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2022 Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander

2022 Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander
Reviewed & fact checked by
James Murdoch

2022 Explorer vs Highlander - How Do They Stack Up? Which is Better?

Midsize SUVs offer tremendous versatility for American families. With a heritage spanning more than three decades, the 2022 Ford Explorer has surely been a dominant force in such a segment. This American vehicle is available with up to seven total seats. The 2022 Toyota Highlander has been part of the same class for slightly longer than two decades. This legendary Japanese model offers up to eight seats. Both SUVs are available with hybrid systems and advanced all-wheel drive systems.

In terms of their price points and brand recognition, Ford and Toyota are natural rivals on the American marketplace for passenger vehicles. Each auto company has developed lots of signature mechanical, safety and electronic technologies for the latest models. Therefore, the 2022 Explorer and 2022 Highlander could be fairly compared in performance, utility, comfort, safety and several other categories that have plenty of significance for consumers.

The Powertrain

Ford installs the signature 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine by default on the 2022 Explorer. Kicking out up to 300 total horsepower, this inline-four engine gets a tremendous boost from an individual turbocharger. Fed by a direct-injected fuel system, the turbo powertrain cranks out 310 pound-feet of peak torque. A 5,300-pound towing capacity per SAE J2807 codes is another standard specification of this entry-level powerplant. With supplemental support from the Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT) technology during combustion cycles, the I-4 engine is more efficient than ever before.

Whipping out 295 net hp, a 3.5-L engine block sits under the hood of the 2022 Toyota Highlander. Incorporating the traditional Atkinson cycle and natural aspiration, the V-6 engine yields just 263 lb-ft of peak torque. However, the Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) is comparable with the Ti-VCT mechanics. This Toyota SUV has a standard trailering rating of up to 5,000 lb per SAE J2807 criteria. The Trailer-Sway Control (TSC) also ensures optimal directional stability when towing the maximum recommended load on the road.

The 2022 Explorer is also available with a 3.0-L engine that integrates twin turbochargers for a meaningful boost in output. Arranged into a V-6 geometry, the turbo powerhouse pumps out 400 hp. Direct injection helps the six-cylinder powertrain achieve a peak torque rating of 415 lb-ft. Drivers who add the optional Class III Trailer Tow Package could haul up to 5,600 lb with this premium Ford SUV. Additionally, this EcoBoost engine is paired with quad exhaust tips in brilliant chrome accents.

Engineered for efficient and sporty handling on paved surfaces, a 3.3-L hybrid powertrain is available for the 2022 Explorer. Maximum ratings of this V-6 engine include 318 hp and 322 lb-ft of torque. Running on a naturally aspirated induction unit instead of a turbocharger, this hybrid engine tows up to 5,000 lb. By contrast, the 2022 Highlander's 2.5-L hybrid engine has maximum ratings of only 186 hp and 175 lb-ft. Using the patented Dual VVT-iE technology, this four-cylinder powertrain can't tow more than 3,500 gross lb. With a boost from an electric motor, the Highlander's hybrid system peaks at just 243 hp.

Delivering 10 gear ratios, the 2022 Explorer's automatic transmission system ensures smooth handling. A rotary-type dial creates instant engagement of the gearbox as selected by the driver. This highly intuitive and responsive transmission is synchronized with a standard rear-wheel drive (RWD) system. Drivers seeking off-road adventures could add the Intelligent 4WD system, which is controlled by the selectable Terrain Management System. Some notable modes from the dial-adjustable TMS include the Slippery, Trail and Deep Snow/Sand.

When running on the V-6 engine, the 2022 Highlander comes with the Direct-Shift automatic transmission system. Despite having patented mechanical technologies, this gearbox is limited to an eight-speed configuration. The car's hybrid system is coupled with the Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) system. Such an efficient gearbox transfers power to the Electronic On-Demand AWD system, which isn't ideal for off-road driving. Additionally, Toyota's Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD is no match for Ford's versatile Intelligent 4WD system with TMS.


Having a minimum running ground clearance of 7.9 inches, the 2022 Ford Explorer offers a pleasant ride on rough pavement and rugged trails. Clearing the ground by 8.66 inches, the unique Timberline model is certainly fine-tuned for off-road deployment. Some other noteworthy specifications that boost off-road performance include a 23.5-degree approach angle and 23.7-degree departure angle. This all-new edition also boasts an 18.9-degree ramp breakover angle for climbing steep slopes with ease. The 2022 Highlander simply can't beat such impressive off-road specifications. For example, this Toyota SUV has a standard ground clearance of 8.0 inches.

Controlled by the standard Electronic Power-Assisted Steering, the 2022 Explorer is remarkably agile and responsive for a midsize SUV. Gas-pressurized, hydraulic shock absorbers properly cushion the chassis of this large family vehicle. Additionally, a multi-link rear suspension system maintains an ideal balance when the car is fully loaded to capacity.

When it comes to interior ergonomics and utility, the 2022 Explorer truly has all-star status. This midsize SUV offers up to 43 inches of legroom and 40.7 inches of headroom in the first row. Passengers in the second row enjoy up to 39 inches of legroom and 38.2 inches of headroom. Third-row occupants have 32.2 inches of legroom and 38.9 inches of headroom. Having a maximum passenger volume of 152.7 cubic feet, this three-row SUV truly offers a comfortable ride for up to seven adults.

The 2022 Highlander offers a maximum of 42 inches of legroom and 41.2 inches of headroom in the front row. Despite having up to eight seats, this three-row Toyota SUV slightly compromises comfort. For instance, this model has a maximum interior passenger volume of just 141.3 cubic feet. Families will quickly notice the 2022 Explorer's more spacious and versatile interior. Additionally, the Ford model boasts up to 87.8 cubic feet of cargo volume when the second-row and third-row seats are folded.

In terms of interior comfort, the 2022 Explorer leads the segment by significant margins. For example, this midsize SUV has Electronic Automatic Temperature Control with up to three zones. A rear auxiliary control console directly manages the heating and cooling settings in the second row. Likewise, the 2022 Highlander offers a tri-zone HVAC system with a dedicated control panel in the middle row. Both SUVs have air vents in all three rows for uniform and consistent distribution of cool or warm air.

Families will strongly embrace some of the 2022 Explorer's other luxurious interior features, like a twin-panel with an expansive sliding glass. A multi-color ambient lighting system dramatically alters the mood in the first and second rows of this midsize Ford SUV. Second-row blinds prevent unwanted solar radiation from penetrating the spacious cabin. Additionally, this premium family car has dome lights in all three rows for enhanced visibility when entering and exiting.

The 2022 Explorer also boasts praiseworthy seating with high-end ergonomics. For example, the 10-way driver's seat includes ventilation and heating. Having tri-diamond perforations, the climate-controlled front seats include unique contours that adapt to the body's natural curvature. Second-row captain's chairs and the PowerFold third-row seats are also available for this midsize Ford model. Despite offering captain's chairs in the second row, the 2022 Highlander doesn't offer anything similar to the exclusive PowerFold seating system.


The 2022 Explorer packs a wealth of active safety technologies that protect families on the road. This midsize Ford SUV has the proprietary Ford Co-Pilot 360 technology, which has been thoroughly tested on urban streets. For example, the Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) instantly responds to the slightest risk of a frontal impact. This three-row SUV also has the Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control for preventing harsh collisions at higher speeds on the highway. Some other important crash-avoidance systems on this midsize Ford SUV include the Lane-Keeping System and Blind Spot Information System.

Carrying the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 technology, the 2022 Highlander also offers good peace of mind for urban handling. This three-row SUV includes the standard Lane Departure Alert, Lane Tracing Assist and several other dynamic technologies that scan the surroundings. Families can even buy this eight-seat vehicle with the Blind Spot Monitor for safer handling in heavy traffic. This premium Toyota model also offers the Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

Urban drivers will praise the 2022 Explorer's segment-exclusive Active Park Assist 2.0 technology. When activated, the innovative feature automatically steers the vehicle into a confirmed parking spot. Side-sensing capabilities also make it easy for the driver to easily exit from a parallel parking configuration. Delivering split views in real time, the 360-Degree Camera allows the driver to manually park the vehicle with incredible precision. Additionally, this seven-seat Ford model has the Reverse Brake Assist and Rear View Camera.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2022 Explorer qualifies for the Top Safety Pick+ award. The Safety Canopy System air bags surely help this three-row vehicle earn this excusive honor from the IIHS. Four-way front head restraints also optimize the car's passive safety design. Equipped with up to eight air bags, the 2022 Toyota Highlander also qualifies for this elite safety accolade in North America. Both SUVs have automatic headlights with powerful projections for safe driving at night.

When it comes to exterior styling, the 2022 Explorer is available in premium body colors. This midsize Ford model is sold in Rapid Red, Stone Blue and Forged Green. All paint colors make a good combination with the Carbonized Gray, Gloss Black or Sparkle Silver aluminum wheels. The largest wheels on the lineup measure up to 21 inches in diameter. Similarly, the 2022 Highlander is available in Ruby Flare, Blueprint and Moon Dust. However, this Toyota model doesn't offer as many design options for the wheels.

Which Has the Best Value?

Having a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $34,010, the 2022 Explorer offers phenomenal value in multiple categories for modern families. The base trim includes the FordPass Connect technology with a Wi-Fi modem and other smartphone connections. An 8-inch LCD touch screen is another highlight of the default SYNC 3 infotainment system inside the entry-level edition. Up to five 12-V charging ports provide a good level of utility inside this midsize Ford SUV. Additionally, the Explorer base model has a 4.2-inch LCD productivity screen in the instrument cluster.

Starting at $35,855, the 2022 Toyota Highlander L trim includes a genetic multimedia console with an 8.0-inch display. For such a higher price tag, families won't get any more advanced digital technologies compared to the Explorer base edition. For example, the entry-level Toyota model includes the Wi-Fi Connect technology with a limited data trial. A 4.2-inch LCD Multi-Information Display is another standard technology inside the Highlander L model.

Starting at $46,820, the 2022 Explorer Limited has a mid-level position with lots of major upgrades. For example, this trim boasts a 12-speaker audio system with the patented Bang & Olufsen design. Heated and cooled seating is standard in the vehicle's front row. A 110-V power outlet is also optional for this mid-tier trim. Priced at $46,960, the 2022 Toyota Highlander Limited is also packed with an assortment of premium interior amenities, including climate-controlled seats. Both trims offer 10-way adjustments for the driver's seat.

Topping off the 2022 Explorer's lineup, the Platinum starts at $52,125. Some key highlights of this high-end model include a two-panel moonroof and diamond-perforated upholstery. A 14-speaker audio system from Bang & Olufsen offers great entertainment for a family with diverse preferences for music. Priced at $49,960, the 2022 Highlander Platinum flaunts the Bird's Eye View Camera with full coverage of the surroundings. A 12.3-inch touch screen is the model's main technological treasure.

Which is Better?

Available with up to three engines, the 2022 Explorer clearly beats the 2022 Highlander in performance. Thanks to turbocharged technology, Ford's EcoBoost engines deliver much more horsepower and torque than Toyota's naturally aspirated engines. Families that want to haul recreational equipment and other heavy items will surely value the Explorer's superior towing capabilities. Even the vehicle's hybrid engine offers a relatively high towing capacity of up to 5,000 lb.

In terms of off-road performance, the 2022 Explorer is the clear favorite. This midsize Ford SUV gets best-in-class traction on the trails thanks to the trademark Terrain Management System. All of the personalized driving modes clearly appear on the crisp 12.3-inch digital instrument display. A rotary-type dial ensures intuitive engagement of the TMS in real time. The 2022 Highlander simply doesn't offer as many off-road driving options. Additionally, this Toyota SUV has a much worse exterior geometry for tackling rough terrain.

The 2022 Explorer also claims a superior position in the electronics department. This three-row Ford model offers up to 14 signature speakers from Bang & Olufsen. Such a premium audio system delivers better acoustics than the 2022 Highlander's 11 JBL speakers. Both SUVs are compatible with SiriusXM Satellite Radio or other digital sources for entertainment. Wireless Bluetooth and Wi-Fi give families additional entertainment options for road trips. These spacious SUVs also offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections.

Overall, the 2022 Ford Explorer is a much better choice for families than want premium amenities, superb off-road handling and powerful mechanical capabilities. This midsize SUV offers amazing versatility for spontaneous adventures, planned road trips and daily commutes. As the IIHS Top Safety Pick+, this three-row Ford model is also one of the safest vehicles in its class. Additionally, the SYNC infotainment offers excellent value in digital connectivity for tech-savvy families.

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2021 Ford Explorer VS Toyota Highlander