What's the Difference: Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander


Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is the ideal vacation for some. A trip to Whidbey Island is a favorite destination for many Washington families. And Semiahmoo Park is unbeatable for those who prefer whale-watching and outdoor activities. For all those travels, a quality midsize SUV that's capable, comfortable, and connected is the perfect family vehicle.

The choices in the midsize SUV segment are nearly countless. So how do you know which SUV is right for you?

When choosing the perfect SUV for your needs, there are several things to consider. These include:

Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander

Features Ford Explorer Toyota Highlander
Fuel Economy 27 MPG City - 28 MPG Highway 20 MPG City - 23 MPG Highway
  • 4-Cyl, EcoBoost, Turbo, 2.3 Liter
  • V6, EcoBoost, Twin Turbo, 3.0 Liter
  • V6, Hybrid, 3.3 Liter
  • 4-Cyl, Turbo, 2.4 Liter
Drivetrain AWD 4WD
Cargo Space 87.80 cu ft 84.3 cu ft
Seating Capacity 7 8
  • Quality and reliability
  • Tow ratings and trailer equipment
  • Safety and driver assist features

Plus, in today's world of connectivity, most families prefer a vehicle with a full suite of infotainment and technology features.

We've chosen two popular midsize SUVs (Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander) and created this easy-to-follow comparison guide.

But first, here's a brief summary of each vehicle.

Ford Explorer Summary

One of America's top-selling midsize SUVs, the Ford Explorer offers three rows of seating and is equipped with the latest driving, safety, and infotainment technology. With smooth handling, powerful engine options, finely outfitted interiors, and plenty of cargo space, it's no surprise the Explorer is one of the most popular SUVs in its class.

The Ford Explorer offers ample choices. Trim levels include:
  • Ford Explorer Base
  • Ford Explorer XLT
  • Ford Explorer ST-Line
  • Ford Explorer Timberline
  • Ford Explorer Limited
  • Ford Explorer ST
  • Ford Explorer King Ranch®
  • Ford Explorer Platinum

The Ford Explorer is powered by a 300-horsepower 2.3-liter EcoBoost® I-4 engine with auto start-stop technology (base model to the Limited trim). Upper trims feature a 400-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter EcoBoost® V6 engine. All Ford Explorers have a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The Timberline is the Explorer's most off-road equipped and capable model and comes standard with Intelligent 4WD. All other Explorer trims feature rear-wheel drive (RWD) with the option for Intelligent 4WD.

For the 2023 model year, the Explorer offers two hybrid variations: the Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid and Platinum Hybrid. Both models feature an impressive 3.3-liter electric-gas V6 engine that produces 318 horsepower and 322 pound-feet of torque.

With a third-row bench that accommodates two passengers, the Ford Explorer offers comfortable seating for seven. When fitted with optional second-row captain's chairs, the maximum seating capacity is six.

Toyota Highlander Summary

The Toyota Highlander was introduced in 2001. Built on a unibody platform, Toyota focused more on manufacturing a comfortable riding SUV rather than off-road capabilities. After two decades of adorning dealership showrooms, the Toyota Highlander is still a popular option from Toyota's lineup.

The Toyota Highlander is available in seven trim levels:
  • Toyota Highlander L
  • Toyota Highlander LE
  • Toyota Highlander XLE
  • Toyota Highlander XSE
  • Toyota Highlander Limited
  • Toyota Highlander Platinum
  • Toyota Highlander Bronze Edition

The 2023 Toyota Highlander has one standard powertrain configuration: a 265-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive (FWD). All-wheel-drive (AWD) is available on all models.

Four of the Highlander trims have an available hybrid engine option: the Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE, Hybrid XLE, Hybrid Limited, and Hybrid Platinum. Hybrid models combine an electric motor with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine which produces 243 combined net horsepower.

A three-row SUV, the Highlander offers a maximum seating capacity of up to eight passengers. Although the third row can seat three people, adults will find it a bit cramped due to limited headroom and legroom. The Highlander also offers optional second-row captain's chairs with seating for seven.

Both the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander have four doors and three rows of seating.

What's the Difference: Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander
Reliability and Quality

J.D. Power compiles data and ratings from thousands of independent VIN-verified customers to determine a "predicted reliability score." A score of 91-100 is considered the Best, 81-90 is Great, 70-80 is Average, and 0-69 is Fair and considered below average.

The 2023 Ford Explorer has a predicted reliability score of 83 out of 100.

Currently, a predicted reliability score for the 2023 Highlander is not available. But, the 2022 Toyota Highlander received a predicted reliability score of 82 out of 100. Because no major changes were made, we'd expect a similar rating for the 2023 Highlander.

U.S. News & World Report ranks the Ford Explorer 17 out of 22 in the midsize SUV category. The expert reviewer writes: "The ubiquitous Ford Explorer is a popular choice among three-row midsize SUVs… Equipped with good tech, the versatile Explorer does most things just fine and gets by on practical, if unexciting, appeal."

U.S. News & World Report ranks the Toyota Highlander 13 out of 22 in the midsize SUV category. The reviewer writes: "The 2023 Toyota Highlander combines a family-friendly and modern interior with a balanced ride, user-friendly tech and lots of standard features. The third row is cramped, and the new standard engine can be noisy, but this Toyota is a solid overall package."

Tow Ratings and Trailering Equipment

Whether heading off-road or pulling a trailer along an interstate, it's important to consider the tow capacity and available trailer equipment set-ups when choosing an SUV.

Ford Explorer

Built with the active family in mind, the Ford Explorer is a more-than-capable towing SUV.

Ford Explorer base, XLT, ST-Line, Timberline, and non-hybrid Limited models have a maximum towing capacity of up to 5,300 pounds when properly equipped.**

Ford Explorer King Ranch®, ST, and Platinum Hybrid models can tow up to 5,600 pounds when equipped with a Class IV Trailer Tow Package.**

Of special note: With a 3.3-liter hybrid engine that produces a combined total output of 318 horsepower at 322 pound-feet of torque, the Limited hybrid is the only hybrid SUV in the class with a max towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds.**

Trailer Sway Control: For peace of mind when you tow, all Ford Explorer models have this feature as standard equipment. Trailer Sway Control automatically adjusts engine power and electronically applies brakes to help you maintain full control of your trailer under any road conditions.

Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander's turbo-four engine generates enough horsepower and torque to help the SUV tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped.**

Toyota Highlander Hybrid models have a max tow rating of 3,500 pounds.**

Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive: An AWD performance upgrade, the system automatically redirects power to the rear wheels (up to 50 percent) to control stability and improve the SUV's handling and response. Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD is not standard, but an available add-on option.

Multi-Terrain Select: Includes four selectable driving modes that allow you to improve traction, increase torque, or reduce wheel slippage. Modes include Snow, Sand, Mud, and Rock. An additional Auto mode adjusts automatically to any road conditions.

Safety and Driving Assistance

The last few years have seen a tremendous jump in advanced safety features and driver assistance. Both the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander of a generous suite of safety and driver assist features.

Ford Explorer

Ford Co-Pilot360™ is standard starting at the base level and includes:
  • Rear View Camera with built-in lens washer
  • Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®) with Cross-Traffic Alert
  • Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)
  • Forward Collision Warning
  • Post-Collision Braking
  • Lane-Keeping System
  • Lane-Departure Warning
  • Pedestrian Detection
  • Auto High-Beam Headlamps
  • Rear Parking Sensors

The Explorer Limited, ST, and Platinum trims come standard with Ford Co-Pilot360™ Assist+ which adds Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Centering Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, and Speed Sign Recognition.

Also standard on all Explorer models

Ford Safety Canopy®: At the time of a collision, the Safety Canopy® releases side-curtain airbags against all side windows to protect the heads of passengers sitting in the outer seats (behind the driver and behind the front passenger).

Ford PERSONAL SAFETY SYSTEM™: The system analyzes crash severity and different occupant conditions before activating safety protocols designed to improve overall protection for front-seat occupants during frontal crashes. Also helps reduce the risk of airbag-related injuries.

Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander's standard set of safety and driver-assist features, called Toyota Safety Sense™ 2.5+, includes:
  • Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection
  • Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist
  • Automatic High Beams
  • Lane Tracing Assist
  • Road Sign Assist
  • Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control

Starting with the LE trim, Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA) also comes standard.

Infotainment and Technology

When comparing the Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander, connectivity is fairly similar for both SUVs. Both offer hands-free Bluetooth®* integration, wireless Apple CarPlay® or Android Auto™, Wi-Fi hot spot capability, and a standard six-speaker sound system.

Here's a general overview of the differences.

Ford Explorer

Ford's SYNC® 3 features a 10.1-inch LCD capacitive touchscreen, Ford+Alexa, and two USB ports as standard equipment.

The available premium sound system is a 14-speaker B&O® Sound System by Bang & Olufsen® with HD Radio with subwoofer and amplifier.

Toyota Highlander

Standard infotainment for the Highlander includes an eight-inch touch screen, Amazon Alexa, satellite radio, and five USB ports.

The available premium audio system is an 11-Speaker JBL® premium audio system with a subwoofer and amplifier.

Shop Ford Explorer Near Bellevue, WA

When Eastside region residents are in the market for a new midsize SUV, their first and only stop should be AutoNation Ford Bellevue.

Our commitment to exceptional customer service is one of the many reasons customers in Seattle, Bothell, Tacoma, Sammamish, and Kirkland consider our store the premier Ford dealership in the region. Our Ford store pledges to always provide exceptional service.

Our finance department experts are here to help you explore which financing package or leasing option is right for you and to make sure you receive the best possible rate. We believe that buying a new car should be a straightforward and hassle-free experience.

Curious about what your monthly payment might be? Use our payment calculator tool. You can also begin the finance process in the comfort of your own home with our secure online application.

Maybe you're not sure a brand new Ford Explorer is for you? No worries. We carry a large selection of Certified Pre-Owned vehicles and a full inventory of used cars, trucks, and SUVs. AutoNation Ford Bellevue has something for everyone.

Of course, the best way to compare the Ford Explorer vs the Toyota Highlander is in real life. Stop by for a test drive today. Northeast of the intersection at NE 4th Street and Interstate 405, we're located at 411 116th Avenue NE.

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**Before towing, confirm your vehicle and trailer are compatible, hooked up and loaded properly and that you have any necessary additional equipment. The maximum you can tow depends on base curb weight plus the total weight of any cargo, occupants, and added vehicle equipment.