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Ford Explorer VS. Toyota Highlander – Which SUV is Best for You?

SUVs are replacing sedans in the family car market fast. They are becoming popular by offering more functionality, practicality, and capability. The presence of dozens of models in the market makes the choice difficult. In this showdown, we will compare everything that is there to know about the two most famous mid-size crossover SUVs in the US market, Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. 

While the Highlander boasts Japanese reliability and durability, the Explorer is proud of being American and having one of the most well-equipped cars of its class. Let’s see how these two compare and which one is more deserving of your hard-earned cash.

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander Looks 

The Explorer looks rugged and combines the appearance of a sedan in the front with the styling of an SUV in the rear. There are no excessively aggressive design features in this car. Even though it falls in the mid-size SUV category, the looks rival those of full-size flagship models. It looks elegant and confident that it can get the job done.

Toyota’s answer to the Explorer, the Highlander, is also decently styled. The front grille has a little bit of Lexus-like styling, and the rear looks like the Fortuner. This SUV looks a little less premium than the Explorer, but that is purely subjective and depends on personal preferences. 

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander Powertrain 

The base model Ford Explorer comes with a 2.3L turbocharged I4 that puts out 300 horsepower. The standard configuration for the Explorer is rear-wheel-drive and a 10-speed automatic transmission. You can also get an upgrade to AWD on all trims. The gear shifts are smooth, and acceleration is acceptable on the base model. If you want more power, a 400-hp twin-turbocharged V6 is also on the menu for some extra money. If fuel economy is your preference, the Explorer hybrid is also an option.

Coming over to its Japanese counterpart, the Highlander, its 3.5L V6 puts out 294hp. You can either get this SUV as a front-wheel-drive or an all-wheel-drive vehicle. The AWD variants have Toyota’s Torque Vectoring technology in them. The link between the engine is an 8-speed Electronically Controlled automatic Transmission (ECT). This transmission is smooth and capable enough to transfer all the torque of the V6 to the wheels for towing large loads. 

Comparing these two SUVs, the power output is almost the same. The transmission on the Explorer is a bit more smooth and fuel-efficient as it has more gear ratios and can keep the engine operating at a favorable RPM.

The most notable difference is in the drive wheel configuration. The Explorer is RWD in the standard configuration, and the Highlander is FWD. The Highlander will give you better fuel economy, while the Explorer will be better at handling harsh driving conditions. 

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander Suspension 

Both these SUVs have the same suspension setup. The front suspension consists of MacPherson struts with coil springs, while the rear has an independent multi-link suspension.

Both these SUVs come standard with 18-inch wheels as standard, while 20-inch is available as an optional extra. 

The suspension feels pretty much the same. The Toyota is a bit harsher than the Ford, but it makes up for that in better durability and reliability ratings.

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander Trunk and Cargo Space

The cargo capacity of the Explorer is 18.2 cubic feet behind the third row of seats, 47.9 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 87.8 cubic feet with both the rear rows of seats folded down. That means you can fit between 5 and 30 carry-on suitcases in this car, depending on how many of the seven seats are occupied by passengers.

The Toyota Highlander Cargo space dimensions, on the other hand, are 16 cubic feet behind the third row, 48.4 cubic feet behind the second and 84.3 cubic feet behind the first row of the seats. This cargo area lets you carry between 4 and 30 carry-on suitcases. 

Comparing these two, it is clear that cargo space is not a thing that you can base your purchase decision on. These cars can carry almost the same amount of cargo, and the little difference in the stats would not even be noticeable in real-life use. 

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander Interior and Features 

The first thing that you will notice in the cabin of the Explorer is that it is not very exciting or unique. It is designed to be comfortable and functional. The occupants of the first two seats would be particularly happy with the generous space allocated to them. The third row is not as comfortable as the first two, but still pretty good compared to rivals. 

The standard infotainment unit in the Explorer is an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Wi-Fi hotspot. The screen is quick and responsive with an intuitive interface.

The two-tone interior and minimalist design give the interior of the Highlander a premium look. Another touch of luxury is the optional availability of captain’s chairs in the second row. Even though this reduces the passenger capacity from eight to seven, it does make the second row much more comfortable. The third row is not cramped but not very spacious either. 

The 8-inch Toyota Information system touchscreen panel is standard on the Highlander that can be upgraded to a 12.1-inch unit. Features including SiriusXM satellite radio, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa are offered on all variants.

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander Gas Mileage

The EPA estimates the fuel consumption of the base-level 300hp Explorer at 21/28MPG. Upgrading to AWD drivetrain will reduce that to 18/24 MPG, while the Ford Explorer Hybrid MPG stands at 27/29. 

The V6 Highlander has an EPA rating of 21/29 MPG for the FWD and 20/27 MPG for the AWD version. The hybrid model gives better fuel economy here, too, with the estimates standing at 36/35 MPG.

Comparing the fuel efficiency of these two vehicles, you can notice that the base models of both these have almost the same EPA rating. There is a very slight difference, one that can hardly be noticed in day-to-day use. However, the hybrid Highlander has significantly more MPG than the hybrid Explorer, mainly because it is FWD. 

Toyota Highlander vs. Ford Explorer Safety Features

The Ford Explorer ships with a bunch of active safety and driver assistance features, including forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist. You can also get self-parking assistance as an optional upgrade from Ford.

The Highlander also offers similar active safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and automatic high-beam headlamps. 

Comparing the safety features of these two cars, you can notice that they have almost the same technologies. The main difference is the absence of self-parking assistance in the Toyota. 

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander Dimensions

Here’s a tabular comparison of the dimensions of these cars 

Dimension Toyota Highlander (inches)Ford Explorer (inches)
Wheelbase 112.2 119.1 
Length 194.9 198.8 
Width 73.278.9 
Height 68.169.9 
Ground Clearance8.07.9 
Curb Weight (lbs)4,3704,345

Looking at the dimensions, you can tell that the Explorer is longer, wider, and higher than the Highlander. It is, however, a bit lighter than the Toyota. That is because the Highlander has a bigger V6 engine as compared to the I4 on the Explorer.

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander Prices

The prices for the Ford Explorer start at $34,000 for the base model and go up to $54,000 for the Platinum Hybrid variant. 

The Toyota Highlander will cost you $36,300 for the base-level trim and $48,000 for the fully loaded one. 

If you are looking to buy one of these cars and are worried about the cost, there is a way that you can offset some of the price. That can be done by trading in your car at a reasonable price. Another piece of advice is to go for used cars instead of a new one, especially when buying an SUV. This is because SUVs are generally built to last hundreds of thousands of miles, and buying a used one makes a lot of economic sense. Some services offer up to 365 days of coverage on used cars with complimentary service, just like new cars.


Here’s a simplified recap of all we have covered so far:

Characteristics Toyota Highlander Ford Explorer 
Engine NA 3.5L V6 @ 295 hpTurbo 2.3L I4 @300 hp 
Transmission 8-speed auto single clutch 10-speed auto single clutch 
Fuel Economy (FWD-AWD)20/27 – 36/3518/24 – 27/29
Driven Wheels FWD or AWD RWD or AWD 
Infotainment 8-inch Touch screen 8-inch Touch screen 
Cargo Capacity (cft)16/48.4/84.3 18.2/47.9/87.8 
Price (New) ($)36,000-48,00034,000-54,000

Looking at these cars’ features, prices, and stats, you can see that both offer pretty much the same. The Toyota has a more upscale interior, while the Explorer is more conservative. The engine output is almost the same, with the Explorer’s transmission being a bit more smooth. 

The Toyota’s suspension is a little more rigid, while the Explorer provides a smoother ride. However, the same translates to better handling and durability in the Toyota. 

The purchase decision will come down to your personal preference and brand loyalty. There is nothing that one of these can do and the other cannot. The thing that matters is not Explorer vs. Highlander. It is Ford versus Toyota.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Which is more reliable: Highlander or Explorer?

According to Repairpal’s ranking, the Ford Explorer got 3.5/5.0 in reliability, and the Toyota Explorer scored 4.0. That means the Toyota is a bit more reliable than the Ford. However, the Ford is a pretty reliable car in itself.

How reliable are Ford Explorers?

Ford Explorer was given a reliability score of 3.5/5 and ranked 19th out of the 26 SUVs of its class surveyed by Repairpal. In simple terms, these cars are reliable enough to drive 100,000 miles before any significant problems start showing up. 

How long will a Toyota Highlander last?

Stats point out that the Toyota Highlander can easily last 200,000 miles, equivalent to 20 years of driving. According to iSeeCars, 12.4% of Highlander owners tend to keep this car for more than 15 years, double the average lifespan of an SUV in the US. 

Is the Toyota Highlander expensive to maintain?

According to Car Edge, the Toyota Highlander will cost you nearly $5,771 in maintenance over the first ten years of ownership. That is $3,109 less than the average maintenance cost of SUVs. Plus, there is only a 16.08% chance that the Highlander will require any significant or expensive repair during the first ten years of ownership.

What is the Ford Explorer Hybrid MPG like?

The Ford Explorer has an EPA estimated MPG between 18/24 – 27/29 depending on the drive wheel, powertrain, and engine options you choose. 

What is the Ford Explorer seating capacity?

The Ford Explorer has a seating capacity of 8 adults across three rows of seats.

What is the Toyota Highlander seating capacity?

The Highlander can have 7 or 8 people seating capacity depending on whether you go for captain’s chairs or a bench-type seat in the middle row.

Buy a used car online