Ask AutoGuide No. 30 - 2014 Acura MDX Vs. 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Vs. 2014 Ford Explorer

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Two’s company but three’s a crowd. More may be merrier in certain situations but undoubtedly not in every circumstance. Sure, having more flavors of ice cream to choose from or more paid vacation time is like hitting the jackpot at your local Native American tribal casino. Bingo was indeed his name-o.

However, additional feral cats living in you winterized motor-home or an added helping of LDL cholesterol may not be welcome extras, especially if you’re allergic to the stench of ammonia or have heart trouble.

Sidestepping cardiovascular issues and stinky urine, Chris dispatched an electronic-mail message to AutoGuide this week asking for some car-buying advice. Happily, we’re here to help demystify the confounding world of motor vehicles.

A family man, he needs a new vehicle to accommodate his growing brood. While not quite Duggar-rivaling, his one child is about to be simultaneously augmented by a pair of siblings. Yes, twins are on the way and we wonder if his wife conceived on Black Friday because that’s one hell of a deal, although three children younger than 3 years of age is the stuff nightmares are made of. Hopefully they’re born with gift receipts so they can at least be returned for store credit if things get really out of hand.

Chris currently parks a 2011 Ford Edge in his driveway and they’re looking for something that can more easily handle a trio of car seats. They have between $30,000 and about $50,000 to spend on a new ride; there are no brands they refuse to own although minivans are forbidden like apples in the Garden of Eden.

On the features front, a navigation system and backup camera are must-haves, though a moonroof would be a nice addition. Ruggedness is another plus; Chris wants a vehicle that can withstand the destructive tendencies of small children. What could possibly fit the bill? We’ll get to that shortly.


Before diving into this week’s vehicle selection a word about child safety, or more accurately 127 of them. Traveling with youngsters is always challenging. They require mountains of stuff from strollers and diaper bags to toys and games. When it’s time to pack the car plan on hiring a Sherpa to lug all that junk.

Safely packaging kiddies so they arrived undamaged is also challenging. Helping facilitate this, all new vehicles are equipped with something known as LATCH, an acronym that means Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. In simple terms these are hard points for mounting car seats. They’re designed to make the task as easy as possible.

Of course you can always attach a child seat via conventional seatbelts and they should provide equal protection in a crash but LATCH makes the task easier, and just about foolproof, which is a major plus.

Suggestion #1 – 2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD with Technology Package

With upwards of 50 grand to spend on a new vehicle luxury is not out of reach for Chris and his family. The suave and sophisticated Acura MDX crossover might be a good choice for them. Scratch that, it may be an EXCELLENT option because this vehicle drove home with AutoGuide’s 2014 Utility Vehicle of the Year award.

SEE ALSO: AutoGuide 2014 Utility Vehicle of the Year

An up-level all-wheel drive version equipped with the brand’s available technology package squeaks in at $49,460, including $895 in destination and delivery fees.

At that princely price, the MDX comes equipped with all kinds of nice features, as it should. Drivers are treated to things like a blind-spot monitoring system, lane-departure warning, ELS surround sound and much more. It’s even got a coveted navigation system so Chris has no excuse for getting lost on family road trips.

The MDX is powered by a 3.5-liter gasoline V6 engine that writes a check for 290 HP with 267 lb-ft of torque. It’s matched to a responsive six-speed automatic transmission. This combination is expected to return 18 miles per gallon around town and 27 on the highway.

But the star of Acura’s drivetrain show is the company’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system (SH-AWD for SHort). This advanced technology can do a number of things but its neatest trick is torque vectoring. It can divvy up power from side to side at the rear axle, something that helps the MDX handle better than it should.

As for safety, this Acura has plenty of laurels to rest on. The vehicle’s earned Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); that’s the organization’s highest rating. Adding a feather to its cap all three second-row seats are equipped with LATCH anchors for strapping down Chris’ kiddies, PLUS the third-row offers tether anchors for even more child-carrying capacity! For this reason alone the MDX is a compelling choice.

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

Acura’s offering may have three rows of seats but the Jeep Grand Cherokee has… only two. Ok, it may come up short in overall bench-count but it should still be able to accommodate three little ones in the back, plus it’s rugged and built for the long haul, with heritage that can trace it way back to the beaches of Normandy and beyond.

The 2014 Grand Cherokee is as attractive as it is active. It’s got go-anywhere capability the other vehicles in this comparison can’t match. But don’t think this is some brutish, old-school SUV; it’s like a leather-lined, jewel-encrusted sledgehammer.

The upscale Overland 4×4 version comes standard with power-folding side-view mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, Nappa leather and bi-xenon headlamps to name but a handful of its amenities. It’s also equipped with Chrysler’s intuitive Uconnect 8.4 navigation/infotainment system, 20-inch wheels and chrome tow hooks. Yes, shiny tie-downs for helping drag lesser vehicles out of the ditch!

And it can be all you yours for a mere $47,190, including $995 in delivery fees. The Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4 fits Chris’ budget like a baggy pair of sweat pants on Thanksgiving; there’s plenty of breathing room… before dessert, or in this case excessive options.

Immediately aft of its iconic seven-slot grill rests a beautiful thing: choice. Drivers have three different engine options in non-SRT Grand Cherokees, a lineup that includes a base V6, a 3.0-liter diesel and a Hemi V8. They’re all matched to an efficiency-optimizing eight-speed automatic transmission.

The powerplant we’d recommend for Chris is the entry-level Pentastar V6 engine. It delivers more than acceptable performance with fuel economy that’s not too shabby. This unit cranks out 290 ponies, just like the Acura’s engine, along with 260 lb-ft of peak torque. That’s plenty to get the job done.

As for fuel consumption, this high-end Jeep stickers at 17 miles per gallon around town and 24 on the interstate. Its combined score is 19 MPG.

Reinforcing its rugged image, the Grand Cherokee pulled down a Top Safety Pick rating from the crash-test mongers at the IIHS. Yeah, it’s pretty solid.

Suggestion #3 – 2014 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD

Chris & Co. are already happy with their current Ford product, why not recommend another one? The Edge crossover they’ve got right now probably isn’t large enough for their future needs but stepping up the Blue Oval’s utility ladder reveals an option that just might work. The Explorer offers three rows of seats, impressive safety and a number of desirable features, all in a spacious, efficient package.

Like the aforementioned Jeep this Ford gives customers three engine options. The base powerplant, and predictably the one we’re going to recommend, is a 3.5-liter V6. It puts out 290 HP and 255 LB-FT of twist. If you skip the optional four-wheel-drive system you can even get a petite 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-banger. It puts out a respectable 240 ponies with a big, fat wad of torque, 270 LB-FT in total. Lastly, the range-topping powerplant is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. It pumps out a massive 365 HP, though unfortunately this engine is only available in Sport versions of the Explorer; it’s not offered in the Limited model.

All three engines are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions. Want more ratios or a CVT? Too bad! Paraphrasing Henry Ford, you can have any gearbox as long as it’s a six-speed.

When it comes to economy the standard, V6-powered four-wheel-drive Explorer stickers at 17 miles per gallon city and 23 highway. Its combined score is 19 MPG.

The luxury-themed Limited version of the Explorer comes with plenty of standard features but spending a little extra coin nets you some nice benefits. Checking the box for Ford’s optional “302 A” package, which costs $5,425, gets you Active Park Assist, lane departure warning, HID headlamps with auto high beams plus heated and cooled front seats. Of course the company’s MyFord Touch navigation/infotainment system is thrown into the mix as is a power liftgate.

Naturally there’s a bushel basket’s worth of safety equipment included as well. This vehicle received “Good” scores across the board from IIHS meaning it’s a solid product that can protect occupants in the event of the unexpected.

So, what does all this Blue Oval goodness cost? Well, out the door the Explorer Limited with the oddly-named “302 A” option stickers for $45,560, including $895 in shipping-and-handling fees.

Need more data on these three cars? Check our our Car Comparison tool or just click here to compare the Acura MDX vs Jeep Grand Cherokee vs Ford Explorer.

As always, good luck in your quest for a new family vehicle, Chris, 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.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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