They might have a lot in common, but choosing between the 2021 Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander doesn’t need to be complicated. Our comparison guide is here to help you take a closer look at each of these three-row midsize crossover SUVs. We’ve got the details you need to make an informed choice.
Sporty Performance: 2021 Ford Explorer
In the three-row midsize crossover segment, there’s no model that’s as sporty as the Explorer. Its rear-wheel-drive platform returns for extra towing capabilities and on-road agility. This drive train, combined with the Explorer’s car-like crossover design, makes this Ford crossover extremely fun to drive. And the Explorer’s optional turbocharged V6 is the cherry on top, giving you 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque to get up to speed.
The Highlander is more of a traditional crossover, featuring standard front-wheel drive. Needless to say, it’s not quite as fun to drive. Like the Explorer, the Highlander offers all-wheel drive at every trim level. Unlike the Explorer, though, the Highlander only offers one engine option. Its non-turbocharged V6 keeps performance on an even keel with 295 horses and 263 pound-feet of torque.
Everyday Utility: 2021 Ford Explorer
When it comes to modern convenience, the Explorer takes the lead. This crossover will impress you with its versatile seats, including a standard 35/30/35 split-folding second-row bench and a 50/50 split-folding third-row bench. It’s easy to rearrange seating to create extra cargo or passenger space as the situation requires.
Also, the standard Explorer lineup includes a power liftgate and tri-zone automatic climate control. And you can move up the trim levels for additional features, like a hands-free liftgate and massaging front seats.
The Toyota Highlander follows behind with almost as many standard utility features, including tri-zone automatic climate control. And the rear seats are almost as accommodating — both the second and third rows are 60/40 split-folding bench seats. Unfortunately, the Highlander’s power liftgate isn’t standard equipment.
Cabin Comfort: 2021 Toyota Highlander
The Highlander is the favorite here. We love its roomy cabin, which feels especially spacious in the first and second rows of seating. And the Highlander’s six trim models pile on the luxury. Each model adds to the last with features like leather upholstery, heated seats, and ambient interior lighting.
Although it comes in second place, the 2021 Ford Explorer still aims to please with its roomy, family-friendly seating. From the driver’s seat, you’ll appreciate the Explorer’s excellent outward visibility. If we were to tweak anything, it would be the third-row seats, which could use a little extra legroom. Otherwise, the Explorer also gives you an impressive range of upscale options.
Modern Tech: It’s a Tie!
This pair of midsize crossovers comes standard with everything you need to stay connected and ward off danger. Both the Explorer and Highlander include cutting-edge infotainment systems with touch-screen interfaces and smartphone integration, via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
And both three-row crossovers also include their own respective bundles of high-tech safety aids. This means safety features, like frontal collision mitigation and blind-spot monitoring, come at no extra cost!
The 2021 Toyota Highlander is a solid contender, but the 2021 Ford Explorer is the ultimate three-row midsize crossover. Choose the Explorer for a roomy, family-friendly cabin, the latest infotainment technology, and best-in-class performance.