2017 Jeep Grand CherokeeEnlarge Photo
The Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee are two models that busy households are likely to consider as their core family vehicle.
Both of these models have quite the nameplate recognition in the U.S.; and both have a heritage built allusions to a rugged lifestyle. Today these two deliver that to different degrees, and they end up in quite different market positions—yet both of them have become more upscale vehicles compared to the fairly utilitarian family wagons they used to be.
We score the Jeep Grand Cherokee an easy winner over the Ford Explorer, and that's for reasons you might not expect.
It was a fair fight too. Both the 2017 models have been scored against our new, more stringent, rating criteria. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has managed to hold on to its rugged exterior cues remarkably well while also managing a more modern twist to the profile and finer details. Meanwhile the Explorer has evolved rather dramatically, into a softer-styled vehicle that amounts to less of a truck in design and more of a tall, boxy wagon—still with reasonably good ground clearance, of course. Inside, these two vehicles have little semblance to their 1990s ancestors that helped push SUVs to popularity. The Grand Cherokee’s cabin is richly furnished, with marvelous materials and textures if you’re willing to step up to the more expensive models. For the Explorer, its cabin design seems to reach upward from Ford’s cars, impressing with a somewhat more upright version of the Taurus full-size sedan’s dash and sturdy, attractive trims.
Performance, comfort, and utility
Powertrains for these two models are quite dramatically different. The Grand Cherokee has a choice between naturally aspirated gasoline V-6 and V-8 engines, as well as a turbodiesel V-6, while the Explorer instead has a choice between a naturally aspirated V-6 and turbocharged (EcoBoost) 4-cylinder or V-6 engines.
Without detailing all the power and torque figures of each of these levels (you can catch up with all of that in our full review), we’ll point to a few surprising things: The new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four in the Explorer makes 280 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque—more on both counts than the Grand Cherokee’s gasoline V-6. Meanwhile the Explorer’s 365-hp and 350 lb-ft ratings don’t quite match the gusto provided by the 5.7-liter Hemi in the Grand Cherokee, which makes 360 hp and 390 pound-feet. The 8-speed automatics in the Grand Cherokee respond quickly and smoothly—definitely a bit better than the 6-speeds in the Explorer.
The Grand Cherokee spans a wider range of uses, as there’s not only Trail Rated off-road hardware on offer but also a high-performance SRT model, with a 475-hp, 6.4-liter V-8 that can blast this wagon to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds (or brake from 60 mph in an excellent 116 feet). It’s a performance model in a way you might never expect for something with the Jeep badge. As for the Explorer, it has some basic ability to get up a rugged two-track to the campsite, but don’t ask for that much more—and there’s no super-high-performance model in the lineup to match up against the SRT.