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    Acura MDX vs Ford Explorer: Which Premium SUV Is Right for You?

    Acura MDX vs Ford Explorer: Which Premium SUV Is Right for You?

    Are you in the market for a premium 3-row SUV? Two top contenders you may be considering are the Acura MDX and the Ford Explorer. Both offer seating for up to 7 passengers, potent engine options, plush interiors, and the latest technology and safety features. But which one provides the better overall package for your needs and budget? In this comprehensive comparison, we'll dive into the key differences between the Acura MDX vs Ford Explorer to help you make an informed decision on this significant purchase that impacts both your money and lifestyle.

    Pricing & Trim Levels

    Let's start with arguably the most important factor for many SUV shoppers - the bottom line price. The Acura MDX has a higher starting MSRP than the Ford Explorer, reflecting its positioning as a luxury vehicle:

    Model Base Price
    Acura MDX $49,050
    Ford Explorer $36,760

    However, the Ford Explorer offers more trim levels and a wider price range as you move up to higher-end models:

    Ford Explorer Trims

    • Base
    • XLT
    • Limited
    • ST
    • Platinum

    Acura MDX Trims

    • Base
    • Technology Package
    • A-Spec
    • Advance Package

    The top-of-the-line Ford Explorer Platinum starts at $58,250, while a fully-loaded Acura MDX Advance has an MSRP of $63,500. So while the MDX has a higher entry price point, the price difference narrows when comparing the upper trim levels between these two SUVs.


    Both the Acura MDX and Ford Explorer offer a choice of powertrains to suit different driving preferences:

    Acura MDX Engines

    • 3.5L V6 with 290 HP & 267 lb-ft torque
    • 3.0L turbo V6 with 355 HP & 354 lb-ft torque (Type S)

    Ford Explorer Engines

    • 2.3L turbo I4 with 300 HP & 310 lb-ft torque
    • 3.0L twin-turbo V6 with 365 HP & 380 lb-ft torque (Platinum)
    • 3.0L twin-turbo V6 with 400 HP & 415 lb-ft torque (ST)
    • Hybrid 3.3L V6 with 318 total system HP

    The base engines are closely matched, with the Ford's 2.3L turbo edging out the Acura's V6 in torque. But the Explorer offers two potent turbocharged V6 options with significantly more power and torque than the MDX Type S' 3.0L turbo V6. The Explorer ST is the clear choice for performance enthusiasts.

    However, the MDX comes standard with a smooth 10-speed automatic transmission, while most Explorer trims make do with a 10-speed auto. The Explorer also offers a more efficient hybrid powertrain, which the MDX currently lacks.

    When properly equipped, the Explorer has a higher max towing capacity of 5,600 pounds compared to the MDX's 5,000 pound limit. So the Ford is the more capable hauler.

    In terms of ride and handling, the MDX benefits from its lighter unibody construction versus the Explorer's heavier truck-based platform. The Acura feels more agile and car-like from behind the wheel. But higher-trim Explorers offer a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension that improves ride comfort.

    Interior Comfort & Cargo Space

    Inside the cabin, both SUVs coddle occupants with premium materials, supportive seats, and upscale amenities. The Explorer has a slight edge in passenger and cargo volume:

      Acura MDX Ford Explorer
    Passenger Volume 139 cu ft 153 cu ft
    Max Cargo Volume 90 cu ft 87 cu ft

    The MDX features leather upholstery and heated front seats as standard, while these are optional extras on the base Explorer. Moving up trim levels, both offer ventilated front seatsheated rear seatstri-zone climate control, and other luxuries.

    While the Explorer is more spacious overall, the MDX provides more headroom and legroom in its 3rd row - an important consideration if you frequently transport adult passengers in the way-back. The Ford's 3rd row is better suited for kids.

    Accessing the 3rd row is easier in the MDX thanks to its One-Touch Walk-In 2nd-row seats. The Explorer has available PowerFold 3rd-row seats.

    Behind the 3rd row, the MDX has a larger cargo area with 18 cubic feet of space versus the Explorer's 18 cubic feet. Both have underfloor storage compartments in the cargo bay. With the 2nd and 3rd rows folded, the Explorer offers slightly more maximum cargo capacity.

    Infotainment & Technology

    On the tech front, the Acura MDX comes standard with a 12.3-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The Ford Explorer gets an 8-inch touchscreen on the base model and a larger 10.1-inch vertical screen on higher trims. The bigger screen's portrait orientation takes some getting used to.

    Available infotainment upgrades on both SUVs include:

    • Wireless smartphone charging
    • Built-in navigation
    • Rear-seat entertainment systems
    • Premium audio systems (ELS Studio 3D for Acura, B&O for Ford)
    • Wi-Fi hotspot (standard on Explorer)
    • Digital instrument cluster (12.3-inch on MDX, 12.3-inch on Explorer Platinum & ST)

    The MDX offers a novel CabinTalk in-car PA system that projects the driver's voice to the rear passengers - handy for corralling rowdy kids. A 360-degree camera system is available on both models.


    Safety is paramount in any family vehicle, and the Acura MDX and Ford Explorer earned 5-star overall crash test ratings from the NHTSA. The MDX received a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS, while the Explorer earned a Top Safety Pick when equipped with specific headlights.

    Both SUVs come standard with a comprehensive suite of driver-assist technologies to help prevent accidents:

    • Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking
    • Lane-keep assist
    • Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert
    • Adaptive cruise control

    The MDX also includes Acura's Road Departure Mitigation, which can steer the vehicle back into its lane if it detects you're unintentionally drifting off the road. The Explorer offers Evasive Steering Assist that provides additional steering support to help avoid a collision.

    Fuel Economy

    If saving money at the pump is a priority, the Ford Explorer has the advantage thanks to its hybrid and turbocharged 4-cylinder engine options:

    Model Engine City/Hwy/Combined MPG
    Explorer Hybrid 3.3L V6 Hybrid 27 / 29 / 28
    Explorer 2.3L EcoBoost Turbocharged I4 21 / 28 / 24
    MDX 3.5L V6 19 / 26 / 22
    MDX Type S 3.0L Turbo V6 17 / 21 / 19
    Explorer 3.0L EcoBoost Twin-Turbo V6 18 / 24 / 20

    The Explorer Hybrid is the clear fuel economy leader, while the base turbo-4 Explorer also beats out the V6-powered MDX. The high-performance MDX Type S and Explorer ST sacrifice some efficiency for extra power, but are still respectable for such potent engines.

    Warranty & Reliability

    In terms of warranty coverage, Acura and Ford are evenly matched, with both providing:

    • 4 years / 50,000 miles basic warranty
    • 6 years / 70,000 miles powertrain warranty

    Complimentary scheduled maintenance is not included with either SUV.

    J.D. Power gives the MDX a slightly higher predicted reliability score of 81/100, versus 78/100 for the Explorer, but both are considered "average" for the segment.

    Which One Should You Buy?

    Deciding between the Acura MDX vs Ford Explorer ultimately depends on your priorities. Here's a quick summary of each SUV's strengths:

    Reasons to Buy the Acura MDX

    • Engaging driving dynamics
    • Luxurious and spacious interior
    • More comfortable 3rd-row
    • Advanced safety tech
    • Upscale brand image

    Reasons to Buy the Ford Explorer

    • Lower starting price
    • Capable turbocharged engines
    • Fuel-efficient hybrid option
    • Truck-based utility & max towing capacity
    • Spacious cabin & cargo area
    • ST model for driving enthusiasts

    For buyers seeking a premium family hauler with an emphasis on refinement and agility, the Acura MDX is a compelling choice. It's an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, has a versatile interior with a usable 3rd row, and delivers confident performance.

    If value, passenger/cargo space, and powertrain options are your top considerations, the Ford Explorer is hard to beat. It undercuts the MDX on price while offering two stout turbo V6 engines alongside an efficient hybrid model. Plus, its rear-wheel-drive platform enables class-leading towing capacity.

    Test drive both to see which one speaks to you. And be sure to check for any current incentives, rebates, or discounts that may help sway your decision. With either the Acura MDX or Ford Explorer, you'll be getting a stylish, safe, and well-rounded 3-row SUV.