2020 Ford Explorer vs. 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

Both the Explorer and Highlander Hybrid have child safety locks to prevent children from opening the rear doors. The Explorer has power child safety locks, allowing the driver to activate and deactivate them from the driver's seat and to know when they're engaged. The Highlander Hybrid’s child locks have to be individually engaged at each rear door with a manual switch. The driver can’t know the status of the locks without opening the doors and checking them.

The Explorer has standard Post Collision Braking, which automatically apply the brakes in the event of a crash to help prevent secondary collisions and prevent further injuries. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a post collision braking system: in the event of a collision that triggers the airbags, more collisions are possible without the protection of airbags that may have already deployed.

Over 200 people are killed each year when backed over by motor vehicles. The Explorer ST/Platinum has standard Reverse Brake Assist that uses rear sensors to monitor and automatically apply the brakes to prevent a rear collision. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer backup collision prevention brakes.

Both the Explorer and the Highlander Hybrid have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, driver knee airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, height adjustable front shoulder belts, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, crash mitigating brakes, daytime running lights, lane departure warning systems, rearview cameras, driver alert monitors, available all wheel drive and around view monitors.

Warranty

There are over 2 times as many Ford dealers as there are Toyota dealers, which makes it much easier should you ever need service under the Explorer’s warranty.

Reliability

The Explorer has a standard “limp home system” to keep drivers from being stranded if most or all of the engine’s coolant is lost. The engine will run on only half of its cylinders at a time, reduce its power and light a warning lamp on the dashboard so the driver can get to a service station for repairs. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a lost coolant limp home mode, so a coolant leak could strand you or seriously damage the truck’s engine.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that Ford vehicles are better in initial quality than Toyota vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Ford fourth in initial quality, above the industry average. With 7 more problems per 100 vehicles, Toyota is ranked 8th.

Engine

The Explorer’s optional 3.3 DOHC V6 hybrid produces 12 more horsepower (318 vs. 306) than the Highlander Hybrid’s 3.5 DOHC V6 hybrid.

Fuel Economy and Range

The Explorer V6 Turbo’s standard fuel tank has 3 gallons more fuel capacity than the Highlander Hybrid (20.2 vs. 17.2 gallons).

The Explorer has a standard cap-less fueling system. The fuel filler is automatically opened when the fuel nozzle is inserted and automatically closed when it’s removed. This eliminates the need to unscrew and replace the cap and it reduces fuel evaporation, which causes pollution. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a cap-less fueling system.

Brakes and Stopping

For better stopping power the Explorer’s brake rotors are larger than those on the Highlander Hybrid:

Explorer

Explorer ST

Explorer ST opt.

Highlander

Front Rotors

13.6 inches

13.6 inches

14.3 inches

12.9 inches

Rear Rotors

12.4 inches

12.8 inches

13.8 inches

12.2 inches

The Explorer ST’s optional front and rear disc brakes are vented to help dissipate heat for shorter stops with less fading. The rear discs on the Highlander Hybrid are solid, not vented.

Tires and Wheels

For better traction, the Explorer has larger standard tires than the Highlander Hybrid (255/65R18 vs. 245/55R19). The Explorer ST/Platinum’s optional tires are larger than the largest tires available on the Highlander Hybrid (275/45R21 vs. 245/55R19).

The Explorer ST/Platinum’s optional tires provide better handling because they have a lower 45 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the Highlander Hybrid Limited/Platinum’s 55 series tires.

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the Explorer ST/Platinum offers optional 21-inch wheels. The Highlander Hybrid’s largest wheels are only 19-inches.

Having a flat tire is dangerous, inconvenient and expensive. The self-sealing tires available on the Explorer can automatically seal most punctures up to 3/16 of an inch, effectively preventing most flat tires. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer self-sealing tires.

Suspension and Handling

The Explorer has standard front and rear gas-charged shocks for better control over choppy roads. The Highlander Hybrid’s suspension doesn’t offer gas-charged shocks.

The Explorer has vehicle speed sensitive variable-assist power steering, for low-effort parking, better control at highway speeds and during hard cornering, and a better feel of the road. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer variable-assist power steering.

The Explorer’s drift compensation steering can automatically compensate for road conditions which would cause the vehicle to drift from side to side, helping the driver to keep the vehicle straight more easily. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer drift compensation steering.

For a smoother ride and more stable handling, the Explorer’s wheelbase is 9.3 inches longer than on the Highlander Hybrid (119.1 inches vs. 109.8 inches).

For better handling and stability, the track (width between the wheels) on the Explorer is 2.5 inches wider in the front and 2.7 inches wider in the rear than on the Highlander Hybrid.

Chassis

The Ford Explorer may be more efficient, handle and accelerate better because it weighs up to about 500 pounds less than the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

The front grille of the Explorer (except 3.3 V6 non-Hybrid) uses electronically controlled shutters to close off airflow and reduce drag when less engine cooling is needed. This helps improve highway fuel economy. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer active grille shutters.

The Explorer Hybrid uses computer-generated active noise cancellation to help remove annoying noise and vibration from the passenger compartment, especially at low frequencies. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer active noise cancellation.

Passenger Space

The Explorer has 7.8 cubic feet more passenger volume than the Highlander Hybrid (152.7 vs. 144.9).

The Explorer has 2 inches more front hip room, 2.5 inches more front shoulder room, .6 inches more rear headroom, .6 inches more rear legroom, 2 inches more rear hip room, 2.9 inches more rear shoulder room, 3 inches more third row headroom and 5.5 inches more third row legroom than the Highlander Hybrid.

Cargo Capacity

The Explorer’s cargo area provides more volume than the Highlander Hybrid.

Explorer

Highlander Hybrid

Behind Third Seat

18.2 cubic feet

13.8 cubic feet

Third Seat Folded

47.9 cubic feet

42.3 cubic feet

Second Seat Folded

87.8 cubic feet

83.7 cubic feet

The Explorer’s cargo area is larger than the Highlander Hybrid’s in every dimension:

Explorer

Highlander Hybrid

Length to seat (3rd/2nd/1st)

20.8”/49.8”/83.9”

17.5”/43”/80”

Max Width

59”

56”

Min Width

48.1”

45.6”

Height

33.7”

32.6”

Pressing a switch automatically lowers the Explorer’s second and third row seats, to make changing between passengers and cargo easier. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer automatic folding seats.

To make loading groceries and cargo easier when your hands are full, the Explorer Limited/ST/Platinum’s liftgate can be opened and closed just by kicking your foot under the back bumper, leaving your hands completely free. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a hands-free gesture to open its liftgate, forcing you to put cargo down if your hands are full.

Towing

Maximum trailer towing in the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is limited to 3500 pounds. The Explorer offers up to a 5600 lbs. towing capacity.

Servicing Ease

The engine in the Explorer is mounted longitudinally (North-South), instead of sideways, as in the Highlander Hybrid. This makes it easier to service and maintain, because there are no rear spark plugs and the accessory belts are in front.

Ergonomics

The Explorer offers a remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The climate system will also automatically heat or cool the interior. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a remote starting system.

The Explorer Limited/ST/Platinum’s standard easy entry system raises the steering wheel and glides the driver’s seat back when the door is unlocked or the ignition is switched off, making it easier for the driver to get in and out. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer an easy entry system.

The Explorer’s power parking brake sets with one touch and releases with one touch or automatically. The Highlander Hybrid’s parking brake has to released manually.

The power windows standard on both the Explorer and the Highlander Hybrid have locks to prevent small children from operating them. When the lock on the Explorer is engaged the driver can still operate all of the windows, for instance to close one opened by a child. The Highlander Hybrid prevents the driver from operating the other windows just as it does the other passengers.

On a hot day the Explorer’s driver can lower all the windows from a distance using the keyless remote. The driver of the Highlander Hybrid can only operate the windows from inside the vehicle, with the ignition on.

In case you lock your keys in your vehicle, or don’t have them with you, you can let yourself in using the Explorer’s exterior PIN entry system. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer an exterior PIN entry system.

The Explorer’s standard speed-sensitive wipers speed up when the vehicle does, so that the driver doesn’t have to continually adjust the speed of the wipers. The Highlander Hybrid’s standard manually variable intermittent wipers have to be constantly adjusted.

To help drivers see further while navigating curves, the Explorer Platinum has standard adaptive headlights to illuminate around corners automatically by reading vehicle speed and steering wheel angle. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer cornering lights.

The Explorer ST/Platinum has standard automatic dimming rear and side view mirrors which automatically darken quickly when headlights shine on them, keeping following vehicles from blinding or distracting the driver. The Highlander Hybrid offers an automatic rear view mirror, but its side mirrors don’t dim.

The Explorer ST/Platinum’s Active Park Assist 2.0 can parallel park or back into a parking spot by itself, starting, stopping and changing direction automatically. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer an automated parking system.

Model Availability

The Explorer is available in both rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive configurations. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a two-wheel drive configuration.

Recommendations

The Ford Explorer outsold the Toyota Highlander by 7% during 2018.

© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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