2020 Honda Pilot vs Ford ExplorerCompare Cars
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Are you in the market for a new third-row SUV this year? Do you need plenty of seats for hauling the family around? Then you might find your attention drifting between two competitors in this segment - the 2020 Honda Pilot and the 2020 Ford Explorer. Both of these vehicles have a lot to offer, but they are obviously going to be built with some differences.
The 2020 Honda Pilot is a versatile third-row SUV with a ton of cabin space. Even the third row has enough room, although you might have some trouble making your way back to it. The ride quality is all about compliance and smoothing out irregularities from the road surface. The fuel economy is one of the highest in its class, and you get a ton of nifty storage areas for your smaller items. You'll just have to put up with collision warning and adaptive cruise control being overly sensitive. Also, take note: the 6-speed automatic is noticeably smoother than the 9-speed.
When it comes to the 2020 Ford Explorer, you also get a lot of room for passengers and cargo, but the third row is more cramped than usual for this segment. Rear-wheel drive (RWD from here on out) makes for some impressive handling and towing capabilities, and there are more driver aids and tech features equipped than ever before. And, oh yeah, we should mention that this vehicle has been fully redesigned for the model year, bringing it into its 6th generation. You even get a new Limited hybrid powertrain option or can go for the high-powered ST variant. On the down side, most configurations only seat 6, not 7 (as they utilize second row captain's chairs), and the trims can get very pricey. Interior materials and designs do not really reflect these price tags either, and you do not even get that many USB ports.
So, which of these SUVs might be the right third-row vehicle for you? Is one more efficient and economic than the other? Let's find out! Be sure to read through to the end of this comparison review, as we will announce which vehicle we think has the most value and is the overall better buy.
Time to delve into what makes these two vehicles run, and that is their powertrains. The 2020 Honda Pilot gives you a 3.5-L V6 that generates 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, paired with a standard 6-speed automatic transmission or a 9-speed automatic transmission on the Touring and above trim levels. While front-wheel drive (also known as FWD) comes standard, all-wheel drive (or AWD) is an option on all save the Elite and Black Edition, as it comes standard on those two trim levels.
If you are looking for variety, however, the 2020 Ford Explorer has it. The Base, XLT, and Limited trim levels all come with a 2.3-L 4-cylinder engine that generates 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. RWD is standard while AWD is optional. A 10-speed automatic transmission comes equipped. The Limited Hybrid gets a 3.3-L V6 with a hybrid powertrain that creates a combined 318 hp. The high-powered ST trim gets a sporty 3.0-L turbocharged V6 engine that puts forth an impressive 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. The line-topping Platinum trim has a slightly lesser-powered version of this engine that gets 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque.
Drivability includes how powerful a vehicle performs, but there is more to it than just a good powertrain. How comfortable is the cabin? The ride quality? How well is the interior designed? Does the tech perform as it should? How much utility does the vehicle possess? Those things all factor into what makes a vehicle drive-able.
That being said, let us take a look at the 2020 Honda Pilot's drivability factors first. On the 9-speed, you can get this vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in a snappy 7 seconds flat - an excellent time for a third-row SUV. The brakes are easy to modulate and always feel consistently and appropriately firm. They never become squishy underneath your foot, and if you have to make a panic stop, you can do so in a safe distance of just over 120 feet. This SUV is built to handle curving mountain roads, and the steering feels precise despite not giving off a ton of road feel. The only downside is that you do not get enough ground clearance to do some serious off-roading. You will have to be mindful on those back country roads.
The Pilot does pack in a ton of comfort though. The body stays controlled throughout turns, and its suspension quickly gets rid of small bumps in the road. The front seats are remarkably supportive, and the second row has the ability to slide and recline for extra comfort. There is not much tire or road noise to speak of, and the V6 is well-mannered. Even the tri-zone automatic climate control system works well at distributing air flow to all three rows of the vehicle.
The Pilot's interior design focuses on practicality but is still very much contemporary and chic. There are numerous smart features to be found, but, as is the case with many third-row SUVs, the third row is not the most spacious area. Tilting and sliding the second row is easy, requiring just one click of a button. This does help with accessibility to the third row. Finding a driving position is super easy thanks to the slender roof pillars and highly adjustable driver's seat. Taller drivers might wish to have more adjustment from the steering wheel, but the expansive outward view is quite the treat.
Tech-wise, everything is pretty simple and straightforward. The touchscreen is easy to use, and navigation responds rapidly to your requests. The 10-speaker sound system sounds as though you are at a concert, and the Touring and Elite offer WiFi hot spot connectivity. Unfortunately, the one downside is that adaptive cruise control only works above 20 mph, which puts it behind some competitors who can make it work right down to 0 mph.
Honda knows how to utilize space, and the Pilot shows tons of versatility. You get 16 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row in place, but you can fold the second row to expand it to 84 cubes. Although this is not an industry-leading number, you get a ton of under-floor storage and other areas where there is usable space. The door pockets are massive, and the center console has a bunch of cleverly designed storage areas for your smaller items. As far as towing goes, the Pilot meets the industry average of a max towing capacity of 5,000 pounds on the AWD variants and 3,500 pounds on the FWDs.
Now, let us switch over to the 2020 Ford Explorer. This SUV demonstrates balanced handling capabilities and secure steering that remains light through turns and maintains good road grip. It is built to hold a ton of power, and the 4-cylinder is better than many of its competitors. The turbo V6 in the ST is just ridiculously powerful. The 10-speed does a good job of shifting down as needed, btu in the city, it feels like it is searching for gears.
The front seats are nicely shaped with plenty of support, but skip the optional massaging seats as the massaging mechanism is lumpy against your back when not in use. The second and third rows are increasingly uncomfortable, and you will feel some bumps getting into the cabin. There are a lot of manual adjustments to the automatic climate control, and there is some noise from the engine and wind at even moderate highway speeds.
The Explorer gives you plenty of space in the front seat, and finding a driving position is easy. The massive mirrors and abundant glass help with external visibility. The third row is pretty tight, and awkward rear door access makes getting there all the more difficult. You have to avoid the huge wheel arches and map pockets on the inside of the doors. In order to raise the third row for passengers, you have to go to the hatch area.
Technology is a highlight for the Explorer, as it comes with Sync 3 and an 8-inch touchscreen. Smartphone app integration is wrapped into that system, and the Limited gets built-in navigation and a stellar Bang & Olufsen sound system. Just be sure to skip the optional vertical 10.1-inch touchscreen. Smartphone app integration consumes the top half, and the bottom half just looks wonky.
When it comes to utility, Ford gets a lot of things right on the redesigned Explorer. The cargo area has a generous amount of space, but it is a bit tighter than what you will find in other third-row SUVs. Small-item storage areas are plentiful, and the LATCH anchors in the second row are easy to access. Towing is decent with RWD and the Trailer Towing Package equipped, as it gives you 4- and 7-pin pre-wiring, an add-on electric trailer brake controller, tow-haul transmission mode, and an advanced blind spot monitor for the entire trailer.
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Safety is a huge factor in what makes a vehicle worthy of purchase. And, quite honestly, automakers are really competing to sell you the safest vehicles they can make. Honda has a long history of selling safe and reliable vehicles, and although Ford can be hit-or-miss, it has been doing better with its SUVs in recent years. Vehicles are equipped with a ton of driver aids and are rated each year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (also known as NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (which we will refer to by its acronym, IIHS).
The 2020 Honda Pilot packs quite a punch with its huge list of standard driver aids. While adaptive cruise control could work more smoothly, everything else functions just fine. The only problem you might have is that lane keep assist can sometimes be bothersome while you are making constant-radius turns.
NHTSA gave the Pilot a 5-star rating overall for 2020, and it only lost a star on the overall front passenger side test. So far, there have been two recalls: one for an incomplete body welding issue and another for crackling coming from the speakers before the vehicle suddenly loses power. IIHS gave the Pilot mostly "Good" ("G") ratings, save for the "A"s it got on the small overlap front passenger side, headlights on the lower trim levels, and the ease-of-use of the LATCH system.
The 2020 Ford Explorer comes with many driver aids, including automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist. You get a standard blind spot monitoring system, cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams. On the Limited, you get adaptive cruise control with lane centering. These all work as expected, but the alerts sound too much alike. Also, lane centering likes to falsely flag you for taking your hands off the wheel.
NHTSA assigned the Explorer 5 stars overall woth 4 stars on the rollover test. Recalls include fuel lines chafing to cause a fuel leak, wiring harnesses contacting A/C pulleys or belts, decreased seat back strength, and the vehicle still being in Factory Mode (meaning you won't get alerts or see gear selection on the instrument cluster). IIHS gave the Explorer "G" marks on everything save for the "A"s it got on the small overlap front driver side, headlights, and the LATCH system.
Which Has the Best Value
We all want the most bang for our buck, right? Value is something automakers know buyers are looking for, so when they set a price, they have to be competitive. The Pilot gives you a ton of comfort, a quality build, and a much nicer cabin than what you will find in most of its competitors. This makes it easy to justify spending more on one of the higher trim levels. The abundance of soft touch plastics and high-gloss trim and matte finish on the secondary controls work to create an exquisite interior. While the warranty coverage is industry average, you really will get your money's worth from the efficient powertrain and long list of standard features.
The 2.3-L EcoBoost engine is, on paper, better than its rivals. But in the real world, it doesn't hold up. Its EPA-rated 24 mpg combined on the RWD and 23 mpg combined on the AWD are at least 3 mpg less in real life. This puts the 2.3-L way behind the competition instead of ahead of it. You also get too many hard plastics, ungainly gaps, and a bland inner design overall. This price is not a bargain at all, as higher trims on competitors are better than the mid-level XLT with the bare minimum in extra trappings. Also, the warranty coverage is below the industry standard.
Which is Better?
The 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Ford Explorer share a lot of similarities. But the one thing that sets them apart is their design. While Ford goes the cheap route, Honda gives you borderline luxury on the top trim levels, which still happen to be reasonably priced. This is what gives the Honda the advantage here despite its lack of diversity among its powertrains.