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Two longtime favorites in the midsize SUV segment are the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander. While both SUVs continue to be successful and have multiple strong points, there’s a key factor in the Explorer’s favor. The 2023 Ford Explorer has one huge thing that the 2023 Toyota Highlander doesn’t offer: an off-road model with the Timberline trim.

Unlike the 2023 Toyota Highlander, the 2023 Ford Explorer has an off-road model: Timberline trim

Front angle view of 2023 Ford Explorer Timberline midsize SUV
2023 Ford Explorer Timberline | Ford

Off-road SUVs are all the rage these days. People long to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and head out into the wilderness. The 2023 Ford Explorer meets this demand with the highly-capable Timberline off-road model. If you want an SUV that can drive off the beaten path, then the Explorer is the way to go.

Conversely, the 2023 Toyota Highlander doesn’t have an off-road model in its lineup. While Toyota offers off-road models for some of its other SUVs, including the RAV4, 4Runner, and Sequoia, there isn’t one available for the Highlander. The Highlander is great for city driving — but not so much for off-road use. 

Even if you never plan on driving off-road, the Explorer Timberline has other benefits. This includes traveling in adverse weather conditions, such as snowy and icy roads. Also, the midsize SUV is more effective for driving on poor-quality roads, such as broken concrete, cracks, and potholes. 

Features in 2023 Explorer Timberline that make it better for off-road use compared to 2023 Highlander 

Front angle view of gray 2023 Toyota Highlander midsize SUV
2023 Toyota Highlander | Toyota

The greater off-road capabilities of the 2023 Ford Explorer Timberline midsize SUV start with its standard Intelligent Four-Wheel Drive system. The Intelligent 4WD, which is also offered for other Explorer trims, delivers optimum traction on challenging terrain. 

It’s a highly advanced system, for it proactively provides traction before wheel slippage can occur. This is accomplished by automatically adjusting the torque between the wheels according to the conditions and inputs from the driver. While the 2023 Toyota Highlander offers an all-wheel drive system, it’s not as advanced as the four-wheel drive system in the Timberline and other Explorer models.

Additionally, the Explorer Timberline has high ground clearance — 8.7 inches. High ground clearance enables the midsize SUV to more safely and effectively drive over uneven terrain, such as rocks. In comparison, the Highlander only has ground clearance of up to 8.0 inches. 

Furthermore, the Explorer has various off-road features. This includes a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, hill-descent control, skid plates, heavy-duty shock absorbers, and all-terrain tires. Also, it features a terrain management system with seven drive modes, such as Deep Snow/Sand and Trail.

Other strengths of the Ford Explorer over the Toyota Highlander

Related How Much Does a Fully Loaded 2023 Ford Explorer Cost?

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In addition to its Timberline off-road model, the 2023 Explorer midsize SUV has some other strengths over the 2023 Highlander. This includes more powerful engine options: a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 (400 horsepower), a 3.3-liter V-6 hybrid (318 horsepower), and a 2.3-liter EcoBoost I-4 (300 horsepower). 

All of these engines are more potent than the standard turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four engine (265 horsepower) in the Highlander. The Highlander also offers a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid, but it’s even weaker (243 horsepower).

Furthermore, the Explorer can tow a heavier load than the Highlander (up to 5,500 vs. 5,000 pounds). Additionally, it has a roomier cabin, with a maximum cargo capacity of 87.8 cu-ft and a total passenger volume of 152.7 cu-ft. The Highlander only has 84.3 cu-ft of space for storage and 141.3 cu-ft for passengers. Plus, the cabin of the Explorer is more upscale, especially for the higher trims.

With its Timberline off-road model, the 2023 Ford Explorer has a huge thing that the 2023 Toyota Highlander doesn’t offer. If you’re a midsize SUV shopper that’s longing for some off-road adventures, then the Explorer is likely the better choice for you.