5 Great Ford Explorer Alternatives for Less Than $40,000

The Ford Explorer soldiers on as the most popular, best-selling, three-row SUVs this sumer. But, for many, its styling says, “state trooper” more than “school pick-up line.” While some like that, and also the Explorer’s immense utility, vast options, and towing ability, it’s not for everyone. But there are plenty of three-row SUV alternatives out there from Chevy, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Hyundai that can do as much as a well-equipped Explorer for less than $40,000.

The Explorer is a hit for Ford this year

2021 Ford Explorer in silver
2021 Ford Explorer | Raymond Boyd, Getty Images

The Explorer was completely updated and all new for 2021, and that update has made it the best-selling midsize SUV in America this Summer, according to GoodCarBadCar, which tracks sales. It’s easy to see why with a variety of engine choices and trim levels, as well as good cargo room, the ability to tow up to 5,300 pounds.

It has a back third-row seat that can snugly fit real adults, intelligent all-wheel drive, and a starting price in the mid-$35,000 range. Of course, that’s a basic model and the upgraded XLT at $38,570 offers the options most want, including a power liftgate, a large touchscreen, three-zone air conditioning, and several driver’s aids. It holds up to 87.8 cubic feet of luggage when the seats are folded.

Chevy Traverse is a larger Ford Explorer alternative

The Traverse was updated for 2022 with a new exterior and now gets Chevy Safety Assist standard on all trims. The Traverse is big and holds an impressive 98.2 cubic feet of stuff when the second and third rows are folded. Though it does have a 310-horsepower V6, the Explorer’s turbocharged Ecoboost engine nearly matches that with 300, yet gets better fuel economy.

While the Premier versions of the Traverse can cost more than $50,000, the lower-priced RS and LT versions get a load of safety features, including rear pedestrian alert, and the Redline edition gives it street cred. The Traverse nearly matches the Explorer on price, starting at about $35,000. But like the Explorer, the upgraded version has the features most want, and the LT version starts at $38,440, while all-wheel drive is a $4,000 option.

Honda’s large Explorer alternative is bland, but capable

A 2022 Honda Pilot parked on the beach. It's the only Honda SUV that's actually better cheaper.
2022 Honda Pilot | Honda

Much like the Explorer, the Honda Pilot blends in. There is nothing really dynamic about its look that sets it apart. But, it does seat up to eight inside in near-minivan comfort. The Pilot starts at $38,080 and comes with a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, Honda Sensing driver’s aids, and standard heated seats as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But, the one you want is the upgraded EX-L, with leather and a power liftgate, which unfortunately blows through the $40,000 price tag.

While it’s a large SUV, its sloping roofline cuts into its cargo room and the Pilot holds slightly less than the Explorer with 83.9 cubic feet of space.

The Nissan Pathfinder was all new ‘22

Like many others on this list, the Pathfinder got a huge re-do for 2022. It now has seating for up to eight, a 284-horsepower V6, and new all-wheel drive features. Most importantly, the Pathfinder finally got new styling that makes it stand out and look like its off-road forebears. The Pathfinder, however, is still based on a car chassis and that comes with some benefits, including great on-road manners thanks to its multi-link suspension setup, but allows some soft-roading.

The Nissan starts at $35,000  and comes with Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, which adds navigation, and Nissan Safety Shield, which is Nissan’s suite of driver’s aids. For $38,720 you can get the upgraded SV with four-wheel drive that also comes with heated seats and more. It holds 80.5 cubic feet of stuff when you fold the seats down.

The Toyota Highlander is the standard bearer

Front angle view of Moon Dust 2023 Toyota Highlander midsize SUV
Moon Dust 2023 Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander seems to be the large SUV that many others benchmark their three-row SUVs on. It seats seven or eight people, but the way back seat only has 27.7 inches of legroom, making it a kids-only spot. Also, for such a large SUV, the Toyota Higlander cargo hold is less than many others on this list with 84.3 cubic feet with the back seats folded.

But, it does come with a 295 horsepower V6, optional all-wheel drive in the Hybrid version, and it comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense. It barely sneaks under $40,000 in base trim, starting at $39,555. But, it does hold its value better than many others on this list.

Hyundai Palisade

Front angle view of gray 2023 Hyundai Palisade, affordable midsize SUV alternative to Toyota Highlander costing under $36,000
2023 Hyundai Palisade | Hyundai

Hyundai updated the Palisade, and its corporate twin the Kia Telluride, for 2023. The Palisade’s new design brief seems to have been, “add all the technology you can, but don’t screw up all the good stuff.” The Palisade is one of the hottest-selling SUVs on the market and a sales leader for Hyundai. The Palisade is stylish, but unlike others with sloping rear roofs, it still holds an impressive 86.4 cubic feet of luggage when the seats are folded.

The Palisade now has a standard 12.3-inch navigation screen and many of the features that you’d expect in the segment. The Palisade can be ordered with a wi-fi hotspot, power third-row seats that fold flat, USB-C chargers, and new monitors that will alert you if there’s movement in the back of the SUV. The base trim starts at $35,250, but like the others on this list, the upgraded version SEL is the one with the features most want and it starts at $38,250.

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