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2021 Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander

2021 Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander
Reviewed & fact checked by
James Murdoch

2021 Explorer vs Highlander - How do they stack up? Which is Better?

Whether transporting a family or hauling materials for work, the 2021 Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander have emerged as top contenders among today's popular mid-size SUVs. With reliable performance, ample cargo space and seating capacity to match your lifestyle needs - it is no surprise these models are consistently chosen over other options. As SUV demand reaches an all-time high in modern times, consumers can find assurance that these two brands stand out from the rest.

Ford and Toyota know that buyers are seeking out larger vehicles in lieu of traditional minivan models, but they also accept these models must be affordable and good-looking, as well. Giving it their all to lay out all the facets buyers desire in a mid-size SUV, the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander are two models that are focused on fulfilling buyer expectations of contemporary sport utility vehicles. These two vehicles are top contenders, because they combine the nostalgic feel of traditional family vehicles with modern safety attributes and tech elements that bring them into the future.

With an increasingly crowded field of mid-size SUVs, the 2021 Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander stand out for their ability to offer a diverse array of creature comforts without seeing prices climb too high. Those looking to get more bang for their buck will appreciate what these models have in store - ranging from improved power and agility capabilities to budget-friendly costs that won't break the bank.

The Powertrain

The 2021 Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander are fit for any driver's needs, whether they're looking to maximize power or conserve energy. Taking a closer look at their hybrid options reveals that the former packs in more punch with its 3.3-liter V6 plus electric motor combo of up to 318 horsepower—while the latter takes a slightly different approach: 2.5-liters four cylinders coupled with two electric motors garnering 243 HP instead. With fuel efficiency as the common denominator between both models, you can definitely save on gas without sacrificing luxury driving experiences.

That sacrifice is often relevant in the overall performance of both hybrid options for the Explorer and the Highlander. In fact, the hybrid powertrain in the Toyota Highlander is accompanied by a continuously variable transmission instead of the standard eight-speed automatic transmission that the gasoline engine version is paired with. Reduced horsepower and slow acceleration are a few downfalls of this model. In contrast, the 2021 Ford Explorer can almost keep up with the horsepower production of its turbocharged gasoline engines, which makes it the strong competitor in this area.

In their traditional gasoline engine formats, the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander battle in out. While the Ford Explorer offers a turbocharged four-cylinder or a turbocharged V6, the Toyota Highlander sticks to what is knows with a 3.5-liter V6 as a standard amenity. In terms of options, the Ford Explorer excels with its two gasoline versions, and it also edges over the Toyota Highlander in horsepower production, too. While the Ford Explorer can produce 400 horsepower in its best engine layout, the Toyota Highlander falls behind at a max of 295 horsepower.


Buyers looking for the ultimate combination of reliability and performance will find themselves drawn to either the 2021 Ford Explorer or Toyota Highlander. Both vehicles feature advanced mechanic capabilities, with a choice between rear-wheel drive (Explorer) or front-wheel/all wheel options (Highlander). Whichever you choose, maximum confidence comes standard!

Handling wise, the Ford Explorer gives drivers a reliable but rigid ride; contrastingly, its competition offers an exciting driving experience that’s sure to thrill those behind the wheel. Comfortability among both vehicles are guaranteed by engineering designed to maximize satisfaction during every journey down any road.

Transportation woes will be a thing of the past with the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer, both offering up to seven or eight passengers respectively. The former boasts bench seating in its second and third rows while most buyers prefer captain's chairs for the 2nd row of their Highlander which brings down passenger capacity by one seat. However, accessibly issues have been noted when navigating through rows on board an Explorer. This has been addressed in its 2021 model year, but seating in the far back can be somewhat uncomfortable in the Explorer whereas the Highlander offers standard comfort throughout.

Featuring nearly identical standard touchscreens for their infotainment systems, both models start off with a standard 8.0-inch layout. Where the Ford Explorer offers an upgrade to an optional 10.1-inch screen that can be vertically oriented, the Toyota Highlander's upgrade consists of a massive 12.3-inch touchscreen display that is also standard on higher trims. Every Ford Explorer model gains access to a voice-activated navigation system. Yet, the Toyota Highlander builds upon that and adds in Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot.

Buying Tip:

To avoid overpaying on a new car, shop prices online first. Get up front pricing before you walk into a dealership. We recommend the following free services; Car Clearance Deals, NADAguides, CarsDirect & & Motortrend.
These free services will offer you the lowest prices and supply you with multiple competing price quotes. You will know the best price before you visit the dealer.


Both the 2021 Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander achieved impressive five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with a slight edge going to Toyota as its Highlander model was recognized as Top Safety Pick+. Although it narrowly missed earning this coveted designation, the Ford Explorer remains an incredibly reliable option that offers notable peace of mind. The preeminent performance demonstrated by these vehicles in general crash testing could mean greater security for drivers everywhere.

Buyers will find a plethora of standard safety amenities in both SUVs. The Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander do not miss out on an opportunity to make their models safer for passengers, and it shows in their integration of standard driver assistive safety features. Automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, and blind-spot monitoring are just a few amenities that can be found as standard inclusions in both SUV models. Automatic high beams in the 2021 Toyota Highlander also add a nice finishing touch to this mid-size SUV.

Known as Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ in the Highlander, each of these models integrates their driver assistive safety features into a comprehensive package. Ford merges their safety features with technology in its signature Ford Co-Pilot360 suite. Though the standard safety integrations of both models are similar, the Toyota Highlander attributes are much more advanced and refined than those of the Ford Explorer.

Which Has the Best Value?

Value in a vehicle is a relative term that is determined by a variety of factors. The overall price, difference in the cost of ownership, and availability of trim levels are all considered in determining a vehicle's overall value. Not to mention, the attributes and features that are included within each trim level are also something to take into consideration. In terms of pricing, the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander are relatively similar in cost. Differing by just a few thousand dollars, buyers can compare these vehicles evenly based on their standard MSRP.

The cost of ownership is also an aspect that should be considered when deciding on a vehicle purchase. This is the general cost buyers will see within the first five years of vehicle ownership in a specific model. Typically, both the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander drive well and are great investments. However, when you consider safety, technology, and performance, the better value is hands down the Toyota Highlander. This is partly due to the increased cost of fuel in the less fuel efficient Ford Explorer and the higher cost of maintenance for it, as well.

Which is Better?

Shopping for a new car can be an overwhelming experience, particularly when comparing two similarly equipped contenders. The 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander present buyers with versatile options at various price points to fit their different needs - making it hard to determine which option is right for them.

The 2021 Ford Explorer is an ideal choice for large families looking to make a practical investment. Proving its worth over the years, this SUV has become renowned amongst consumers for its dependable nature and diverse array of engine choices including a hybrid model. Guiding drivers towards their desired performance level, every taste can be pleased with one option or another in the trim lineup - whether you're seeking energy efficiency or more muscle-power under your foot.

Offering an unparalleled range of safety options and innovative technology, the 2021 Toyota Highlander is designed to provide maximum comfort and security for drivers. Its intuitive suite is beyond compare in a mid-size SUV, with features such as collision mitigation that can make all the difference when it comes to protecting passengers on their journeys. For those who prioritize peace of mind behind the wheel, there's no better choice than this next-gen vehicle from Toyota – taking family transportation into new realms of reliability.

Though both models are capable and good-looking, if we had to choose one model over the other the winner would be the 2021 Toyota Highlander. Its inherent value is better than that of the 2021 Ford Explorer, and it simply offers many more options to consumers. While the 2021 Ford Explorer is undoubtedly reliable and contemporary, its stays in the traditional lane that other Ford models often follow. The 2021 Toyota Highlander is not afraid to branch out and explore different avenues for feature development and production.

Interested in a reliable SUV? You don't have to look any further than the 2021 Toyota Highlander - an overlooked option, but surely one with worthy features. Test drive both the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander to discover which experience takes first place when it comes to safety measures, comfort levels, and peace-of-mind on the road.

Used 2021 Ford Explorer: