Which SUV is right for your family depends on your priorities.
If you’re looking for an SUV that offers minivan like family friendliness, there’s a good chance the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander have shown up on your shopping list. Both of these crossovers offer three rows of seats at affordable price points and optional all-wheel drive making them versatile family haulers.
Let’s take a look at the differences and similarities between the Highlander and Explorer and find out which one is right for your family.
The Explorer and the Highlander both compete in the same class of midsize crossovers, but the Ford is a little bigger than the Toyota. In terms of styling, the Explorer has a more boxy and traditional SUV aesthetic while still looking modern. The Highlander recently adopted a bit more of a premium look and it’s decidedly curvier than the Explorer, but it still manages to look rugged.
The Highlander has a nicer interior, but the Explorer has a bigger one. Both of these crossovers have three rows of seats and it’s worth noting that the Highlander’s third row has three seats across and the Explorer’s only has two. However, the Explorer’s third row has more legroom than the Highlander’s. Those factors combined mean the third row in the Explorer is roomier and more suitable for adults than the way-back seats of the Highlander. See the 2019 Ford Explorer models for sale near you
That said, the Toyota’s interior uses higher-quality materials and has a nicer interior design overall. The inside of the Explorer is starting to look a little dated and plasticky, but the Highlander’s interior has some elegance to it. See the 2019 Toyota Highlander models for sale near you
If you’re looking for a lot of passenger and cargo space, you’ll love the space in the Explorer. However, if you’re looking for a more premium interior without a premium price, you’ll likely appreciate the inside of the Highlander.
2019 Ford Explorer Engines
3.5-liter V6; 290 horsepower, 255 lb-ft of torque; 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy
2.3-liter turbocharged inline four; 280 hp, 310 lb-ft of torque; 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy
3.5-liter twin-turbo V6; 365 hp, 350 lb-ft of torque; 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy
2019 Toyota Highlander Engines
2.7-liter inline four; 185 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque; 20 mpg city/24 mpg hwy
3.5-liter V6; 295 hp, 263 lb-ft of torque; 21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy
3.5-liter hybrid V6; 306 net hp, 30 mpg city/28 mpg hwy
Obviously, these two SUVs have different priorities from under the hood. The 2019 Explorer puts more of an emphasis on performance with its spectacular twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 that makes this SUV a blast to drive, albeit not very fuel-efficient. For the Highlander, fuel economy is more important with its available V6 beating all of the Ford engines in fuel economy. Upgrade to the Highlander hybrid and the Explorer doesn’t even come close to the Highlander in terms of efficiency.
To put it simply, if you’re looking for driving excitement, check out an EcoBoost Explorer. If you want to drive a midsize SUV with fuel stops being few and far between, you’ll probably like the frugal Highlander.
Features and Technology
Toyota’s commitment to safety is made clear in the 2019 Highlander. Every new Highlander comes standard with the Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) driver-assistance technology suite, which includes adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and automatic high beams. A similar tech suite is available in the Explorer called the Ford Smart & Safe package, but it doesn’t come standard on any Explorer. It’s optional on every trim except the base model.
Both of these crossovers can get quite luxurious in the higher trims like the Highlander Limited and the Explorer Platinum. They offer niceties like leather-trimmed seats that are heated and cooled in front, second-row captain’s chairs, satellite navigation, premium audio, a panoramic sunroof and much more.
The Ford is a little more expensive than the Toyota. The Highlander has a starting MSRP of $31,330 and the Explorer starts at $32,365. On the high end, the most expensive Highlander trims start in the high $40k range and the Explorer gets into the mid-$50k range partly thanks to its EcoBoost twin-turbo V6.
Upgrading to the Highlander Hybrid won’t cost you too much extra with the most affordable hybrid model starting at $36,970.
Unless interior space or performance are your top priorities, we recommend the Highlander over the Explorer. With its generous standard safety tech, more efficient V6, nicer interior and affordable pricing, the Toyota has a lot to offer as a family SUV despite its cramped third row. We also like that it has a hybrid option for drivers trying to save fuel. That said, an EcoBoost V6-powered Explorer is a riot without sacrificing its family SUV credentials. Find a Toyota Highlander for sale or Find a Ford Explorer for sale