This vehicle comparison may not be as down-and-dirty as a Jeep Wrangler VS Ford Bronco comparison, but it’s still pretty juicy. The 2020 Toyota Highlander and 2020 Ford Explorer are both highly capable SUVs that do darn well for everyday use, too. Here’s a rundown of the two models to see how they stack up against one another.

Price

The 2020 Toyota Highlander MSRP is $34,600. The most expensive variant is the Hybrid Platinum, which starts at $48,250.

The 2020 Ford Explorer MSRP is $32,765. The most expensive variant is the Platinum, which starts at a surprising $58,250.

The winner: While the Ford Explorer has a lower MSRP, its premium trims quickly escape the budget-friendly realm. The Toyota Highlander is more consistently affordable, even with four more available trims than its competitor. Because of that, I’m giving this one to the 2020 Toyota Highlander.

Performance

2020 ford explorer

For the Ford Explorer, drivers can choose from a standard turbo-four or a more robust V6 engine. The base option pairs with a 10-speed automatic transmission and reaches 300 horsepower with 310 pounds-feet of torque. It’s lacking in the suspension department, but its powertrain makes up for it.

The Toyota Highlander comes with a V6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, ultimately reaching 295 horses and 263 pounds-feet of torque. Critics say the highlander is too inconsistent and loud for their liking, though it does drive and accelerate smoothly thanks to the suspension.

The winner: The 2020 Ford Explorer gets this one.

Capability

The Ford Explorer comes with rear- or all-wheel drive, making it suitable for inclement conditions or rough terrain, regardless of which drivetrain you select. It’s 18–21-inch wheels make maneuvering simple. It can also tow up to 5,600 pounds, depending on the setup you choose.

The Toyota Highlander comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive suits up higher trims. Wheels up to 20 inches in diameter make it a pretty tall contender. It’s maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds, which is less than the competition — but it does come with trailer sway control, so that’s a plus. 

The winner: This one’s a draw.

Headlights & design

The Toyota Highlander received a complete redesign for 2020. LED headlights come standard, and you can even get auto-leveling LED projector-beam headlights for more road-directed visibility at night. Let’s not forget about the automatic high beams, either. Despite its overall lower cost, the interior is pretty luxurious. And when equipped with the panoramic moon roof, it really makes the grade.

The Ford Explorer’s new platform is a looker, and the sleeker exterior design only contributes to this appeal. LED headlights are included in the mix (with auto high beams included), which is a plus. Unfortunately, the interior has a lot of plastic, making the inside look cheap. As for third-row seating, the Explorer delivers a few extra inches of space over its competition, but only large families will benefit from this, and I’m not sure it makes up for the low-quality materials.

The winner: The 2020 Toyota Highlander

Safety & additional features

The Toyota’s interior is chock full o’ amenities. The middle-of-the-line XLE comes with an eight-inch infotainment screen (though you can get one up to 12.3 inches), Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa. Technologically speaking, it’s the whole package. On the outside, an available hands-free power rear liftgate makes running errands easy.

As for safety, the Highlander comes standard with the Toyota Safety Sense system, including pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, cyclist detection, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control and more. The Star Safety System is available for even more advanced protection (for yourself and others alike).

Ford’s list of amenities isn’t quite as impressive as the competition.

The Explorer has minimal advanced safety features on the base trim, but head up the ladder and you can get the Ford Co-Pilot360 bundle. This includes Blind Spot Information System, rear view camera, lane keep assist and automatic emergency braking.

The winner: 2020 Toyota Highlander

The consensus: 2020 Toyota Highlander

The 2020 Ford Explorer has some footing when it comes to performance and capability, but the Toyota manages to come out ahead thanks to design, safety, amenities and price. For a family-friendly adventurous SUV that’s also suited for everyday use, the Toyota Highlander does it right.

Rachel Curry
"Hey! My name's Rachel Curry and I'm a full-time writer who loves telling the world's stories as much as hanging with my dogs (and that's saying a lot). A University of Delaware graduate, I've traveled extensively, living everywhere from Ireland to Thailand. Bylines include Matador Network and Delaware Today."

    You may also like

    6 Comments

    1. Toyota for the win! The auto high beams in the Explorer seemed interesting. I am not sure how that would work since you should only be using your high beams in certain conditions. Makes me wonder if there are people out there unknowingly driving with their high beams on in city areas where this would not be as needed.

    2. Again I agree Toyota is the way to go. As always I believe Toyota has a better view in every aspect.

    3. Again I will choose Toyota. They are better in every aspect.

    4. I think the looks of the Explorer are nicer, but when it comes to safety features and cost (for the top end trim) the Toyota is the clear winner.

    5. The Ford Explorer Sport and ST models offer all wheel drive, impressive towing capacity, and excellent power. Ford has some excellent vehicles right now that make me question the high price of the Toyota competing models.

    6. I hear the arguments for the Highlander, but I’m a huge fan of the Explorer. I’m all for the new Explorer Sport or Hybrid!

    Leave a reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    More in Headlights