2021 4Runner vs. Explorer Comparison

Aside from the appeal of having a shiny new car, deciding to get the latest vehicle model also comes with the advantage of manufacturing updates. Looking at the 2021 4Runner and Explorer, there are a few notable mentions.

For the 2021 model year, the 4Runner made a few key changes like adding a stunning Lunar Rock exterior color option, designing top-of-the-line TRD alloy wheels, and introducing the 4Runner Trail Special Edition. The Explorer now features standard heated seats and an optional heated steering wheel on the XLT model.

But that's not all. Over the years, both vehicles have also added more and more driver-assistance safety technology. The Toyota 4Runner currently comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P). For more advanced features in the Explorer, drivers would need to get one of the higher end models.

These safe SUV options are also ideal if you love to go off the grid for some fun. Drive anywhere with confidence in the Toyota 4Runner or Explorer, which are loaded with off-roading features.

Discover what else is new with the 2021 4Runner and Explorer in the categories of safety, performance, and reliability.

Published Date: 08/27/2021

2021 4Runner driving on rocky terrain


  • The 4Runner and Explorer have extensive suites of active safety features to help keep you and your family safe.
  • You get Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC) standard with the 4Runner.
  • Lack of airbag coverage is no concern in the 4Runner which has eight standard.

The 4Runner and Explorer have built-in technologies to add peace of mind to your drive.

Standard Active Safety Features

For instance, all models of the 4Runner come with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P). This suite of active safety features includes: Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert (LDA), Automatic High Beams (AHB), and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC).

Comparable features for the Ford Explorer are a Lane-Keeping System (includes Lane-Keeping Assist, Lane-Keeping Alert and Driver Alert), BLIS® (Blind Spot Information System), Rear View Camera, Automatic Emergency Braking, and Auto High-Beam Headlamps. This basic safety package is known as Ford Co-Pilot360™ Technology. To get the more advanced Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with: Stop-and-Go, Lane Centering, Speed Sign Recognition and Evasive Steering Assist, you'd need Ford Co-Pilot360™ Assist+. This safety package is available on the Explorer XLT, Limited, and ST and comes standard with the King Ranch® and Platinum.

These integrated safety systems are just one piece of the overall puzzle. All models of the 4Runner also have eight airbags, which include: driver and front passenger TAP (Thorax, Abdomen, Pelvis) front seat-mounted side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, and front and all row (third-row airbags on all models) Roll-sensing Side Curtain Airbags (RSCA). The Ford specs page lists a Front Passenger Knee Airbag and Safety Canopy® System under their safety section. No other airbags are specifically mentioned on the page.

4Runner splashing through a puddle


  • You'll roll over bumpy terrain with ease in the 4Runner which has a higher ground clearance than the Explorer.
  • Select between four different 4Runner models to truly optimize your off-roading experience.
  • Keep control as you go downhill with the 4Runner's available Downhill Assist Control and Explorer's Hill Descent Control™.

Adventure is out there, and the 4Runner and Explorer are built to help you escape the paved roads.

Built for Off-Road Fun

When you leave the confines of a smooth path, having a little extra lift to get you over the bumps is important. The 2021 4Runner creates some added separation with a ground clearance of 9.4 inches. With a minimum ground clearance of only 7.9 inches, the Explorer might cut it close when you come across rough terrain.

The Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, Venture Special Edition, and TRD Pro have a Locking rear differential, Multi-Terrain Select (MTS), and Crawl Control to help you drive over difficult terrain. For similar stability features, the 2021 Ford Explorer ST and Platinum have standard Terrain Management System™ and AdvanceTrac® with Roll Stability Control™.

Once you've made it to the peak, remember what goes up must come down. For steep downhills the 4Runner SR5, Trail Special Edition, SR5 Premium, Limited, and Nightshade Special Edition 4x4 models have Downhill Assist Control to help you maintain control. The Ford Explorer ST and Platinum have standard Hill Descent Control™.

4Runner driving on a dirt path through a forest


  • While you have to accumulate points to get free maintenance from Ford, the 4Runner includes factory-scheduled maintenance with ToyotaCare.
  • Ride around in your 4Runner for you years to come or take advantage of its stellar resale value.
  • More customers recommended the 4Runner over the Explorer on KBB.com.

You can rely on your 4Runner, even years after you drive it off the lot and into the great unknown.

A Vehicle You Can Rely On

Thanks to ToyotaCare, all 4Runners have factory-scheduled maintenance that lasts two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first. Plus, you get 24/7 Roadside Assistance for two years and unlimited mileage. Similarly, Roadside Assistance is included for five years or 60,000 miles for Ford drivers. However, for complimentary maintenance, customers will have to earn rewards through the FordPass™ app. Otherwise, the purchase of a Ford Protect Premium Maintenance Plan is necessary.

With standard scheduled maintenance, the 4Runner holds up against the test of time. In fact, the Toyota 4Runner received the KBB® Best Resale Value Award: Top 10 for 8 years in a row (2013-2020). Toyota also won the 2021 Best Resale Value Brand award from KBB®.

A car that maintains its value and is reliable is worth talking about. While only 60% of consumers on KBB.com would recommend the 2021 Ford Explorer, 90% of consumers would recommend the 2021 4Runner. Plus, the 4Runner received a higher KBB® consumer reliability rating with a 4.8 out of 5. The Explorer only received a 3.5 out of 5.

4Runner parked in a parking lot near a body of water

Conclusion: 4Runner vs. Explorer

  • Get some of the latest active safety features with the 4Runner standard.
  • Take a trip to the highest peak or lowest valley in the 4Runner.
  • Keep going for miles with ToyotaCare which comes with every 4Runner model.

The 4Runner brings a lot to the table including tons of standard active safety features, no matter what model you buy. For the Explorer, you need to get higher end models to really explore the more advanced features of Ford Co-Pilot360™ Assist+.

The 4Runner also comes better equipped with a higher ground clearance and off-roading capabilities so you can trek the four corners without much hindrance. It's hard for the Explorer to compete since it has a lower ground clearance and less off-roading specific features.

Lastly, the 4Runner comes with a factory-scheduled maintenance plan to help keep your vehicle in tip top shape, while the Explorer's maintenance plan costs extra.

For a SUV that provides a bold presence on and off the beaten path, the 2021 Toyota 4Runner is the way to go.