Ask AutoGuide No. 17 – Nissan Pathfinder vs. Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Ford Explorer

Ask AutoGuide No. 17 – Nissan Pathfinder vs. Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Ford Explorer

God blessed Texas with His own hand

Brought down angles from the Promised Land

Gave ‘em a place where they could dance

If you want to see heaven, brother, here’s your chance…

While there’s little scientific evidence to support the above statements, country-music group “Little Texas” may have been on to something with this toe-tappin’ hit from the early ‘90s. The Lone Star State is a land of wide-open spaces and seemingly endless opportunity.


Texas was the union’s largest state until the impertinent territory of Alaska decided to sully old glory with another star back in 1959; the audacity of that arctic wasteland! Still, the capital T’s place in American culture is as secure as Fort Bliss thanks to icons like cowboys and the Alamo, prairies and oil fields, George W. Bush and SXSW. Additionally, size matters; the saying “everything’s bigger in Texas” is the state’s unofficial motto. Where else can you order a steak bigger than a motorcycle seat? Where else can you polish off a giant slab of meat like that and get it for FREE?  Texas, that’s where, and if you’re up to the challenge you can even put the money saved toward your first angioplasty.

When it comes to cars Texans love their trucks. Thanks to sprawling ranches and cattle drives it’s the biggest pickup market in the United States. And for the Detroit Three that’s reason enough to shoot their guns in the air, but bigger isn’t always better. -This week Amy dispatched an electronic-mail message to Ask AutoGuide urgently requesting assistance in a new-vehicle purchase. She and her husband currently own a loaded 2008 Toyota Sequoia, which is a very large SUV with a Texas-sized appetite for fuel. Unfortunately if you empty the tank in one sitting you don’t get a free refill.

They’re looking for a utility vehicle that’s fuel efficient, comfortable and comes with oodles of features. Amy and company want leather seats, a sun roof, navigation and other high-tech offerings, “fun stuff” as she called it. Three rows of seats and available all-wheel drive would also be nice. Of course reliability and safety are important, too. To keep things simple they have around $40,000 to spend. Here’s what we think could fit the bill.

Suggestion #1 – 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD

Information Card -- Nissan PathfinderThe Nissan Pathfinder is a trustworthy offering in the three-row crossover segment, but it wasn’t always this way. The previous generation featured body-on-frame construction just like a pickup truck. That kind of rugged layout has its benefits, but it’s rife with disadvantages as well; fuel economy being a major drawback. This is why Nissan engineers moved the Pathfinder to a more efficient, front-wheel-drive passenger-car architecture for the 2013 model year.

But that’s enough nuts-and-bolts nonsense, Amy is after deluxe features and the high-end Platinum 4WD model delivers a carnucopia of them. Leather seats are standard fare, as is remote start and three-row seating.

For the audio-aficionado a 13-speaker Bose sound system is a treat for the ears, while a standard navigation system with an 8-inch display means Amy will never have to get lost, unless of course she really wants to go on a rambling road-trip through the vastness of Texas.

Checking another one of her boxes is a gigantic panoramic sun roof that’s bigger than the glazed ceiling of an industrial greenhouse. Fog lights and heated exterior mirrors are also included, as is a backup camera and a power-operated liftgate. The Platinum edition Pathfinder is pretty much loaded, but best of all it fits her budget. This reasonably stylish and surprisingly comfortable crossover stickers for $41,995, including destination and delivery charges.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4×4 Review

Only one powerplant is available in the, a 3.5-liter V6. It continues a long tradition of internal-combustion excellence from Nissan. It’s not the most muscular engine in its class, but it delivers more than enough giddy-up, with 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. It’s smooth running and pretty easy on gasoline, delivering 19 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 25 on the highway. Part of the reason the Pathfinder is so efficient is that it features a continuously variable transmission, CVT for short. These gearless “gearboxes” minimize fuel consumption at the expense of driving enjoyment. They tend to make engines moan and groan under acceleration, which isn’t that pleasant. If you can live with the slipping sensation they’re great for efficiency.

Suggestion #2 – 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4

Information Card -- Jeep Grand CherokeeIf looks could kill the Grand Cherokee would be the grim reaper. This trail-rated truck is simply beautiful, but don’t think it’s a marshmallow; it can crawl over wet rocks like a salamander.

If Amy were a true patriot she’d support the American auto industry, and it doesn’t get much more red, white and blue than this vehicle. It’s Imported from Detroit… literally, being built at Chrysler’s Jefferson Avenue North Assembly Plant, a scant five miles from the D’s downtown.

The Grand Cherokee offers a premium exterior and an equally luscious cabin. It’s cleanly styled, beautifully built and features high-quality materials. It makes the Pathfinder’s interior look like something that belongs in a child’s Cozy Coupe.

When it comes to features this Jeep has one of just about everything on the automotive menu. As for the basics, leather is standard as are heated front and rear chairs. It also comes with a backup camera and reverse-sensing system so you don’t inadvertently run over your neighbor’s golden retriever.

Ratcheting things up is the “$4,000 Luxury Group II” package that really brings the thunder, but it inflates the base price tag to $42,790. At least it includes some high-end features, things like self-leveling bi-xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Automatic high beams and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror also included in this pricey package.

Naturally there are a couple other must-have features worth mentioning. One is Chrysler simple-to-operate Uconnect infotainment system, which features an 8.4-inch touch screen. The second one is ventilated front seats, a killer feature for someone that has to endure sweltering Texas summers.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel Review

Under this luxurious Jeep’s hood is a muscular and smooth running engine, Chrysler’s impressive 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6. It delivers 290 horsepower – 30 more than the Pathfinder – and 260 lb-ft of twist. It’s matched to a cutting-edge eight-speed automatic transmission that maximizes output while minimizing consumption. The Grand Cherokee is rated 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway, resulting in a combined score of 19 MPG. It’s not as efficient as the Nissan but it’s a lot more enjoyable to drive.

One potential downside to the Grand Cherokee is seating; it only has room for five passengers. Amy would like something with three rows for extra person-capacity. But guess what? Most back-benches are so small only kids can fit in them, which pretty much negates their usefulness.

Suggestion #3 – Ford Explorer Limited 4WD

Information Card -- Ford ExplorerLike the Nissan Pathfinder Ford’s Explorer kicked its truck habit. The current model rides atop the company’s versatile and safe “D” architecture; it’s essentially the same platform that underpins the Taurus, Lincoln MKT and many other vehicles in the Blue-Oval family of fine cars.

For about 40 grand Amy can drive off the lot in a shiny new Explorer Limited that’s loaded like royalty and built with pride in Chicago, Illinois. The vehicle comes standard with leather seats and dual-zone climate control, plus niceties like a 12-speaker Sony sound system and the company’s notoriously cantankerous MyFord Touch infotainment system.

Of course if she wants to spend a bit more there’s always the pricey 302A equipment group, which inflates the window sticker by a wince-inducing $4,565. That nets her a power tailgate, heated steering wheel, inflatable rear seatbelts and rain-sensing windshield wipers. It also adds some really nifty technologies including Active Park Assist, which can parallel-park the behemoth Explorer all on its own.

Three different engines are available in this crossover: a highly efficient 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder, a high-volume 3.5-liter V6 and a high-power EcoBoost six. The best option for Amy is probably the naturally aspirated 3.5, which is the only powerplant offered in the Limited model with all-wheel drive.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Ford Explorer Sport Review

It delivers a class-competitive 290 horsepower with 255 lb-ft of torque, almost identical numbers to the Grand Cherokee’s six-shooter. Unfortunately it also delivers some unwanted vibration. Ford’s Duratec V6 is a good engine but it’s not the smoothest powerplant in its class. It feels a little coarser than either Chrysler’s Pentastar or the Nissan VQ V6.

Whether it’s got a base four-cylinder or the range-topping twin-turbo a six-speed automatic transmission is standard fare in every Explorer and it helps deliver respectable fuel economy of 17 MPG city, 23 highway and 19 combined.


2014-Infiniti-JXThe Infiniti JX35 is essentially a platinum version of the workaday Nissan Pathfinder. It shares basically all of the same mechanical parts with minor tweaks. Of course the body work and interior are suitably differentiated and more luxurious so the extra dollars spent are not totally wasted. With all-wheel drive and no options the JX stickers for about $44,000, but when you add a few extras it get ‘spensive, fast. The question you need to ask is “Do I want a loaded up mass-market vehicle or an entry-level luxury model?” It usually doesn’t make sense to pay more for fancy badges on the front and back.

2014-Buick-EnclaveAnother premium offering is the Buick Enclave. If interior space is a top priority this crossover is a winner, as are GM’s other Lambda models including the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia. On paper the Enclave makes a compelling argument, exactly like Michael Jackson’s lawyers when they got him acquitted of certain “charges” about eight years ago. In the real world this Buick falls far short of what it aspires to be. For all of the bawdy details read AutoGuide Editor-in-Chief Colum Wood’s recent review of the vehicle.


There are so many good choices in today’s large-crossover segment it’s almost impossible to buy a bad one. The models highlighted in this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide each have their strengths and a few corresponding weaknesses, but there’s only room for one winner on our podium. Silver and bronze are simply the first two losers; gold is all that matters.

Aside from a buzz-killing CVT there’s little to complain about with the Nissan Pathfinder. It’s spacious, comfortable and the most fuel efficient of this trio. If there’s one noteworthy downside it has to do with features; the vehicle seems to offer fewer gadgets than either the Jeep or the Ford, and that’s too bad; whiz-bang is what Amy wants. For her there are better choices.

In a lot of ways the Ford is a great match to the Nissan.  Where the Pathfinder spacious and comfortable the Explorer is roomy and relaxed. They’re both powered by 3.5-liter V6 engines and they both offer selectable four-wheel drive. Where the Ford comes ahead is interior design and technology. The Explorer’s cockpit is quite nice, with soft materials and small chrome accents on various controls and switches. It looks premium, while the Pathfinder’s interior is far more working-class. The Ford is also offered with all kinds of high-end features; it can parallel park itself for crying out loud! But one area it falls short is quality. According to Consumer Reports it’s the most unreliable new vehicle on the road, but to be fair that’s mostly because of troublesome electronics, which company representatives claim to have fixed. Still, there’s probably a better choice for Amy.


And that vehicle is the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s easily the best looking utility of this group, with tasteful styling and a luxurious interior. It’s loaded with features, offers a cutting-edge powertrain that sips fuel and it can go off-roading like an M1 Abrams tank. It may not offer three rows of seats but this Jeep’s other plusses far outweigh that minor trade off, which is why it earns our recommendation this week. Amy, make sure you test drive a Grand Cherokee in the near future.

As always, good luck Amy in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.

If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.

  • Willy

    The opening to this story is obtuse. Pun fully intended.

  • Paul Kourie

    Grand Cherokee all the way!
    It’s the only one in the group that is what an SUV is supposed to be, big, Luxurious and
    ” can go off-roading like an M1 Abrams tank.”…That quote makes me giddy..

    The others are just bloated station wagons really…

    Also it’s Texas, is very clear that Mrs. Amy living in Texas is going to need to navigate some wet slippery rocks sooner or later, weather to cross that short clip of dessert to get to the shopping center just a little faster or for those impromptu trips back from Mexico in a high speed chase. ….”it can crawl over wet rocks like a salamander.”

    This might be one of the best SUV’s ever made…

  • Chris

    I was in a similar boat, REALLY wanted the Jeep but I was all over the forums researching the new 8-speed transmission. While that was the selling point to me, turns out folks have reported it to be extremely problematic. They have been thru a few software revisions already, talks of very clunky and sudden transmission shifts. No doubt they’ll figure it out eventually but I didn’t want to be the guinea pig so I went with the Explorer. Very happy several weeks in. Maybe one day I’ll have my Jeep but in the meantime so happy with the Ford that I’m no longer daydreaming of the Grand Cherokee. Each their own!

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