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The base trim levels offered by Toyota and Ford on their Highlander and Explorer models are quite similar. However, only one SUV in the Highlander vs. Explorer matchup looks to be the more affordable option long-term based on estimates made by Edmunds. Here’s a look at how the two SUVs compare

Highlander vs. Explorer: base trims 

It’s a pretty toe-to-toe matchup between the 2023 Toyota Highlander and the 2023 Ford Explorer when it comes to price and fuel economy. For example, Toyota offers the baseline Highlander L trim for a starting MSRP of $36,620. In comparison, Ford offers the baseline Explorer trim at a starting price of $36,700.

Along with the similar pricing structure between these two SUVs, the two also share a very similar fuel economy. The Ford Explorer averages 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. In contrast, the Highlander fairs slightly better, with an average fuel economy of 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. 

One of the most notable differences between these two baseline trims is their standard drivetrains. The 2023 Ford Explorer base trim comes standard with rear-wheel drive. In comparison, the 2023 Toyota Highlander comes standard with front-wheel drive. While the standard powertrain options might help nudge consumers to one SUV over the over, there’s a bigger factor that potential owners should have their sights set on. 

How the SUVs compare in five-year cost to own 

The one essential factor that consumers should definitely be considering when weighing their options between the Highlander and Explorer is long-run affordability. Despite having similar starting MSRPs on their base models, the estimated five-year cost to own is considerably different when comparing the Highlander vs. Explorer. According to Edmunds, the Highlander is predicted to be a couple thousand dollars cheaper than the Explorer over the course of five years of ownership. 

There are a few key reasons why Edmunds predicts that the Explorer is the more expensive SUV to own in the long run. One of these reasons has to do with repair costs. Looking at the estimated five-year repair costs associated with the two SUVs, the Highlander averages around $782 and the Explorer averages around $920. 

Another area where the Explorer proves to be more expensive to own is in the area of fuel consumption. Edmunds estimates that the fuel costs of the Explorer average around $11,183, while the Highlander averages around $10,735. In addition, taxes and fees are generally a little more expensive with the Explorer compared to the Highlander. 

Highlander vs. Explorer: which SUV is right for you? 


2018 Ford Explorer vs. 2018 Toyota Highlander: Used 3-Row SUVs Compete

Even though the 2023 Toyota Highlander is a few thousand dollars cheaper to own over the course of five years, this doesn’t mean that the Highlander is definitively the better SUV option for all consumers. Potential owners should remember that the estimates from Edmunds are just that, purely an estimate of what it may or may not cost to own a vehicle over the course of five years.

The true cost of ownership associated with any type of vehicle will vary depending on a variety of factors. Of course, the biggest factor is usually how well the vehicle is cared for and maintained over the long run. At the end of the day, both the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer have proven themselves to be dependable SUVs. When choosing between the Highlander vs. Explorer, the final decision will simply come down to preference.