Life is full of tough choices – deciding what car to buy next shouldn’t be one of them, although with the number of new makes and models flooding the market every single year, it’s no surprise that car shoppers are often overwhelmed when it comes time to make that decision. Oftentimes, running a quick comparison between two of your options is the best method of narrowing down your decision to find the car that is best for you. To give you a jump start, we’ve gone ahead and compared a few key metrics for the 2017 Toyota Highlander and the 2017 Ford Explorer – two very popular cars that may look similar on the outside, but have enough variance between them that your final choice should be an easy one.
Between the 2017 Ford Explorer and the 2017 Toyota Highlander, if you’re looking for the model with the best base engine, then you’re looking at the Explorer. While both models offer engine options, the Explorer comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, while the Highlander comes standard with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, which gives the 290 horse-powered Explorer a distinct advantage over the sluggish 185 horse-powered Highlander.
However, if the weak engine is the only thing holding you back from purchasing the 2017 Toyota Highlander, there is a 3.5-liter V6 engine option available. Opt for that engine and the Highlander will be more competitive with 295 horsepower. Of course, the 2017 Explorer can also be equipped with either a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a twin-turbocharged V6 engine, so you are going to want to consider your performance needs as you choose your engine for either model.
Power is one thing, but where most people are really going to notice a difference is at the pump. While the base model 2017 Ford Explorer may come with a better engine, it also comes with subpar fuel economy, getting a mere 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, as opposed to the base model 2017 Toyota Highlander, which gets 20 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway – above average estimates for the midsize SUV class. Better yet, opt for the souped-up V6 engine and you’ll actually increase your fuel economy by getting 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
Both the 2017 Ford Explorer and the 2017 Toyota Highlander have a maximum 5,000-pound towing capacity when properly equipped, so if you plan on towing relatively smaller items, either SUV should suit your needs. If you need to tow a large trailer or boat, you may want to move past both models.
While the base model 2017 Ford Explorer may offer a better engine than the 2017 Toyota Highlander, the Explorer cannot compete with the Highlander’s base trim. The Highlander comes in five trim options: the LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, and Limited. Opt for the LE and enjoy a Highlander equipped with heated mirrors, rear privacy glass, rear air-conditioning, a rear view camera, five USB ports, a 6.1-inch touchscreen display screen, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker sound system, an auxiliary jack, a CD player, cloth upholstery, and a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat.
While those are all great amenities, especially for a base model, where you’ll really be impressed is the standard safety features. The base model 2017 Toyota Highlander LE comes with Toyota Safety Sense, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure intervention, forward collision mitigation, automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams. Considering most other models in the midsize SUV class only offer a rearview camera as a safety feature, Toyota has gone above and beyond in loading up the safety technology in it’s base model.
So how does the 2017 Ford Explorer stack up? Offered in five trim levels (Explorer, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum), the base model is also fairly well-equipped although it lacks the impressive array of safety features the Highlander offers. It does however have a rearview camera, Bluetooth, rear climate controls, a 4.2-inch display screen, and a six-speaker sound system.
Worth noting is that the base model 2017 Toyota Highlander has seating for up to eight passengers, while the 2017 Ford Explorer can only seat seven. Of course, moving up the trim levels of both models allows you to change the configuration of the seats so you can customize your SUV to meet your passenger needs.
Safety & Reliability
While both the 2017 Ford Explorer and the 2017 Toyota Highlander have earned five-out-of-five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, if you’re trying to decide on which model is the safest for your family, you’d be remiss not to factor in all of the safety technology you’ll be getting in the standard Highlander. To get all of the features of the Toyota Safety Sense in a Ford Explorer, you’re going to have to start moving up the trim levels – which means you’re going to be spending more for equipment that comes standard on the base model Toyota.
However, if crash test scores are more important to you, know that while the Explorer has been named Good – the highest rating – from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in three out of the four tests, it was given a score of Marginal for its overlap front test. Acceptable scores, but tremendously overshadowed by the 2017 Toyota Highlander, which the IIHS named a Top Safety Pick+ for it’s perfect scores across the board.
The 2017 Toyota Highlander also bests the 2017 Ford Escape when it comes to reliability – it earns a 3.5-out-of-five predicted reliability rating from J.D. Power and Associates while the 2017 Ford Explorer only earns a three-out-of-five.
Which Model is For You?
At this point, it’s pretty obvious that while both the 2017 Ford Explorer and the 2017 Toyota Highlander are certainly good midsized SUVs, the Highlander is superior when it comes to amenities, safety, and reliability. And, unfortunately for Ford, if you’re looking to save money, Toyota beats out Ford on price, too. A base model Toyota Highlander is going to set you back $30,630, while a base model Ford Explorer starts at $31,660. Granted, the price difference isn’t huge, but when you consider the extra interior features and safety technology you’ll get standard in a Toyota, your choice is probably becoming clear. In the battle of the midsized SUVs, the 2017 Toyota Highlander knocks the 2017 Ford Explorer out of this competition.