The Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander are the reigning champions of the midsize SUV market. They are versatile without being as cumbersome as full-size SUVs can be, while offering more space than compact models. Either vehicle can easily handle a daily commute or family road trip.

Though comparable, each vehicle has pros and cons. Before you purchase a used or new model, consider this Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander comparison. Assess all the details to determine which make and model suits your needs.

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander: The 5 Key Points

The Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander are both excellent midsize SUVs with three rows of seating. Both SUVs have a reputation for good handling and a comfortable ride. Most owners claim the vehicles are easy to drive and maneuver. That said, there are common complaints about both, including noisy engines.

Review their traits head to head to decide which option is right for you and your family. These five broad areas of comparison matter to most drivers.

1. Price and Value

The Ford Explorer comes in multiple trim levels with RWD and 4WD options available for most. Depending on the trim and feature selections, you can expect to pay between $38,455 and $57,310 for a 2024 Ford Explorer. According to Car and Driver, the best model for the money is the mid-level Limited, priced at $49,115.

As with the Explorer, the Toyota Highlander comes in trim levels with several features. The 2024 Highlander can cost between $40,665 and $52,820, depending on your selection. According to Car and Driver, the best option, especially with the base L model removed from the lineup, is the XLE, coming in at $43,815.

In the Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander debate, the Explorer would appear to be the winner in the price and value category. However, when you compare the preferred models from each brand, the Highlander XLE is $5,300 cheaper. Still, while budget is a significant factor in car buying decisions, it isn’t the only consideration.

2. Performance and Efficiency

Ford Explorer

Regarding performance and efficiency, the Ford Explorer has a 2.3 liter, 300 hp engine with 310 lb-ft torque. The Toyota Highlander has a 2.4 liter, 265 hp engine and 310 lb-ft torque. Also, the Explorer has a 10-speed automatic transmission, whereas the Highlander has an 8-speed shiftable automatic transmission.

Both SUVs offer similar advantages in terms of fuel capacity, range, and economy. Each vehicle has a capacity of 17.9 gallons and takes regular unleaded gasoline. The Toyota edges out the Ford by offering 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined, which is only a single mile per gallon over the Ford in each category. The Highlander also comes in over the Explorer with a driving range of 394 miles city and 594 miles highway compared to the latter’s 376 miles and 501 miles.

Comparing the Toyota Highlander vs. Ford Explorer, the former surpasses the Explorer in fuel economy but not in performance; the Ford has a more robust engine. In performance and efficiency, it’s a draw between the two vehicles.

3. Safety and Assistance Features

When it comes to safety and assistance features, there is one clear winner between these SUVs. All Toyota Highlanders include forward-collision warnings with pedestrian detection, lane departure warnings with steering assist, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beam headlights. Limited and Platinum trim options offer rear parking assistance with automatic braking, and LE and higher trims come standard with blind spot and cross-traffic warnings.

In addition, Toyota provides a safety and control system to help maintain stability and control on slippery road conditions. The Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system offers integrated control of anti-lock braking, brake assist, electronic traction control, hill-start assist, electronic stability control, and electric power steering. Thanks to all these features, the Highlander achieved a 5-star safety rating from NHTSA.

The Explorer also has many safety and assistance features included in its advanced driver assistance systems. These include forward-collision warnings with pedestrian detection, blind spot warnings, cross-traffic warnings with collision-avoidance assist, and automatic high-beam headlights. The Explorer also has a 5-star safety rating from NHTSA.

4. Technology and Infotainment

Toyota Highlander

Toyota might also secure an advantage in the Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander debate in the technology and infotainment category. While Ford offers an integrated infotainment system and an 8-inch touchscreen display as a standard feature across its Explorer trim packages, the maximum display buyers can opt for is 10.1 inches. The Highlander also has a standard 8-inch display, but a 12.3-inch touchscreen display is widely available across its trim packages.

A unique feature of the Ford system is its ability to sync with Alexa through the Ford+Alexa app. This allows for voice recognition and management of navigation and traffic insights.

The Ford and Toyota SUVs both offer Wi-Fi hotspots. With the Explorer, you can connect up to 10 devices. You can also remotely start your vehicle and even schedule regular remote starting. The Toyota Wi-Fi hotspot only allows for the connection of five devices. However, Highlander owners also get a one-year trial of Remote Connect, allowing for remote starting, locking, unlocking, and activating headlights. Also, Toyota offers a 10-year trial subscription to Safety Connect, which provides access to an emergency assistance button and roadside assistance.

5. Maintenance and Reliability

According to RepairPal, the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander both rank above average for overall reliability ratings compared to other midsize SUVs, with the Highlander ranking as slightly more reliable. Regarding annual maintenance costs, the Explorer has an average of $732 per year, compared to the Highlander’s average of $489.

Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander: The Decision

Which vehicle wins the Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander debate? The Toyota Highlander is more affordable and has a few more features; however, the Ford Explorer is more powerful. Whether you go for budget or power, you want to protect your investment. Compare the vehicle protection plans from autopom! to keep your SUV running long after the manufacturer’s warranty ends.

By Mike Jones, President & CEO of autopom! Insurance Services, llc