2020 Ford Explorer vs. 2019 Toyota Highlander

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

Your buying experience includes...

business_centerProfessional Staff
account_balanceSimple Financing
local_gas_stationFull Tank of Gas
local_car_washFree Car Wash

Safety

Both the Explorer and Highlander 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’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 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 doesn’t offer backup collision prevention brakes.

Both the Explorer and the Highlander 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 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 has more powerful engines than the Highlander:

Horsepower

Torque

Explorer 2.3 turbo 4 cyl.

300 HP

310 lbs.-ft.

Explorer 3.3 DOHC V6 hybrid

318 HP

322 lbs.-ft.

Explorer Platinum 3.0 turbo V6

365 HP

380 lbs.-ft.

Explorer ST 3.0 turbo V6

400 HP

415 lbs.-ft.

Highlander 2.7 DOHC 4 cyl.

185 HP

184 lbs.-ft.

Highlander 3.5 DOHC V6

295 HP

263 lbs.-ft.

Fuel Economy and Range

On the EPA test cycle the Explorer gets better fuel mileage than the Highlander:

MPG

Explorer

RWD

2.3 turbo 4-cyl.

21 city/28 hwy

AWD

2.3 turbo 4-cyl.

20 city/27 hwy

3.0 turbo V6

18 city/24 hwy

ST 3.0 turbo V6

18 city/24 hwy

Highlander

FWD

2.7 DOHC 4-cyl.

20 city/24 hwy

3.5 DOHC V6

21 city/27 hwy

LE 3.5 DOHC V6

20 city/27 hwy

AWD

LE Plus 3.5 DOHC V6

20 city/27 hwy

3.5 DOHC V6

20 city/26 hwy

LE 3.5 DOHC V6

19 city/26 hwy

Regenerative brakes improve the Explorer Hybrid’s fuel efficiency by converting inertia back into energy instead of wasting it. The Highlander doesn’t offer a regenerative braking system.

Regardless of its engine, the Explorer’s engine automatically turns off when the vehicle is stopped, saving fuel and reducing pollution. (Start/Stop isn’t accounted in present EPA fuel mileage tests.) Toyota only offers an automatic engine start/stop system on the Highlander LE Plus/XLE/Limited/Platinum.

The Explorer V6 Turbo’s standard fuel tank has a gallon more fuel capacity than the Highlander (20.2 vs. 19.2 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 doesn’t offer a cap-less fueling system.

Transmission

A 10-speed automatic is standard on the Ford Explorer, for better acceleration and lower engine speed on the highway. Only an eight-speed automatic is available for the Highlander.

Brakes and Stopping

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

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 are solid, not vented.

Tires and Wheels

For better traction, the Explorer has larger standard tires than the Highlander (255/65R18 vs. 245/60R18). The Explorer ST/Platinum’s optional tires are larger than the largest tires available on the Highlander (275/45R21 vs. 245/60R18).

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 SE/Limited/Platinum’s 55 series tires.

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the Explorer ST/Platinum offers optional 21-inch wheels. The Highlander’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 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’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 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 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 (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.

Chassis

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 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 doesn’t offer active noise cancellation.

Passenger Space

The Explorer has 7.8 cubic feet more passenger volume than the Highlander (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, 2.3 inches more rear shoulder room, 3 inches more third row headroom and 4.5 inches more third row legroom than the Highlander.

Cargo Capacity

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

Explorer

Highlander

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’s in every dimension:

Explorer

Highlander

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 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 doesn’t offer a hands-free gesture to open its liftgate, forcing you to put cargo down if your hands are full.

Towing

The Explorer’s standard towing capacity is much higher than the Highlander’s (3000 vs. 1500 pounds). Maximum trailer towing in the Toyota Highlander is only 5000 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. 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 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 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’s parking brake has to released manually.

The power windows standard on both the Explorer and the Highlander 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 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 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 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’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 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 offers an automatic rear view mirror, but its side mirrors don’t dim.

The Explorer has a standard dual zone air conditioning allows the driver and front passenger to choose two completely different temperatures so people with different temperature preferences won’t have to compromise. This makes both the driver and front passenger as comfortable as possible. Dual zone air conditioning costs extra on the Highlander.

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 doesn’t offer an automated parking system.

Recommendations

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

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

How much is your car worth?

Get the best value for your car from an Asbury dealership.

Featured Videos