The Explorer and the Highlander are family-friendly three-row SUVs.
Each SUV offers a hybrid option.
Two of the most popular midsize three-row SUVs on the market are the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander, and each has bee fully redesigned for 2020. Each is more modern and more technologically advanced than ever, which means they’re more competitive with each other than they’ve ever been.
Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences of the Highlander and the Explorer and see which is better.
The Explorer and the Highlander got a little bit bigger with their new generations. The Explorer is slightly bigger than the Highlander, but each fits into the bigger side of the midsize crossover segment. This is the sweet spot for anyone looking for something bigger than a compact SUV, like the Toyota RAV4, but smaller than a full-size SUV, like the Ford Expedition. See the 2020 Ford Explorer models for sale near you
Both redesigned SUVs look very modern and even have a degree of sportiness to them. Make no mistake, though — these are family haulers at their core, but both have a sleek new look that is, dare we say, less boring than their respective predecessors. See the 2020 Toyota Highlander models for sale near you
The redesigns of these SUVs bring sharp new interiors with comfortable seating, nice materials, and modern designs. The Highlander and the Explorer both know their place as three-row family vehicles, which means their interiors are designed with families in mind. The first and second rows have roomy seating, and the third rows on each a bit cramped but more generous than their predecessors. There’s some adjustability in the second-row seats, meaning you can balance the legroom between the second and third rows as needed.
These are both good interiors, but we like the interior design of the Highlander a little more. The inside of the new Explorer is improved, but the Highlander’s interior has a more modern and premium-feeling design.
One of the biggest differences between the Explorer and the Highlander is that the Explorer is rear-wheel drive and the Highlander is front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available on the Toyota, and 4-wheel drive is available on the Ford. The Explorer has four engine options, and the Highlander has two. As of this writing, there are no EPA fuel economy ratings for the new Toyota Highlander, so we are using manufacturer-estimated fuel economy ratings.
2020 Toyota Highlander Engines
3.5-liter V6; 295 horsepower, 263 lb-ft of torque; 22 mpg combined
2020 Ford Explorer Engines
2.3-liter turbocharged inline four; 300 hp, 310 lb-ft of torque; 21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy
3.0-liter twin-turbo V6; 365 hp, 380 lb-ft of torque; 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy
3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 (ST); 400 hp, 415 lb-ft of torque; 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy
3.3-liter hybrid V6; 318 hp, 322 lb-ft of torque; 27 mpg city/29 mpg hwy
Clearly, the Highlander prioritizes efficiency and the Explorer puts a greater focus on performance. Despite having four cylinders, rather than six, the base engine in the Explorer beats the Highlander’s base V6 in performance and fuel economy. However, the Highlander Hybrid’s amazing estimated rating of 34 mpg combined is very impressive. If you want a family SUV that’s also a blast to drive, then you’ll find a lot to love in one of the twin-turbo V6 variants of the Explorer. If you want a big vehicle that’s good on gas, the Highlander Hybrid is one of your best options.
The Explorer and the Highlander come with very impressive lists of standard safety features. In the Ford, it’s the Co-Pilot360 driver assistance tech suite, which comes with blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, post-collision braking and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection. The new Highlander comes standard with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 system, which offers a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane-tracing assist and road sign assist.
Each of these SUVs is also pretty generous with standard connectivity features. Each comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and user-friendly standard touchscreen infotainment systems.
The 2020 Ford Explorer has a starting price of $32,765 and goes up to the high-$50,000 range in the higher trims. As of this writing, official pricing hasn’t yet been released for the 2020 Toyota Highlander, but we expect pricing to be similar to the 2019 Highlander, which starts in the low $30,000s and goes up to the high $40,000s.
If you’re looking for a practical family hauler, you’ll find something to love in both the Explorer and the Highlander. The Highlander is a bit more of the modern and practical choice, while the high-performance versions of the Explorer satisfy the enthusiast who needs a practical SUV. We love the fuel economy on the Highlander Hybrid, but we also love the performance of the Explorer ST. Which one is right for you depends on your priorities. Find a Toyota Highlander for sale or Find a Ford Explorer for sale