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2020 Honda Pilot vs Toyota Highlander

2020 Honda Pilot vs Toyota Highlander

2020 Pilot vs Highlander - How do they stack up? Which is Better?

The 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Toyota Highlander are two of the most talked-about SUVs for this model year, and it is not too hard to see why. Both have a lot of space, pack in a ton of creature comforts, and offer excellent fuel economies. They are also both powered by strong V6 engines and have options for all-wheel drive. In other words, these two SUVs have a lot of what buyers are looking for.

But which one is the better buy? Anyone who is looking for a new SUV this year is going to be wanting to compare - and possibly test drive - both the Pilot and the Highlander. Going into the test drive with some knowledge of what each vehicle offers can make the decision on which - if any - of them to buy a whole lot easier.

Both of these vehicles have some stand-out features, but they also have their own drawbacks. While the Pilot has a lot of clever storage options, getting into the third row can be tricky since the space is pretty narrow. Also, some driver aids (namely, collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control) are too sensitive in order to really be effective at their jobs. As for the Highlander, its ride is smooth and compliant, but it suffers from a cramped third row and does not have the versatility in its cargo area that the Pilot possesses.

So, which is the better SUV, the 2020 Honda Pilot or the 2020 Toyota Highlander? Read on through to the end of this comparison review to find out how these two SUVs stack up and which one has the better overall value.


The Powertrain

Let's kick things off by talking about the two different powertrains that you will find in the 2020 Honda Pilot and the 2020 Toyota Highlander. In actuality, these powertrains are not terribly different from one another and provide ample power to these large vehicles. What your decision will boil down to here is what speed of an automatic transmission you prefer.

The 2020 Honda Pilot is powered by a 3.5-L V6 engine that generates 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission comes standard and is known for being incredibly smooth with its transitions between gears. There is also a 9-speed automatic transmission that comes on the Touring and higher trim levels, but it is not quite as refined as the 6-speed. Front-wheel drive (FWD) comes standard, but the Elite and Black Edition get standard all-wheel drive (AWD). AWD can be swapped in on the lower trim levels for an extra cost.

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is also equipped with a 3.5-L V6 engine, but this one gets 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. In other words, there is only a slight bump in power output. An 8-speed automatic transmission comes on every trim level, and there are no other options for transmissions. FWD is standard issue, but AWD can be swapped in on any trim level. There is also a hybrid powertrain available if you are looking to spend even less on fuel.


Drivability is an important element of buying a new vehicle. If something does not drive the way you would like for it to, it is not worth sinking your money into. The 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Toyota Highlander are both at the top of the pack when it comes to how they drive, but there are some key differences between them.

The Pilot's 9-speed variants are superbly fast when it comes to acceleration from a stop. In fact, it has been clocked as getting from 0 to 60 mph in just 7 seconds flat. The 6-speed also gets up to speed in a respectable time. For a third-row SUV, 7 seconds is snappy. Also, the brakes are easy to modulate in any driving situation and always feel consistent when you press your foot down on them. They do not feel like they go soft the longer you drive. The vehicle has a panic stop distance (from 60 mph to 0) of just about 123 feet, which is average for this segment. It handles winding mountain roads with ease and has a steering system that embodies precision (despite its lack of feel from the road surface). This SUV is not meant for off-roading despite its available AWD since it has low ground clearance and lacks some of the right driver aids for off-roading adventures.

The Highlander is also quick to get going, making it from 0 to 60 mph in roughly 7.5 seconds. It can navigate winding roads as well as the Pilot and demonstrates a lot of body control when rounding through turns. The available torque-vectoring AWD system does a fine job of applying engine power to each of the rear wheels when it needs to improve the vehicle's handling balance. However, drivers will still feel like they are driving a bulky SUV since this one is not as lightweight and aerodynamic in its design as some of its competitors.

When it comes to comfort, both vehicles are loaded with it. The Honda Pilot is well controlled in its body motions, and it easily smooths out small bumps in the road surface. The front seats are loaded with lateral and lumbar support, and the cozy second row can slide and recline at the touch of a button. The third row is definitely kids-only due to its size, but it is fairly standard for this segment. There is little in the way of noise entering the cabin; road and tire noise are entirely absent, and the V6 offers a nice purr. Tri-zone automatic climate control works exceptionally well at comforting occupants in all three rows of the Pilot.

The Pilot's interior is not just comfy - it is also highly practical. There are plenty of smart features to be found, and the one-touch button for the sliding and reclining second row of seats makes accessing the narrow third row that much easier. Finding a comfortable driving position takes little time since the seat is so configurable, but the tilting and telescoping steering wheel could telescope a bit more to accommodate taller drivers.

The amount of tech features you find in the Pilot should please people. The touchscreen is super easy to use, and the navigation system responds quite precisely. Also, the higher trim levels have an awesome 10-speaker sound system that pumps out concert-like sound quality. WiFi hot spot is standard on the Touring and Elite, and it works quite effectively.

Utility is where Honda really shines right now. The Pilot has 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. If you take both back rows down, you max it out at 84 cubes. This gives the Pilot a huge edge over the competition. There is also a lot of storage under the loading floor, massive door pockets, and cleverly designed small item storage areas that make it easy to organize the Pilot. Also, you get a max towing capacity of 5,000 pounds on the AWD variants and 3,500 pounds on the FWDs.

The Toyota Highlander offers a lot in the way of comfort too. The ride quality is incredibly plush, and all bumps get smoothed out without feeling light and floaty thanks to the vehicle's well-tuned suspension. The front seats are incredibly well-padded for support, and the optional second-row captain's chairs are great to sit in too. The third row, however, is very thinly padded and has an extremely low-seated cushion. With the space being as narrow as it is, this detracts a lot from overall comfort. The nice thing is that the vehicle is well-insulated from noise, so you can enjoy a quiet ride wherever you happen to be seated inside of the cabin.

Finding a good driving position is made simple in the Highlander. Again, though, it is hindered by a steering wheel that does not have a wide enough telescoping range to accommodate taller drivers. Visibility to the exterior is commanding thanks to the slender roof pillars and wide windows. You can fully load up the cargo area and still see out of the rear! The available surround-view camera system is a nice addition so that you get total, 360-degree visibility to the exterior of the vehicle.

Technology has improved a lot since 2019, as Toyota has now added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard features - finally! Drivers might like the 12.3-inch optional touch screen at first since it is so responsive, but it does cast off way more glare than it should, making it kind of a distraction during the daytime. There are a lot of USB ports in the front and second rows, but they are inconveniently missing from the third row.

As far as utility goes, Toyota is trying to keep up with Honda but still has some work left to do. The Highlander has 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row but maxes out at 48 cubes when you fold the seats. The lift-over height is fairly average, but the large cup holders and door pockets are definitely helpful. There are two shelves located inside of the dash that are great spots for storing small items, but the wireless phone charger gets in the way up front. LATCH is also really easy to use on the Highlander, but you do not get any anchors in the third row. Child seats will have to be second-row only if you want an easy installation.

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Safety is a top priority for Honda and Toyota. They both have a lot of advanced driver aids available, and, for the most part, they work well. Honda could adjust the adaptive cruise control to be less finicky, and they also need to work on how intrusive lane keep assist can be during lengthy, constant-radius corners. Otherwise, lane keep assist and other features like blind spot monitoring are handy to have equipped. Toyota's adaptive cruise control works well, but lane departure warning is too sensitive in normal mode and not sensitive enough in low mode.

National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet rated the 2020 Toyota Highlander, but it does list one recall for it regarding how the ECU might cause the vehicle to stall out. NHTSA assigned the 2020 Honda Pilot 5 of 5 stars overall, but it lost a star for the overall front passenger side test. There are two recalls on the Pilot (one being for incomplete body welding), and there have been multiple consumer complaints about the vehicle losing power to the dash after crackling can be heard in the speakers.

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) has rated both vehicles. It gave the Pilot "Good" marks on most things, but it got "Acceptable" (or "A") on its small overlap front passenger side, the lower trims' headlights, and the LATCH system's ease of use. IIHS assigned the Highlander the title of 2020 Top Safety Pick and only gave it an "A" on the Limited's LED projector lights and "Poo" ("P") on the lower trim levels' headlights.

Which Has the Best Value?

Both the 2020 Honda Pilot and the 2020 Toyota Highlander have a lot of value compared to some of the other third-row SUVs out there this year. The Pilot has a ton of comfort, has high-quality materials, and has a nicer cabin than many others. This makes it easy to justify jumping up to one of the higher trim levels. The soft-touch surfaces really feel nice, and the high-gloss trim and matte finished secondary controls on the higher trims are stunning. And, although the warranties are industry standard, the fuel economy makes the deal even sweeter.

As for the Highlander, it is a little more expensive than its rivals, and without as many standard features, it is hard to justify spending more on a higher trim level. Also, the interior quality is pretty average, so you might not be as wowed by it as you would be the Pilot. The bonus is that you do get two years of free scheduled maintenance on the Highlander.

Which is Better?

Despite Toyota's huge leap in improving the Highlander for 2020, it is going to have to do more to keep pace with the Honda Pilot. The 2020 Honda Pilot has the better value thanks to its innovative design and high-quality materials. If you are going to go all-out on a new third-row SUV this model year, the 2020 Honda Pilot is a smart choice. It offers plenty of comfort, versatility, and standard features to make it worth your hard-earned money.

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