When looking for a new car that will last longer and go farther, Toyota and Ford are two historically reliable brands. The true test comes when comparing two of their vehicles in a side-by-side competition.
In terms of safety, the 2020 Highlander comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense® 2.0 (TSS 2.0) and the Star Safety System™. You will need to upgrade to an Explorer Limited or higher trim for comparable active safety features.
As for going farther, the fuel efficiency of the higher grade Highlander models beat out the mileage estimates of the Ford Explorer ST and Platinum.
There’s no denying that you can always count on Toyota’s reliability backed by a plethora of awards from Kelley Blue Book®. Below, we’ll take a deeper dive into topics like safety, performance, and reliability to see who comes out on top in this 2020 Highlander vs. Explorer head to head.
Publish Date: 06/12/2020
When it comes to safety features in a car, you might say: “The more the merrier!” That’s why Toyota packs in more as a standard.
With a starting MSRP of $34,600, the Toyota Highlander L FWD comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense® 2.0 (TSS 2.0) and the Star Safety System™. TSS 2.0 includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Bicyclist Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), Automatic High Beams (AHB), Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), and Road Sign Assist (RSA).
The Ford Explorer, with a base MSRP of $32,765, comes with Ford Co-Pilot 360™. However, you will need to upgrade to an Explorer Limited (starting MSRP of $48,130) or higher with Ford Co-Pilot 360™ Assist+ to have all of the comparable advanced active safety features of TSS 2.0.
The Highlander comes with the added bonus of a one year trial of Safety Connect®. It includes Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance, and Automatic Collision Notification.
Ford has SOS Post-Crash Alert System™ which activates the horn and emergency flashers but does not connect to emergency services.
For a smoother drive, Toyota utilizes Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC) in the Highlander L AWD 3.5L V6 Direct Shift 8-Speed Automatic. You will need to upgrade to an Explorer ST or higher to get the Hill Descent Control™ as an option. This feature is standard on the Platinum trim.
While you're driving, the fuel efficiency of the Highlander Limited AWD 3.5L V6 Direct Shift 8-Speed Automatic helps get you there with fewer pit stops. This trim has an EPA-estimated 20/27/23 (city/hwy/comb) MPG while the Explorer Platinum has an EPA-estimated 18/24/20 (city/hwy/comb) MPG.
Drivetrain also plays a role when it comes to performance. There is a key difference between the drivetrains of these two vehicles. The Explorer has rear-wheel drive, whereas the Highlander is front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available on the Toyota Highlander while 4-wheel drive is available on the Ford Explorer.
For an added bump in performance, the Explorer base trim has a 2.3L EcoBoost® I-4 engine with a starting MSRP of $32,765 while the Highlander base trim boasts a 3.5L V6 engine with a starting MSRP of $34,600. The 2020 Highlander also offers a hybrid trim for even more performance options.
When it comes to being recognized for their reliability, Toyota and Ford consistently rank. Toyota was the #2 Most Awarded Brand of 2019 while Ford was ranked #7 on the KBB 10 Most Awarded Brands of 2019 list.
For the newest model, the 2020 Highlander received an overall KBB Expert Rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars while the Explorer received 4.1 out of 5 stars. It's no wonder the Highlander received such rankings based on the standard features the 2020 model comes with.
Features like Snow Mode + Drive Mode Select (Eco, Normal Sport) + Multi-Terrain Select (Mud/Sand, Rock/Dirt, Normal) come standard with the Highlander L AWD 3.5L V6 Direct Shift 8-Speed Automatic, helping to make the vehicle more reliable in all weather and terrain. Ford’s Terrain Management System™ is only standard on the Explorer ST and higher.
When it comes to safety, performance, and reliability, the Highlander and Explorer are a close matchup. However, the 2020 Toyota Highlander offers more standard features without the costly add-ons. Toyota, as a brand, also ranks more highly than Ford in KBB Expert Ratings and other award lists.
With its suite of active safety features, all Highlander models come standard with Toyota Safety Sense® 2.0 (TSS 2.0) and the Star Safety System™. You can also rely on ToyotaCare on the road and in the shop. This factory-scheduled maintenance plan lasts for 25,000 miles or two years, whichever comes first. It also includes 24/7 roadside assistance.
In this Explorer vs. Highlander head to head, Toyota drivers get more. The 2020 Highlander offers a powerful engine and better fuel efficiency at a lower starting MSRP.
It’s for these reasons and more that the winner of this head to head is, none other than, the 2020 Toyota Highlander.