2017 Ford Explorer vs. 2017 GMC Acadia: Compare Cars

October 18, 2016

Looking for a three-row, mid-size crossover? Then you're probably cross-shopping a few likely nameplates.

You might be looking at a Honda Pilot, Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Nissan Pathfinder, but we think the GMC Acadia makes a strong case for itself, with seating for seven and a wide range of trim levels, from moderately priced to luxuriously finished.

The Ford Explorer fits the description as well. As one of the most recognizable nameplates in the automotive world, it's now more family-focused than ever.

So how does the all-new GMC Acadia stack up against the updated Ford Explorer? The results are closer than the overall scores would indicate. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

MORE: Read our review of the 2017 Ford Explorer and 2017 GMC Acadia

2017 Ford Explorer XLT Sport Appearance Package

2017 Ford Explorer XLT Sport Appearance Package

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2017 Ford Explorer XLT Sport Appearance Package

2017 Ford Explorer XLT Sport Appearance Package

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2017 Ford Explorer XLT Sport Appearance Package

2017 Ford Explorer XLT Sport Appearance Package

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For comfort and utility, it's a job well done by both. The Ford's front seats are shaped very well, with more bolstering than the base Acadia seats; both can be optioned up with leather, heating, and ventilation. The Explorer's a bit shorter than the Acadia, which gives it a little less leg room in its third-row seat. Neither makes it easy for adults to reach the third row.

The Acadia also has about 10 fewer cubic feet of cargo space than the Explorer with all the seats up, but both offer fold-away third-row seats and second-row seats that move forward to make the interiors more flexible. If you're truly fixated on the third-row accommodations…might we show you something in a Honda Pilot?

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

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2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

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2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

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Between these two 'utes, the Acadia's has gone on a diet most recently (it shed around 700 pounds and its footprint is smaller than previous generations) but is still suitable for those who need space for lots of people and cargo. But when it comes to performance, we like the Explorer better. In part, it's because of the diversity of drivetrains it offers.

The Acadia comes in two drivetrain configurations with a 194-horsepower inline-4 and a 310-horsepower V-6, both teamed to a 6-speed automatic, with front- or all-wheel drive. Fuel economy tops out at 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. The Explorer lineup starts with a run-of-the-mill V-6, progresses into a 28-mpg-plus turbocharged inline-4 with a paddle-shifted automatic and front-wheel drive, and is topped off with a twin-turbo V-6 with 350 hp and all-wheel drive, teamed with a paddle-shifted 6-speed automatic. The latter is basically an Explorer SHO in all but name, and our favorite by far.

The Explorer's electric power steering is quick and zesty, while the Acadia's is slower and less responsive. And while the Acadia rides more smoothly on its long wheelbase, the Explorer's still pretty adept at damping its own body motions, while it still offers SUV-like traits, like adjustable traction modes for mild off-roading, wintry weather, sand, and mud. It's no Grand Cherokee, but it's no minivan.

Both the Acadia and Explorer have technology well in hand, but we're reserving judgement on safety until the official scores are in for both SUVs. The Explorer has been scored, and it gets a "Marginal" score in the IIHS' small overlap crash test, but manages great ratings in almost every other test.

In the past, the Acadia has focused more on tradition while Ford reached for future tech. That changed a couple of years ago, with a major update to the Acadia that brought better connectivity features, along with some mild styling changes. Its IntelliLink system offers a refreshingly straightforward interface from its iPad-like screen. On most versions of today's Explorer, virtually everything can be controlled by voice or steering-wheel buttons—including mobile streaming audio, voice-to-text capability, even in-car Twitter, all through an updated, clarified version of MyFord Touch.

Neither the Explorer nor the Acadia can rightly be called an SUV. One does a better job carrying people; the other fares better at faster driving. Neither one would be our first pick for anything more adventurous than a dusty cabin trail. Despite the outward appearances, they're among the closest things we have to minivans without sliding side doors—and that hasn't hurt their popularity one bit.

In the end, the Acadia out points the Explorer by nearly one point on our overall scale, thanks to the GMC's sharp new looks. Once safety is figured in, that gap may widen, but neither SUV is a bad pick right now.

Summary

6.7
Expert Rating
The 2017 Ford Explorer adds a sport appearance package and Sync 3, both of which are important to today's SUV buyers.
7.3
Expert Rating
The 2017 GMC Acadia wears its new, smaller size well, offering good room for up to seven, improved dynamics and fuel economy, plenty of features, and a touch of family luxury.

Styling

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Ford Explorer gets a sport appearance package on lower trims, which is what Explorer buyers are looking for nowadays.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
A smaller size brings slightly softer styling but the look is refined inside and out.
Read More

Performance

7.0
Expert Rating
The Ford Explorer's wide offering of powertrains is an asset, we like every step along the way.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
Lighter this year, the GMC Acadia is easier to maneuver and downright quick with the V-6, though the new 4-cylinder struggles when loaded.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

7.0
Expert Rating
The Explorer has a good mix of comfortable seating, versatility, and space for families.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The smaller size reduces seating capacity to seven and cuts into cargo room, but the Acadia still offers good space for people and cargo.
Read More

Safety

6.0
Expert Rating
The Explorer scores well on federal tests, but IIHS tests are a different story.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
Crash-test ratings for the GMC Acadia are good from federal and independent testers.
Read More

Features

9.0
Expert Rating
A Sport Appearance Package is here now for buyers who want their 2017 Ford Explorers to look the part.
Read More
9.0
Expert Rating
Pricing comes down into the heart of the market, but the 2017 GMC Acadia can be loaded with features, especially the Denali model.
Read More

Fuel Economy

5.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Ford Explorer returns decent economy for a three-row hauler—mostly.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
Lighter weight, a smaller footprint, and an available 4-cylinder engine all improve fuel economy, but the Acadia's V-6 isn't as efficient as some rivals.
Read More

MSRP

from $31,660
from $29,070

Invoice

from $30,553
from $28,924

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

20
23

Front Leg Room (in)

42.9
41

Second Leg Room (in)

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