Crossover & Midsize

KBB Suprised Everyone by Picking This SUV Over the Toyota Highlander

Kelley Blue Book recently compared two top-notch SUVs. In this review, KBB highlighted the pros and cons of each vehicle and ultimately chose one to be a better buy over the other. One of the SUVs featured in this comparison is the consumer-loved Toyota Highlander. Knowing how comparably priced and handsomely equipped the Highlander is, it’s hard to think that any SUV would win out in a head-to-head competition. But, the second SUV did best the Highlander and had everyone surprised by the recommendation.

The contenders’ similarities make this a great face-off

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is a fan favorite, and in this feature is up against the equally impressive 2020 Ford Explorer. Both freshly redesigned models offer third-row seating and optional hybrid engines with similar fuel economy ratings. They both also have the option for all-wheel drive, beefy engine capability, and stylish luxury packages.

The Highlander and Explorer are both equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The SUVs also share five-star safety ratings with the NHTSA as well as similar warranty coverage. But, there are a few notable distinctions and differences between these two SUV rivals that ultimately swayed the KBB experts to pick one over the other.

Key differences between the two SUVs

The Ford Explorer comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder base engine that is more powerful than that of the Toyota Highlander. The Highlander also offers a four-cylinder engine, but that’s in the hybrid SUV trim. The Highlander generally comes with a 3.5L V6 engine. The Explorer isn’t limited to its base engine and offers two additional twin-turbo V6 configurations.

What the Ford Explorer does better

Workers prepare for a demonstration featuring the new 2020 Ford Explorer at the North American International Auto Show
The Ford Explorer | Scott Olson/Getty Images

The 2020 Ford Explorer has the edge over the Toyota Highlander with the aforementioned engine choices. It also offers rear-wheel drive, whereas the Highlander does not. The Explorer also has above-average cargo space, besting the Highlander by two cubic feet more. For those who need to pull the family jet ski or four-wheeler, you’ll have a higher tow rating with the Explorer as well.

When it comes down to price points for the SUVs, the Ford Explorer will cost less to buy at around $33,860. The Toyota Highlander has a starting MSRP of $35,720. It’s not much of a difference, but KBB warns consumers to be mindful since some of the upper-level trims can widen that price gap fairly quickly.

Where the Toyota Highlander shines

One strong suit of the Toyota Highlander is its long and excellent reliability reputation and strong resale value. Resale values for the Ford Explorer fall behind those of the Highlander. The Highlander also boasts tons of standard features that are increasingly popular with SUV buyers. The third row can be tight for both SUVs, but technically, the Highlander can seat eight, which is more than the Explorer’s seven-passenger capacity.

There can be only one winning SUV

When it comes down to it, and to quote the famous Christopher Lambert line from the movies, “there can be only one.” And for this Kelley Blue Book SUV comparison, it’s not the Toyota Highlander. The KBB reviewers absolutely love everything the 2020 Toyota Highlander has to offer, and they do acknowledge the continuous efforts to make improvements. However, for shoppers looking for a variety of options, they have to crown the 2020 Ford Explorer as the top pick. With its three base engines, impressive towing capacities, and aggressively priced trims, it’s a clear winner.

It was a close call, and the nod surprised many. The Toyota Highlander is an impressive SUV all around, but not impressive enough to surpass the hefty roster of features that comes with the Ford Explorer. Just know they’re very similar in a variety of areas, though, and both are worth a test drive.