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2021 Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander

2021 Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander

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

Modern SUVs have been growing in popularity over the last few years, and demand for these vehicles is at an all-time high. Providing reliable transportation for families who need the extra room and business professional endeavors, SUVs are known for their ample storage space and passenger capacity. Two brands that have participated in the growing popularity of mid-size SUVs include Ford and Toyota. With models like the 2021 Ford Explorer and 2021 Toyota Highlander offering reputable transport solution to consumers, these mid-size SUVs are consistently chosen over other options.

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.

Representing just two options in a sea of SUV models, the 2021 Ford Explorer and 2021 Toyota Highlander do a good job of balancing amenities for owners to enjoy with well-managed power. These two mid-size SUVs are also able to maintain this balance with a cost that is mediocre in a market where some SUV models can rise beyond the price of a truck or luxury sedan. There are many reasons why consumers love the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander, and many of these highlights are discussed below.

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The Powertrain

Ranging from powerful to sustainable, the powertrain options of the 2021 Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander benefit a wide array of buyers and their preferences. Seldom is it that we heard of a mid-size SUV that boasts a fuel efficient hybrid option, but both models make it a point to include one in their recent lineup. The hybrid option for the 2021 Ford Explorer consists of a 3.3-liter V6 that pairs nicely with an electric motor for a combination that can produce up to 318 horsepower. In comparison, the 2021 Toyota Highlander makes up its hybrid powertrain with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with two electric motors that put out just 243 horsepower. Though these models are both more fuel efficient, it does not come without a price to pay.

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.


Despite the clear winner in the performance category, the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander compete more evenly in their drivability and comfort. Each one features two different drivetrain options, with the Ford Explorer offering a choice between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive and the Toyota Highlander allowing buyers the choice between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. The handling of the Ford Explorer is considered rigid and practical, though the Toyota Highlander is a bit more exciting and spryer. The Ford Explorer boasts a comfortable ride, but it is not one that is overly exciting or enjoyable.

Each of these models features third-row seating, which is appealing to buyers with large families or those who enjoy traveling in large groups. With bench seats in the second and third rows, the Toyota Highlander can seat up to eight passengers in this specific configuration. Yet, most buyers opt for captain's chairs in the second row, which reduces the seating capacity to seven. Though the Ford Explorer also features a bench seat in the third row, a common complaint is the difficulty in accessing the third row. 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.


The 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander each earned five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Toyota Highlander went on to receive the award of Top Safety Pick+, but the Ford Explorer missed out on this designation because of its underperformance in front overlap crash testing. Despite this near miss, the 2021 Ford Explorer is still an extremely reliable and safe vehicle. The Toyota Highlander simply outlasted its structural integrity in general crash testing events.

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.

When it comes to options, both SUV models offer seven different trim levels to choose from. Offering options for buyers at every price level and with a variety of customization levels, this provides value for consumers who desire options to choose from.

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?

Buying a new vehicle is not easy task. Many difficult decisions must be made, and the answers to many of these choices depends on each buyer's lifestyle and cost requirements. The choice becomes even more difficult when you are exploring two very similar and capable vehicles, like the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander.

Overall, if you are looking for a practical model that will provide value to a large family, the traditional Ford Explorer is a great option. It has been around for years and has a reputation of durability among consumers. This SUV offers a wide array of engine options, including a modern hybrid model. By allowing drivers to customize their performance, the Ford Explorer appeals to a wide array of consumers. From the eco-friendly buyer who desires a hybrid to the adrenaline junkie who wants a little more power, there is an option in the 2021 Ford Explorer trim lineup for you.

In comparison, the 2021 Toyota Highlander does not offer as many options under the hood, but it excels in safety feature integration and innovative technology inclusions. The Highlander is focused on being a vehicle of the future with an intense focus on keeping passengers safe. Its intuitive suite of safety features that goes far beyond what we could ever expect in a mid-size SUV makes a big impact on buyers. Those with families know how important accident prevention and collision mitigation is, and Toyota took that to heart in their design of the 2021 Highlander.

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.

In fact, many buyers are unaware of just how much the Toyota Highlander has to offer. Yet, we see every minute detail and minor accent they put in place to keep passengers safe and happy. For this reason, our top choice between the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander would have to be the latter of these two exemplary options. Don't just take our word for it, though. Get into a 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Toyota Highlander, and make the decision for yourself.

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