Three rows of seats, image-focused, and 290-horsepower naturally aspirated V6 engines.
The all-new Acura MDX and the first Jeep Grand Cherokee L are two very different ways of building an entry-luxury SUV, but they are also surprisingly similar in many ways. They also ring in at nearly the same price, depending on how they’re equipped. We’re taking a look at how the two different SUVs compare, and which one is right for you.
Interior and Cargo Space
Grand Cherokee L: Both of these big vehicles offer three rows and seating for up to seven passengers, with seating for six or seven depending on which option box you tick for the middle row. The Grand Cherokee is only slightly longer overall—204.9 inches (5,204 mm) to 198.4 (5,039 mm)—and the Grand Cherokee L rides on a 121.7-inch (3,091-mm) wheelbase versus 113.8 (2,891 mm). Front and second row space feel similar in both—though Grand Cherokee offers about an inch and a half more height—but if you’re planning to use the third row, the Jeep’s feels much larger as well as being easier to get into and out of thanks to a taller roof and larger door opening.
It’s not quite the Wagoneer, but Jeep has levelled up on the interior of the Jeep Grand Cherokee L. The main screen is massive, surrounded by quilted leather and a leather dash with accent stitching. The 10.1-inch screen is offered on most trims (8.4 standard) and it runs the Stellantis Uconnect 5 system that is one of the best infotainment systems on the market today. It also gets a 950-watt McIntosh stereo that crushes Acura’s ELS offering for clarity and volume as well as cachet, which is important in this segment.
MDX: Though the MDX is smaller, Acura has done well at packaging efficiently inside. With that, it beats the cargo space of the Jeep and offers 18.1 cubic feet (513 liters) behind the third row versus 17.2 (487 L) for the Jeep. Fold all the seats down and the MDX offers a whopping 95.0 cubes (2,690 L) to 84.6 (2,396 L). If your stuff won’t fit in the back, Acura can tow up to 5,000 lb, but the V6 Jeep can handle 6,200 lb.
Acura’s interior looks more stylish, and comes with six different color packages. Its screen is slightly larger at 12.3 inches, but this is not a touchscreen. Instead, it uses a frustrating True Touchpad Interface trackpad. Acura has also given the MDX a rather strange pop-up panel for phone charging and connection ports, a strange part for you to want to hide. Acura does offer CabinControl, letting rear-seat passengers adjust audio, climate, nav, and even the sunshade on their phone. CabinTalk is also offered to let rear passengers better hear those up front.
SEE ALSO: 2022 Acura MDX Review: A Fitter Flagship
Bottom Line: Despite the MDX’s cool tech, Grand Cherokee’s ergonomics and infotainment are miles ahead.
Grand Cherokee L: The new Grand Cherokee L is unmistakably Jeep thanks to the seven-slot grille, boxy arches, and solid appearance. It gives you a familiarity that traces back to the original Grand Cherokee of the 1990s, and even the Cherokee that came before it, though it is, of course, much more refined and smooth than 25 years ago.
MDX: The MDX was actually penned by the same designer who penned the first generation of that nameplate. It reflects Acura’s current design trends, featuring a large grille with LED jewel lights and loads of diamond surfacing, but while in photos, especially those from Acura, it looks much more dynamic, in person and especially in softer tones blends into the background. Hiding in a sea of more recognizable crossovers.
Bottom Line: Your tastes will likely lean one way, either towards the more upright, rugged American, or the angular, more urban Japanese.
Powertrain, Driving Feel, and Fuel Economy
Grand Cherokee L: Jeep does offer a 5.7-liter V8 for Grand Cherokee L, but we drove both vehicles with their V6 engines; 3.5 liters for Acura and 3.6 for Jeep. Both have the same 290 horsepower, with the Jeep clocking in with 257 pound-feet of max torque. Jeep has an eight-speed automatic as standard on all trims. Jeep’s eight-speed is the better calibrated in this face-off, spending less time hunting for gears and letting you get away from a stop with less lurching.
While both come with all-wheel drive, and both are more than enough for snow or ice as well as gravel and mud roads, Jeep does offer a system that’s more tailored to rock crawling and serious off-road if that’s your style.
Fitting with its image, the Grand Cherokee L feels more rugged. Slightly bouncier, and feeling much heavier than it is, the ride will constantly remind you that you’re in a Jeep. For most of the brand’s buyers, that’s a perk, so we won’t take off points for the ride.
MDX: As mentioned above, the Acura comes with a slightly smaller V6 engine, but that doesn’t put it at a disadvantage on paper. Horsepower is a GCL-matching 290 hp, with 267 lb-ft trumping the Jeep by 10 lb-ft. The Acura features a double-wishbone front suspension and adaptive dampers, all of which give the MDX a much more car-like ride (and cornering) when compared with the Jeep. Of all of the features of both, this one thing might be the deciding factor between the two: do you want a Jeep, or do you want something more car-like?
The MDX has 10 ratios to choose from versus the eight in the Jeep’s ‘box. More isn’t always better, though: the MDX hunts for ratios in more situations. While both engines feel powerful enough for the SUV they’re in, and both are used elsewhere in the lineup of their respective parent companies, it’s the Acura engine that feels more brought over. It’s slightly noisier and feels less peppy, even in a lighter platform.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking at a luxury SUV, then fuel economy might not be top of your list, but it’s still a significant part of your running costs. The two models are nearly identical per the EPA, with the Grand Cherokee L rated for 18 mpg city, 25 highway and the MDX rated for 19/25. That said, Acura takes premium fuel raising the cost per mile. Jeep offers 4.5 gallons more capacity, offering a longer range.
Technology and Features
Grand Cherokee L: Both vehicles offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, though Jeep gives it to your wireless and Acura does not. Jeep’s touch screen also makes it much easier to use the features than does Acura’s trackpad. Jeep also offers a camera display rear view mirror that can make seeing out the back much easier when loaded with passengers or cargo. Both offer a head-up display, but only Jeep can also get you night-vision to see in the dark.
MDX: We’ve already mentioned Acura’s passenger-friendly features like app-control and CabinTalk. Both of our testers were high up the trim walk, meaning ventilated seats, 360-degree cameras, and heated steering wheels were all on board. Acura’s seats, uniquely, remember their auto setting through multiple ignition cycles, meaning that they’ll be warm when you come out on a cold morning and cool on a hot one, without you touching a button.
Bottom Line: As Jeep has realigned the Grand Cherokee as a quasi-premium model, it now comes with lots of desired tech. Just expect to pay for most of it.
Adaptive cruise, collision detection, and lane-keeping are standard on both, but Jeep includes blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection as standard on all models while Acura makes those part of higher-spec trim levels. Jeep also offers active driving assistance, the company’s hands-on semi-automated driving, while Acura’s is more of a lane centering offer.
Pricing and Value
Grand Cherokee L: Grand Cherokee L starts from $38,635 ($54,690 CAD) including destination, but to get one equipped like the base MDX, you’ll likely step up to the Altitude at $40,195 ($57,685 CAD). Add $2,000 for AWD (which is standard in Canada). For $57,000 ($70,940 CAD), you can get an Overland trim with Nappa leather interior, and Jeep will let you tick option boxes well north of $60,000 ($75,000 CAD). More choice makes the Jeep a better value, though that’s somewhat dependent on you being able to find the Jeep you want, equipped as you want.
MDX: Acura makes the MDX simple to spec. Base with front-drive starts from $47,700, and adding AWD is an extra $2,000. Again, AWD is standard in Canada, where the MDX starts at $60,275 CAD. From there, buyers can add Technology, A-Spec, and Advance (Platinum Elite in Canada) Packages. A red A-Spec like the one in these photos is $57,900 ($67,775 CAD).
Bottom Line: No question, the Grand Cherokee covers a wider spread of prices. Jeep gives you a lot more choice, though that can make things more complicated.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee L offers better tech and the ability to use regular fuel. It’s also more comfortable, and has a bigger third row despite having less total cargo space. The GCL also offers a more rugged appearance and ride, and that might be the key to these two similarly-priced SUVs. If you want the Jeep experience, and all that entails, it’s impossible to find with any other brand. If you don’t want that experience, instead wanting an SUV that thinks it’s sporty, you’ll find your place in the Acura MDX.
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