Crossover & Midsize

The Ford Explorer Barely Beat the Toyota Highlander in 2020 Sales

The Ford Explorer has been a household name for close to three decades. Known for its family-friendliness and reliability, the Explorer is usually a top seller in the SUV segment. But the 2020 model saw some changes that made consumers and critics hesitate.

The Explorer was a big seller in the first quarter of 2020. However, sales didn’t keep pace for the rest of the year, and the Explorer barely outsold its biggest rival, the 2020 Toyota Highlander. In the final quarter of 2020, the Ford Explorer sold only 66,008 units, compared with the Highlander, with 70,975, Good Car Bad Car reports. Due to a strong first quarter, the Explorer sold a total of 226,215 units for the year. But the Highlander came in strong at 212,276, almost knocking the Explorer out of the top spot.

The 2020 Ford Explorer saw a radical redesign

Part of the reason for the Ford Explorer’s poor sales last year might relate to the SUV’s redesign. It returns to its roots of rear-wheel drive while maintaining the more recent unibody style. That means better handling, stability, and towing, according to Car and Driver.

At first glance, it seems like a good redesign and may prove to be. However, the biggest concerns were recalls. According to CNET, the 2020 Ford Explorer was recalled 10 times last year.

The Explorer’s redesign comes with a price hike

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The other factor that came into play was a hefty price tag, with the base model starting at around $37,000. The Highlander starts around $34,000. There’s an even bigger difference in hybrid models, with the Explorer coming in at $52,280 and the Highlander at $47,000.

These differences, though, likely didn’t outweigh the power and history behind the Ford brand until the second quarter of 2020, which coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Price likely became a more important factor for consumers, and Explorer sales suffered. It will be interesting to see if sales rebound as the nation attempts a return to normalcy. 

2020 Ford Explorer vs. Toyota Highlander

How do these two SUVs compare? Let’s take a look. 

Engine: The Ford Explorer base model has a 2.3-liter turbocharged engine producing 300 hp, while the Highlander has a 3.5-liter V6 getting 295 hp. The Explorer can tow around 5,600 pounds, a bit better than the Highlander’s 5,000 pounds. It’s pretty much a tie in this category.

Interior: Both crossovers offer three-row seating, but the Explorer feels less cramped. Both infotainment systems connect to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and offer easy-to-use controls. The Explorer wins here thanks to its roomier interior, but it’s not a runaway hit.

Safety: The 2020 Highlander comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. The Ford Explorer initially had some major issues in this category, and the IIHS awarded a Top Safety Pick+ only to models built after May 2020. The Highlander wins in safety, though Ford is credited with making improvements.

Overall, both SUVs are comparable. Each has pros and cons, and either would be a solid choice. But the 2020 Highlander is the clear winner in terms of price. So if the Ford name isn’t the most important thing to you in an SUV, the Highlander offers better value.