As American-Born Brands Raise the Bar,

Japanese-born Rivals Answer Back

Competition is stiff in the mid- and full-size SUV categories.  As American-born brands promote their stand-out features, Japanese-born brands such as Acura and Lexus answer with matches to challenge them, while adding luxuries and technology to rival them.

While the 2021 Ford Explorer can be had for as low as $36,255, luxury level trim and options topped our tester over $60K.

Now in its sixth generation, the Ford Explorer was one of the first three-row family-oriented SUVs.  It was originally built on a truck frame, but later models had moved to front-wheel-drive layouts and car-like unibody construction.  The 2020 model marked its return to the rear-wheel-drive layout, dramatically improving handling and overall balance, while unibody construction remained.  Interior room is expanded.  While the 2021 Explorer can be had for as low as $36,255, our Platinum 4WD tester featured the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 good for 365 hp and 280 lb. ft. torque, 20-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension, the Trailer Tow package. adaptive headlights, unique taillights, a two-piece sunroof, and upgraded leather upholstery and steering wheel.  With Premium Tech option adding massaging front seats, 10.1-inch touchscreen and 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio and premium aluminum wheels, our tester was $60,935.

GMC’s Yukon AT4 gets unique front fascia to improve the Yukon’s approach angle, dark gray wheels with all-terrain tires, front tow hooks and skid plate, a heavy-duty air filter, adaptive suspension dampers, hill descent control, and a two-speed active transfer case along with some extra creature comfort features inside. 

Drivers who prefer to give up some driving comfort on-road for the better off-road performance of a truck-based SUV.  The GMC Yukon is one of the few still around. Its 5.3-liter V8 gets 355 horsepower, 383 lb-ft of torque and is rated to tow up to 7,900 pounds.  The new Yukon is 6.1 inches longer than its predecessor allowing more legroom for rear passengers and more cargo space. Folding down the second- and third-row seats opens up a massive 122.9 cubic feet of space behind the front row and the loading floor is lowered, making it easier to load big items.  New independent rear suspension makes the newest Yukon ride more smoothly while an air-ride suspension system option gives you four-inches of adjustment; lower 2 inches for easier access or add 2 inches for higher ground clearance in off-road mode. It was included on our AT4 trim level tester, the off-road-oriented Yukon available in 4WD only. Standard price for AT4 is $64,800. Ours sported the AT4 Premium Plus package, adding a max trailering, rear media and nav upgrades, a premium tech package, active response 4WD, panoramic sunroof and power-retractable side steps.  The Premium Plus upgrade and a few other upgrades (paint, heated and power-release second row seats), boosted its price to $75,600.

Our Acura MDX tester was the SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 getting 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque along with wider tires and more powerful brakes.  With top-of-the-line Advance trim, its MRSP was $60,650 including a head-up display and a surround-view camera system offering a top-down view of the MDX and its surroundings for tight parking situations. 

If you’re looking for a luxury level mid-sized SUV, Acura’s best-selling 4th-gen MDX is hard to beat and just earned the highest possible safety award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  Known for offering impressive value for the money, the MSRP on the 2022 model is $47,925 including a what Acura calls Absolute Positioning, its new one-to-one mapping of the pad to screen. Just like a smart phone or tablet, you can move the Apps and Favorites around to position them to your liking then control selections using muscle memory, something you can’t do with a touchscreen interface, or other pad type interfaces that rely on a cursor.  Acura follows the trend of allowing buyers to pick both their exterior and interior colors.  It’s sleek exterior is longer and wider and its drive is stiffer than before, increasing the stability of MDX on the road.  Inside, the Acura team put lots of thought into legroom and headroom, storage, and making the seats easy to fold down.  New rear suspension allows for a lower floor in the third row and panoramic sunroofs are now standard. The middle seat in the second-row bench can be folded down to lend a nice wide console with cupholders and additional storage, or it can be removed to leave a walkway from mid to rear.

Lexus GX 460 packs lots of luxury into its truck-based GX 460.  Even adding its off-road package, premium stereo and sport appearance package, our tester’s price tag was less than the AT4 Yukon.

Onto its rugged frame, Lexus packs all the leather, tech and power equipment that its other luxury vehicles have, but the Lexus GX 460 is decidedly different due to its truck-based platform with locking differential and permanent four-wheel drive.  It is designed to be a three-row luxury SUV that can take you anywhere.  MSRP is $59,100.  Our Luxury trim tester came with adaptive suspension which greatly helps the ride quality and it sported red seats that we loved.  Extras included the Off Road Package with multi-terrain and panoramic view monitors, transmission cooler, fuel tank protector, crawl control and multi-terrain select drive modes.   Additionally, with the Mark Levinson sound package and a Sport Design package, its sticker was $71,255 including delivery.

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