The mid-size SUV market has a lot going on, with no shortage of options from pretty much every manufacturer out there. Deciding between all these options can be a daunting task, so you might just toss up your hands and stick with whatever company has done right by you in the past. Whether you like Ford, Toyota, or Chevy, however, it’s always a good idea to look at what’s out there from time to time and see what’s available. For example, let’s consider the 2019 Ford Explorer vs 2019 Toyota Highlander.
While there is a lot that the Highlander does right, there are also some major ways that it falls short of what the Explorer has to offer. For example, there are three different engines available from Ford, while Toyota only offers two – assuming you’re not interested in a hybrid model. While I will give Toyota credit for the fact that they even offer a hybrid option, if that’s not what you’re interested in, then it’s pointless. It’s also worth noting that if you wait for a 2020 Ford Explorer, then a hybrid engine will be available.
The 2019 Explorer continues to surpass the Highlander in other ways, from larger tires available to a more impressive dedicated off-road trim option. In terms of safety features, these are both excellent vehicles with a lot to offer. But overall, if you love yourself a Ford, then stick with it!
More Engine Options and More Power
This, to me, is a pretty major point and I’m sure if you’re a Ford-fan then this is likely the smoking gun that ends the debate for you right now. In general, I like having a lot of options when looking at a new vehicle – more options mean more ways for me to make it feel like my own and to get exactly what I want and need. Engine options, in particular, are a big deal to me because they have such a huge impact overall on how a vehicle performs.
The 2019 Ford Explorer has three conventional engines available, while the 2019 Toyota Highlander has only two. Of course, as you would expect, some of these engines are restricted based on what trim level you look at, but that’s pretty much standard for all vehicles across the industry. An extra engine might not seem like a world of difference, but that extra customization and flexibility means a lot to me and shows the attention Ford pays to buyer control.
Of course, the power offered by those engines is just as important as the number of options – after all, I don’t care about getting more choices if they are all garbage. Thankfully, they are not garbage. The standard engine for lower trims of the Explorer is a 3.5L Ti-VCT V6 engine that offers up to 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. If you choose the Limited trim, then you get a 2.3L EcoBoost engine standard, which provides up to 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque with excellent fuel economy, which is an optional upgrade for the lower trims. The Sport and Platinum trim levels of the 2019 Ford Explorer come with a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 that offers up to 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque for tremendous overall performance.
By comparison, the two engines from Toyota just kind of fall short. The standard engine at the starting trim is a 2.7L 4-cylinder engine that offers just 185 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is pretty weak for a mid-size SUV. Fortunately, a more powerful engine comes standard on higher trims: a 3.5L V6 that provides up to 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. As you can see, that’s much better and more in-line with what the Explorer has to offer, but doesn’t come close to the most powerful engine from Ford.
It’s worth noting that there is technically a third engine available from Toyota. There’s a hybrid option that you can choose if you go with a 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid model. Since that’s a niche choice, however, I tend to put it aside when looking at these two SUVs.
Better Off-Road Functionality
A good mid-size SUV can be a great option for going off-road, especially if you choose a model designed with that in mind. While neither of these vehicles is built like a Jeep, with off-road as the primary intent, they should still be able to tackle some rough road when you go camping. With that in mind, the 2019 Ford Explorer lives up to its name.
For one thing, the Explorer has a trim dedicated to dealing with rough terrain and exploring beyond paved roads. The Sport trim is ideal for this sort of thing, with the more powerful engine and 4WD standard, rather than being optional. The Terrain Management system lets you shift between different types of roads on the fly, from pavement to mud to sand, keeping you in control. The Sport comes with 20-inch wheels and a sport-tuned independent suspension ideal for tackling tough terrain, while also offering luxurious and comfortable interior features.
By comparison, the 2019 Toyota Highlander falls short with its off-road features. For one thing, the closest it has to a dedicated off-road trim is the SE, which is good, but not great. It has 19-inch wheels that are larger than the standard wheels on lower trims but not as large as what you get with the Explorer Sport. The Highlander has a sport-tuned independent suspension, which indicates it is for rougher terrain, and yet it comes with FWD standard instead of 4WD, and has AWD as an option. That’s a huge oversight to me – your sport trim should come with AWD as the standard configuration, not require an upgrade for it.
Solid Safety Features from Both
Alright, so the 2019 Ford Explorer has more powerful engines available than the 2019 Toyota Highlander and better overall features for going off-road and roughing it. But what about safety features? To me, safety is the single most important thing with any vehicle, so I’m happy to see that both of these vehicles have great features overall.
The 2019 Ford Explorer has the Ford Co-Pilot 360 package to offer, which includes features like Advancetrac with roll stability and a blind spot information system with cross traffic alert. The available Ford Safe and Smart package includes adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning with brake support to make the brakes more responsive when needed. There is also a lane keeping system that alerts you through steering wheel vibrations when you drift out of your lane, as well as auto high beam headlamps, which switch to your street lights when oncoming vehicles are detected, and rain-sensing automatic windshield wipers.
While the Explorer dominates in a lot of ways, fortunately, the 2019 Toyota Highlander can keep up with it in terms of safety. The Toyota Safety Sense package includes dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering wheel assist to help keep you in your lane, and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection. The Highlander also has automatic high beams that switch to low beams when oncoming traffic is detected, a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and a virtual bird’s eye view system.
So if you’re a Toyota fan, you can at least feel safe in the 2019 Highlander. Even though you know that 2019 Ford Explorer next to you might have a more powerful engine and better features for going off-road. That’s something, right?