The 2021 Toyota 4Runner Struggles Against the Ford Explorer

Did you know that the 2021 Ford Explorer outranks the 2021 Toyota 4Runner? That’s insane. How can the Ford Explorer receive better ratings than the Toyota 4Runner? Isn’t the incredibly popular 4Runner supposed to be the king of midsize SUVs? 

The 2021 Ford Explorer outranks the 2021 Toyota 4Runner 

Well, according to the U.S. News, both the 2021 Ford Explorer and 2021 Toyota 4Runner seem to be struggling. They are both ranked in the bottom third of their SUV rankings on the list of the Best Midsize SUVs for 2020 and 2021. 

The Ford Explorer is ranked as #17, while the Toyota 4Runner is ranked as #20. The worst SUV on the list is the Dodge Journey, which is in last place at #22. Also, the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe came in first place. 

2021 Toyota 4Runner in the mountans
2021 Toyota 4Runner | Toyota

But we will save the best and worst options for another time. For now, let’s take a look at why the Ford Explorer ranks three spots ahead of the Toyota 4Runner. U.S.News ranks vehicles based on credible reviews from newspapers, magazines, automotive sites, and more. 

With each third party review, performance, the interior, critic ratings, safety, reliability ratings, fuel economy, cargo/towing capabilities, and awards are considered. The Ford Explorer may not be equal to the Toyota 4Runner across various trim levels, but it seems to be outperforming the 4Runner in a few different areas. 

Why does the Ford Explorer rank higher? 

The Explorer ranks well for being a little more athletic than its rivals. It has an abundance of cargo space with plenty of standard features. Edmunds shared that the engines provide strong acceleration. The base engine is a 2.3-liter four-cylinder option with 300 hp, but the 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine pumps out 400 hp for towing. 

Despite being a larger SUV, the 2021 Ford Explorer has nimble handling. It feels pretty light around turns, and there’s plenty of grip. Having a unibody frame and a rear-wheel-drive layout improves the handling, balance, and towing stability. 

But the Ford Explorer received negative feedback for having a poor interior quality and lack of comfort. The interior is filled with hard plastics and other cheap materials.

There are six trim levels to choose from, so going up from the base model may improve quality. For example, the Limited trim includes leather seats and heated seats. However, upgrading quickly becomes pricey. 

Edmunds found that there is wind noise at highway speeds, and imperfections in the road can be felt. The second and third rows feel cramped, especially for adults. Also, the tech can be fussy when connecting to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. 

Why did the Toyota 4Runner get a lower ranking? 

The 2021 Toyota 4Runner is still a great SUV option. It ranks higher than the Ford Explorer in areas of off-roading abilities and has a higher reliability rating. The 4.0-liter V6 engine pumps out 270 hp for towing. 

Edmunds noted that the 4Runner only has an adequate performance. It’s not very fast, and breaks can be jumpy. But if you’re getting the TRD model for off-roading, these drawbacks won’t be an issue. 

2021 Ford Explorer
The 2021 Ford Explorer on display | Photo via Ford

Three Reasons Not to Buy the 2020 Toyota 4Runner

The interior quality feels outdated with the use of hard plastics. Going up in trim levels can improve the quality. For example, the SR5 Premium adds synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, and more. 

The 4Runner has a body-on-frame build and a tall ride height, which can affect comfort, despite being better for off-roading. The ride feels stiff, and a little bumpy, plus wind noise is noticeable. But the biggest issue is its weak fuel economy. It only gets an EPA estimated 16 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway.