Compare the Toyota Highlander vs Its Ford & Honda Competition


Vesus the Ford Explorer

See how the Toyota Highlander stands out against the Ford Explorer

Are you looking for a three-row vehicle that has enough seats for the entire family or the carpool circuit? If so, you'll love driving the Toyota Highlander around San Francisco and Hayward! It's sleek, well-equipped, and is known for its reliability and holding onto its value.

There are several other three-row options, like the Ford Explorer. Today we'll compare the two, proving why the Highlander is the better option for buying or leasing. We'll review the performance and capabilities, interior, technology, and safety features.

Performance and Capabilities

The Toyota Highlander has two engines. The base model has a 2.7L engine with 185 horsepower, and it's more ideal for shoppers who mostly want a three-row vehicle for extra cargo space and not because they'll have a crossover filled with people. If you need a stronger engine, the 3.5L V6 has 295 horsepower! When properly equipped, the Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

With the Explorer, the 2.3L EcoBoost has 280 horsepower, the 3.5L V6 has 290 horsepower, and the 3.5L EcoBoost has 350 horsepower. The largest Explorer engine produces way more than the Highlander —  there's no way around that fact — and there isn't an option with less than 200 horsepower. However, Ford's other two engines are still weaker than the V6 that is on most Highlander models!


What's attractive to someone may be ho-hum to another, because looks are subjective. But let's try to put that aside as we discuss the interior stylings of these three-row models. We still think that when you look inside the Highlander you'll appreciate the modern and wide dash layout that has little touches, like chrome accents. The dash on the Explorer is much more vertical and reveals a lot of hard plastic which isn't very desirable in this segment. Plus, the imagery on the touchscreen looks very dated.

Another thing to consider is that the Highlander can seat up to eight passengers, so if you really need an extra spot for a smaller occupant you can get more people with our pick.


From our refrigerators to our Alexa devices to our smartphones, this is a very techy world we live in, so why shouldn't our vehicles live up to the same standard?

The Highlander comes standard with a touchscreen, backup camera, and Bluetooth. As you move up the trim levels, you can get navigation, a power liftgate, ambient lighting, and even Blu-Ray entertainment to keep passengers occupied on long car rides.

You can also get similar features on the Explorer, but a big negative is that you cannot get their SYNC®3 system (which offers a touchscreen) until you get to the third trim level. Until then, you only have SYNC® which uses voice recognition. In this segment which doesn't have an "entry-level costs", we don't think you should have to go without these tech features until you pay for a higher trim level.


Not long ago, when we took a vehicle's safety into consideration it was based on how well it could protect occupants during a crash. Now when we talk about safety, we also consider the technologies onboard that can help stop a collision from happening in the first place, whether you're in the Bay Area, Berkeley, or beyond!

Known as advanced safety technologies, the Highlander comes well equipped with key features, thanks to the standard Toyota Safety Sense package. With Toyota Safety Sense you get the following: lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, pre-collision alert with pedestrian detection, and dynamic radar cruise control. There's also a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert starting on the third Highlander trim.

You can get similar technologies with the Ford Safe and Smart package, but there is a huge caveat. For one, the package isn't standard until you get on the third trim. Secondly, the third trim starts at over $55K, and we think it's crazy that you must pay that much to get features that're standard on the Highlander for far less!

Versus the Honda Pilot

Why you'll want the Toyota Highlander instead of the Honda Pilot

If you have a big family, do a lot of carpooling, or just want extra cargo space, you've probably been considering a three-row crossover. Our favorite, of course, is the Toyota Highlander. It's a model with a great reputation, it holds its value well, and it's been around for a while yet keeps getting better with age. We think you'll enjoy driving everyone (or everything) around bustling San Francisco, suburban Hayward, and beyond with the help of a Highlander.

One of the Highlanders competitors is the Honda Pilot. Today we're going to pit these three-row options against each other and show why you'll still want to drive away from our Oakland dealership with a new Highlander!

Performance and Capabilities

The Highlander lineup has three engines. There is a 2.7L on the base model that has 185 horsepower and on the rest of the trims there is a 3.5L V6 with 295 horsepower. The Pilot's one engine is also a 3.5L V6 engine, but it only has 280 horsepower. A notable difference.

We do like that Highlander does have a smaller engine choice. While not ideal if you have a full car, if you're a solo driver who might have some occasional cargo or puts the third-row down to make space for your dog, the smaller engine will do fine and save you money.

The Highlander also has much better towing specs. When properly equipped, the V6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Get the Pilot and you can only tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Tech Specs

The Highlander has many convenience and safety technologies. All trims have a touchscreen (6.1-inches up to 8-inches), a multi-information display, and a lot of USB ports. As you move up the trims, you can find power seating, three-zone climate control, premium audio speakers, a useful Driver Easy Speak system, and height-adjustable power liftgate. If you do a lot of road trips it would be worth considering the Blu-Ray package!

When it comes to advanced safety features, the Toyota Safety Sense package comes standard. You can also get LED lights and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Honda has its own safety option called Honda Sensing®. There are some slight differences between the two, but until the 2019MY Honda Sensing® was not standard on many trims or even available on the base model. For a car that was focused on being family-friendly, this seemed like a weird choice.

The Pilot has an 8-inch touchscreen, but if you choose the base trim you won't find one. Also missing is the multi-information display, though you can get a tri-zone climate control earlier.


There's no way to beat around the bush: The Pilot is a cavernous vehicle. With all seats up, you get 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space. Behind the second-row there is 46.8 cubic feet, and if you need the entire back there is 83.9 cubic feet.

The Highlander has similar maximum space at 83.7 cubic feet, but the other areas lag at 42.3 cubic behind the second-row and 13.8 cubic feet with all seats up.

If you absolutely need space, perhaps because you do a lot of events in the Bay Area or Berkeley and travel with boxes, tables, etc., the Pilot might win out...but for general use we don’t think the difference is drastic enough to outright dismiss the Highlander.

Since we're talking about the interior, now's a great time to touch on the exterior as well. To help the Pilot be such a spacious vehicle, designers gave the model a large and wide look. We know aesthetics are subjective, but if you put the Highlander next to the Pilot it's clear that our vehicle is far more stylish and sleek. If that means we lose a bit of cargo space, then so be it.

Come Visit Us for a Test Drive!

Ready to see the Toyota Highlander in person, to see if it's the best fit for you? Come down to One Toyota of Oakland today! Or contact us to schedule a test drive.


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