The mid-size SUV category is not only one of the most popular vehicle categories in America; it’s also by far one of the most competitive. Automakers competing in this segment are constantly looking for ways to deliver next-level features that win market share. Two of the most sought-after models are often pitted against one another when buyers are trying to decide. Which ones enjoy the biggest rivalry? The 2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The SUV buying frenzy started with the Ford Explorer back in 1991, when Ford released it to replace the more rugged Ford Bronco. Ford’s effort to make the Explorer attractive to families paid off because families were beginning to tire of the stodgy minivan body style. Interestingly, only two vehicles actively competed with the Explorer in those early days: the Jeep Cherokee and the Chevy S10 Blazer.
Flash forward to today, and the Explorer/Grand Cherokee rivalry lives on. These two category leaders are in constant competition, going head-to-head on capability, luxury, and safety. Currently in its sixth generation, the 2021 Ford Explorer is just a couple of years off a major redesign. The Grand Cherokee, by contrast, hasn’t changed significantly since 2011 (though it’s supposedly slated for a full redesign in the 2022 model year).
What’s new and improved on these two fan favorites, and which one would we recommend? We take a deep dive into the features and attributes of the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee, comparing them in the areas that matter most to today’s buyers: safety, technology, luxury, and performance.
Pricing and Trim Comparison
The 2021 Ford Explorer starts at $32,675 and comes in six different and distinct trims: the base Explorer, the XLT that has a sticker price of $34,825, the Limited at $45,005, the ST with an MSRP of $48,750, the King Ranch starting at $52,350, and the top-of-the-line Platinum, which sits at $52,480. There are two hybrid trims also – the Limited Hybrid and the Platinum Hybrid. More on those later.
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee starts at $34,645 for the base Laredo E and is also available in a whopping ten additional trims. There’s the Laredo X, the Limited, the Limited X, the 80th Anniversary, the off-roading Trailhawk, the Overland, the High Altitude, the Summit, the SRT, and the Trackhawk. That’s a lot of variety, but with the souped-up SRT and Trackhawk 4×4 at the high end of the trim range, pricing stretches into the near-$90,000 territory.
Because Jeep has expanded its Grand Cherokee lineup to include these high-performance specialty models, we’ll focus on the $53,760 Summit trim as the Explorer Platinum’s closest match. Bottom line: entry pricing is lower on the Ford Explorer at the base and lower-end trim levels, but as buyers move up to the more expensive options, pricing essentially levels off.
One other note: for the mid-2021 model year, Jeep is set to release a completely new Grand Cherokee L with three rows of seats, satisfying a long-standing gripe among Jeep owners. The Grand Cherokee L sits on an entirely new platform and gives buyers a taste of the upcoming next-gen Grand Cherokee lineup. Pricing ranges from $36,995 for the base Laredo up to $56,995 for the top-end Summit. Meanwhile, all Explorers already offer three rows of seating.
Performance and Capabilities
Performance-wise, the ST and Platinum Explorer trims feature Ford’s 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine. It delivers 365 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque on the Platinum, and special tuning exclusively for the ST ups performance to 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque. Lower trims come standard with a turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost I-4 engine that delivers 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque.
The Grand Cherokee offers three different engines and one ultra-high performance motor for the special Trailhawk trim. The engines include a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that cranks out 295 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, a powerful 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that pushes output to 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, and a 6.4-liter V8 engine for the SRT trim that delivers 475 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque.
The Trackhawk trim is treated to a Supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine designed for track-ready speed. It boasts a 0-60 time of just 3.5 seconds and produces 707 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. This motor is available only on the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, Jeep’s flagship trim, which will set you back $88,365, and it gets very poor fuel economy.
If you want an alternative fuel option, we’re going to suggest that you head to a Ford dealer. That’s because the Explorer lineup includes hybrid powertrain options. Jeep has no hybrid or alternative fuel option in the Grand Cherokee lineup. Hybrid Explorers are powered by a 3.3-liter hybrid V6 engine that delivers 310 horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque and achieves fuel economy ratings of 27 MPG in the city and 29 MPG on the highway.
Technology and Infotainment
The Ford Explorer lineup offers a standard 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, along with a Wi-Fi hotspot that drivers can activate with a data plan. An optional, and massive, 10.1-inch screen is available to buyers who choose a Platinum or ST trim. All Explorers can be equipped with voice-activated navigation.
Because the Grand Cherokee is in the final year of its current generation, infotainment interfaces are sorely lacking. All Grand Cherokees come standard with a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen. An optional 8.4-inch screen will pacify the tech-dependent, but it’s still small by category standards. The new Grand Cherokee L, a long-awaited three-row version of the original, will include a standard 10.1-inch screen, but the fact that Jeep had to create a new model to compete with the Explorer is interesting.
Jeep’s Uconnect operating system is a strong favorite for its responsiveness and user-friendly display, but Ford matches that capability handily with its SYNC 3 system. Both systems are compatible with Amazon Alexa, which opens up a plethora of handy capabilities, like easy voice-activated navigation with traffic notifications and the ability to communicate with Alexa devices at home.
Both the Explorer and the Grand Cherokee offer wireless charging as an optional feature, and you can equip either with a rear seat entertainment system. An upgraded 14-speaker, 980-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system is available on certain Explorer trims, and Jeep matches it with a 9-speaker, 506-watt Alpine audio system.
SUVs Still Reign Supreme
The SUV trend shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, automakers are doubling down on the popular body style, releasing a seemingly endless array of small, medium, large, and extra-large models. With all this category and subcategory evolution, it’s amazing that two of the originals – the Explorer and the Grand Cherokee – continue to win buyers in large numbers.
If you’re shopping for a mid-size SUV, both these legends deserve a closer look, but if we’re comparing 2021 models, we’re going with the Explorer. It offers three rows of seats, a hybrid alternative, and slightly better infotainment technology, giving it a clear edge over the Grand Cherokee. We also think the Explorer offers a better value. Most buyers are seeking a safe, capable, and nicely-equipped SUV for daily family life, and if that sounds like you, we suggest paying a visit to your local Ford dealer.