because the Explorer has a third row to fit in the back and the Grand Cherokee doesn't. The result is a bigger cabin, which we'll get into in a bit.

Interior

The maximum seating capacity for the Grand Cherokee is five, and for the Ford Explorer, it's seven. The third seat in the Explorer is a little cramped like most third seats in this class, but it's nice to have the extra seats for the occasions when you need them.

The interior design of the Explorer is a bit bland, and the materials in the lower-end models are a bit low-rent. It's not an uncomfortable interior, but you have to move up a bit through the model range to get to an Explorer that's really pleasant to be in.

The interior of the Grand Cherokee is a little more interesting and a little more comfortable throughout the model range. It has nicer materials and it feels like a more expensive SUV than it is in just about every trim.

You might prefer the Grand Cherokee over the Explorer if interior comfort and refinement are important to you, especially if you're shopping in the low-mid range of these two SUVs.

Mechanicals

The Ford Explorer has three engine options, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee has four. The base engine in the explorer is a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque returning 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway. If you want better efficiency and similar performance, you can get a turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline four that makes 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque and is better on gas than the base V6 at 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy. If you want excellent performance and fuel economy isn't a big priority for you, you can upgrade to the twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 which makes 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is only 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy, but you'll be having so much fun with this engine that it might make you forget how much gas you're burning.

Something the Explorer doesn't have is a V8 option. The Grand Cherokee, however, has three. Before we get to those, the base engine is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with performance very similar to the base V6 in the Explorer at 295 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. This V6 is good on gas almost matching the 4-cylinder in the Explorer at 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy.

Getting into the V8s, the next engine up in the Grand Cherokee is a 5.7-liter Hemi V8. It makes 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, which is a little less power and more torque than the top engine in the Explorer and is even worse on gas at 14 mpg city/22 mpg hwy. Things really start getting crazy when you upgrade to the 6.4-liter Hemi SRT V8 that makes 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. This engine only returns 13 mpg city/19 mpg hwy. Finally, if you want the most powerful production SUV in the world, you can upgrade to the supercharged 6.2-liter SRT V8 that's shared with the Dodge Hellcat muscle cars. This insane V8 makes 707 hp and 645 lb-ft of torque, which is great for when you really need to get the kids to school in a hurry. The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk that's powered by this supercharged V8 only gets 11 mpg city/17 mpg hwy, making it a fun choice, but not the most economical choice.

If you want four cylinders, you'll want the Explorer. If you want eight cylinders, you'll want the Grand Cherokee. If you want a reasonably economical and powerful V6, then you can't go wrong with either when equipped with their respective base engines.

For better traction in inclement road conditions and for some off-road capability, the Explorer is available with AWD, and the Grand Cherokee is available with three different 4-wheel-drive systems, which can get pretty serious for off-roading with features like a low range and a limited slip rear differential. If you just want some extra peace of mind when the roads get bad, the AWD system in the Explorer would be fine, but if you want to do some real off-roading, the Grand Cherokee might be more your style.

Features and Technology

Both the Grand Cherokee and the Explorer are fairly well-appointed on the low end, but they both can get very luxurious if you have the budget for it. If you get into the higher trims like the Explorer Platinum or the Grand Cherokee Summit, you'll be treated to luxuries like quilted leather seats, navigation, premium audio, advanced safety tech, a rear entertainment system and much more.

The infotainment systems available are Ford's SYNC 3 and Chrysler's Uconnect. Both have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, and they're both available with premium audio (Harman/Kardon for the Jeep and Sony for the Ford). They're both fairly user-friendly, and whichever one you get is the one you'll get used to.

Ford has a safety tech suite available in the Explorer called the Safe & Smart package. It comes with adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with brake support, a lane-keeping system, blind spot monitoring, automatic high beams and rain-sensing wipers. The Grand Cherokee is available with many of the same features, but you have to go pretty high up in the model range and get a pretty expensive SUV to get them. The Ford Safe & Smart package is available on the XLT trim and up for the Explorer, meaning you can get a pretty affordable SUV with advanced, modern safety tech.

Pricing

The Explorer's starting price is a bit higher than the Grand Cherokee, which makes sense considering it's a slightly bigger vehicle with more seats. The Grand Cherokee starts at $30,895, and the Explorer starts at $32,140.

Although it starts at a lower price, the Grand Cherokee has a much higher price ceiling than the Explorer because of the Hellcat-powered Trackhawk. The 707-hp SUV starts way up at $86,200. When you compare the midrange and luxury trims of the two, the Grand Cherokee continues to come in at a lower price when similarly equipped. For example, the Grand Cherokee Summit is more affordable than the Explorer Platinum, and the Grand Cherokee is arguably a nicer SUV, albeit without a third seat.

Conclusion

By now you probably have a pretty good idea of the different personalities of the Explorer and the Grand Cherokee. The Explorer is an SUV for the road that can make occasional jaunts off-road if you ask it to, and it's widely available with some nice safety tech. It's also pretty efficient when properly equipped, especially considering its size.

The Grand Cherokee is more of an off-roader, but it doesn't sacrifice on-road refinement. It has a wide variety of trims, from the base Laredo to the off-road Trailhawk to the insanely powerful Trackhawk and with so many other models in between, that there's a Grand Cherokee for everyone.

What's more important to you, off-road capability or affordable safety tech? Do you want or need some extra seating space? Can you afford a high-performance V8 in an SUV? These are a few of the questions you should ask yourself when choosing between a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Ford Explorer.

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