Two popular choices for families looking for a big crossover with three rows of seats are the Honda Pilot and the Ford Explorer. Both of these have strong reputations for good reasons, they’re both roomy with lots of available options, offer available all-wheel drive adding to their versatility and they both offer pretty strong values compared to more traditional full-size SUVs.
With so many 3-row crossovers flooding the market, let’s take a look at how these two popular models match up in 2019.
The exterior styling of both the Pilot and the Explorer is pretty conservative. Neither are flashy head-turners, but they’re also nice-looking SUVs if a bit understated. They both have boxy designs that give way to roomy interiors.
Dimensions for the Pilot and the Explorer are very similar in size and neither will take up significantly more room in your driveway than the other. Since they’re the same size and both have pretty subtle styling, which is the better-looking SUV is very subjective.
Despite being the same size and competing in the same class, the Pilot and the Explorer are packaged a little differently on the inside. The Explorer has a maximum seating capacity of seven and the Pilot can seat up to eight. That’s because the third row in the Pilot has three seats across and the Explorer’s only has two. That extra seat belt in the Honda can come in handy in a pinch, but it gets awfully cramped back there with three people in the third row, even if they’re kids. See the 2019 Honda Pilot models for sale near you
Legroom in the third row is pretty similar in both crossovers, but the Ford has a little more legroom in the first and second rows. The Pilot may have the Explorer beat in terms of maximum seating capacity, but if you’re only planning on regularly using the first and second rows, you and your passengers will be a little more comfortable in the Ford. See the 2019 Ford Explorer models for sale near you
That said, the interior of the Pilot is a little nicer than the somewhat low-rent interior of the Explorer. Both of these get very nice in the higher trims, but in the bade and midrange levels, we think the Honda has a nicer design and nicer materials making you feel like you’re in a more expensive SUV.
The 2019 Explorer offers some nice mechanical variety with three different engine options available while the Honda Pilot only has one. Both SUVs come standard with front-wheel drive, but are available with AWD for better traction and some light off-roading ability.
2019 Honda Pilot Engine
3.5-liter V6; 280 horsepower, 262 lb-ft of torque; 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy
2019 Ford Explorer Engines
3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 255 lb-ft of torque; 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy
3.5-liter twin-turbo V6; 365 hp, 350 lb-ft of torque; 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy
The base engine in both the Pilot and the Explorer is a 3.5-liter V6, but the Honda engine returns better fuel economy, while both engines have very similar performance numbers. Upgrading to the EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine in the Ford improves both fuel economy and performance despite having fewer cylinders. Finally, the twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 available in the Explorer makes for a high-performance SUV that handily outperforms the Pilot, but it will cost you in the form of subpar fuel economy. As you can expect, the fuel economy numbers of all of these engines take a slight hit when you add AWD.
The sole engine option in the Honda Pilot is a good V6, but we like the variety available under the hood of the Explorer. It allows you to prioritize value, fuel economy, or performance based on what you’re looking for in an SUV.
Features and Technology
As we mentioned earlier, both of these SUVs can get very fancy on the high end like the Pilot Elite and the Explorer Platinum. They’re available with luxurious features like advanced infotainment systems with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, premium audio, satellite navigation, heated and cooled leather seats, power sunroofs and much more.
Honda’s commitment to safety is clear with the Pilot. New for the 2019 model year, the Honda Sensing driver assistance technology package comes standard on every Honda Pilot. Honda Sensing bundles together safety tech that includes emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, road departure assist and adaptive cruise control. Ford has similar technologies available, but only as options and they don’t come standard on any trim of the Explorer.
The 2019 Honda Pilot is a little more affordable than the Ford Explorer both on the low end and throughout the model range when similarly equipped. The Pilot has a starting MSRP of $31,450 and the Explorer starts at $32,365. Adding AWD to the Explorer adds $2,150 to the price and for the Pilot AWD is a $1,900 upgrade. On the high end, the range-topping Pilot Elite, which has standard AWD is priced in the high-$40k range, while the Explorer Platinum, which also throws in standard AWD plus the twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine starts all the way up in the mid-$50k range.
We love the exciting engines available in the Ford Explorer and the variety they offer, but we think the Honda Pilot is the stronger value between these two 3-row crossovers. We love the standard driver assistance tech and the pricing of the Pilot plus its nice interior and its affordable AWD upgrade. That said, if you’re looking for a high-performance SUV without paying for a high-end luxury crossover, an EcoBoost V6-equipped Explorer suddenly becomes a pretty good value.
If you’re shopping for a family crossover, value and safety are probably two of your top priorities, making the Honda Pilot our choice over the Ford Explorer. Find a Ford Explorer for sale or Find a Honda Pilot for sale