- The 2020 Toyota Highlander is all new.
- The Honda Pilot was last redesigned for 2016 and received a face-lift for 2019.
- Both vehicles come standard with a V6 engine. Only the Highlander offers an optional hybrid powertrain.
Two of the most popular 3-row family SUVs on sale today are the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. The Highlander is all new for 2020, while the Pilot has been out for a few years, but both are poised to once again be top sellers in this highly competitive segment. Below, we’ll compare the Pilot and Highlander in a number of categories to help those in the market for a new family crossover understand the differences between both.
Both the Highlander and Pilot follow a pretty straightforward crossover design formula: moderate ground clearance, rounded features and tall greenhouses. The Pilot’s design should by now be pretty familiar, given that the vehicle has been on sale in its current generation since the 2016 model year. Some updates for last year introduced revised trim and more intricate LED headlights. Available for 2020 is a new “Black Edition” that sits at the top of the model range and comes in just one exterior color. You can probably guess what it is. The Highlander wears an all-new design for 2020. Its front end incorporates a winged trim element around the Toyota emblem, the A-pillars are black, and down the side the body panels flare out to a considerable degree over the rear wheels. Altogether, the new Highlander’s design stands out a little more than that of the Pilot, although neither vehicle looks offensive. See the 2020 Toyota Highlander models for sale near you or See the 2020 Honda Pilot models for sale near you
On the inside, the Pilot is much more minivan-like than the Highlander. Three tiers of storage are integrated into the Pilot’s door panels, while a massive center console storage box resides between the front seats. The Highlander is a more even mix of form and function on the inside, with less storage in the doors and a smaller center console storage box, though a clever shelf integrated into the dashboard beneath the center stack and in front of the passenger seat means the Highlander’s cabin still incorporates some clever places to put things.
In terms of space, the Pilot is a little bigger than the Highlander. Second-row legroom in the Pilot comes in at 38.4 inches, while its third row offers 31.9 inches. The Highlander has a little more room in its second row, with 41.0 inches of legroom, but considerably less in the third row, which has just 27.7 inches, making it somewhat tight.
Looking at cargo area, the Highlander offers 48.4 cu ft. behind its second row with the third row folded, 16.0 cu ft. behind the third row when its deployed and a maximum of 84.3 cu ft. with both the second and third rows folded flat. The Pilot has 46.8 cu ft. with just the second row up, 16.5 cu ft. with the third row up and a maximum of 83.9 cu ft. with both rows stowed. Altogether, the two vehicles are pretty evenly matched in terms of overall interior space. The Pilot gives up a bit of second row legroom to the Highlander but in turn offers a roomier third row.
In more subjective terms, the Pilot feels bigger, like a minivan in an SUV body, which is a good thing, while the Highlander feels more like a typical SUV.
The Pilot comes with just one engine, an excellent 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. The LX, EX and EX-L models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission, while the Touring and Elite models get a more modern 9-speed. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive optional on all but the top-spec Elite model, which comes exclusively with AWD.
With FWD and the 6-speed, the Pilot returns 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined. With the nine-speed and FWD, the Pilot is rated at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. AWD pretty much results in a one-mpg drop across the board.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander is available with two different powertrain choices. The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque, and paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
With FWD and the V6, the Highlander is rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 29 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in combined driving. AWD V6 models are rated at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined.
The Highlander offers an optional Hybrid model that offers significantly better fuel economy with only a slight impact on performance. The 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with two electric motors. Combined output is 243 hp. Torque is tough to measure with hybrids. That power is sent to either the front wheels or all four via a continuously variable transmission. The EPA rates the new Highlander Hybrid at 35 mpg in all types of driving — impressive to say the least.
Features & Technology
Either of these vehicles is available with virtually anything a buyer could want in a modern 3-row family crossover SUV. Both can be optioned with big sunroofs, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, sunshades integrated into the second-row door panels, captain’s chairs, leather seating and more.
Only the Highlander is available with a hands-free rear power liftgate and a 360-degree camera system, while only the Pilot offers a heated second row. Both vehicles come with an 8.0-in infotainment screen in their mainstream trim levels, but the Highlander offers a massive 12.3-in screen in its Limited and Platinum trims. The Highlander offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, while the Pilot offers it on all but its base LX trim.
In terms of safety, both vehicles come standard with active safety features, although the Highlander’s offering is more sophisticated. Both vehicles get automatic emergency braking, radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams, but only the Highlander offers full-speed adaptive cruise, lane-tracing assist and traffic sign recognition. Both vehicles earn a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for their crash test performance.
Including unavoidable delivery and destination fees, a base 2020 Highlander L comes in at $35,720, while a fully-loaded Platinum model with the V6 engine and AWD has an MSRP of $49,920. The hybrid powertrain comes at just a $1,400 premium, making it an excellent value given the related fuel savings.
Pricing for the 2020 Honda Pilot starts at $32,770 for a base LX model with FWD, again including those extra fees. A top-spec Elite model, which comes standard with AWD, costs $49,340. The special Black Edition, which builds of off the Elite model, will run you $50,840.
The 2020 Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander remain two of the best family crossover on the market. Both offer good powertrains, great reliability, loads of space and just about all of the family-friendly features buyers could want. If you’re interested in saving fuel, the Highlander Hybrid is the obvious choice here, as it offers a pretty incredible value in terms of money spent vs. money saved. Your choice gets a little more difficult when comparing V6 models. The Highlander is clearly the more modern of these two vehicles, offering more advanced standard active safety tech and a larger touchscreen infotainment system as you move into its upper trim levels, but the Honda’s storage solutions and packaging efficiency are hard to ignore. Even as its design ages, there still may not be a better minivan alternative out there than the Pilot. Which of these vehicles makes the most sense to you comes down to the needs of you and your family. You really can’t go wrong with either one. Find a Toyota Highlander for sale or Find a Honda Pilot for sale