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?
MORE: Read our review of the 2017 Ford Explorer and 2017 GMC Acadia
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?
Between these two utes, the Acadia’s has gone on a diet most recently (it shed around 700 pounds and is dimensionally 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.