2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD vs. Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD
John Goreham's picture

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD vs. Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD - Two Opposite Philosophies

Which would be your family vehicle choice between the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid?
Advertisement


Both Ford and Toyota offer a large, 7-passenger crossover. However, their approaches could not be more different. Everything from the drivetrain and what defines “Eco”, to the way the passengers are seated is opposite in this comparison. What is similar is that both of these approximately $50K vehicles are the top large family crossover models for their brands. Let’s compare and contrast these two great models.

Ford Explorer Platinum vs. Toyota Highlander Hybrid – Layout
The first thing to know about these two large crossovers is that they package their occupants very differently. The Highlander has two captain’s chairs behind the front row. This middle row is just as luxurious and comfortable as the two front seats. In between these two large chairs in the middle row is a fold-up or stow-away table with drink holders. This seating is ideal for families who will normally be transporting two children or adults in the second row but want to be able to carry up to three children plus two adults. The Highlander has a three-across third-row seat for kids.

The Ford Explorer does the opposite. It puts a three-across bench behind the front seats, but its third-row can seat just two occupants who will usually be children. For families with five kids this makes sense, but for most other configurations it is less comfortable, despite the Ford being bigger.

At this trim level, every seat is covered in leather on these vehicles and the front seats are heated and ventilated. Although the Ford seats look fancier, we found the Toyota’s to be more comfortable. Your experience may differ of course.

Note that some Ford Explorer trims do offer second-row bucket seats, but our tester and our research lead us to believe that in those configurations the passenger count drops to six. Check with your dealer for details and availability. Highlander models with three-across seating in both the second and third rows are available, making it an 8-passenger vehicle.

Ford Explorer Platinum vs. Toyota Highlander Hybrid – Drivetrain, Towing & Fuel Economy
The Ford has the more powerful engine in this comparison. Its 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 “EcoBoost” engine produces 365 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque. For families who plan to tow very heavy trailers, the Explorer Platinum also is the clear choice since it can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Fuel economy in this large crossover is average at 18 MPG Combined. (More on pages 2 and 3)

The Highlander Hybrid has a strong engine that is more than capable in all driving situations. Its hybrid drive and V6 engine combine to produce a respectable 280 hp. Torque is strong at low RPMs due to the electric motors’ high torque output at low RPMs. The Highlander blows the Ford Explorer away regarding fuel economy with a 28 MPG Combined rating, the highest in its class. In our testing we achieved higher fuel economy, even on the highway. Although it is not as capable as the Ford for towing, with its 3,500-pound rating the Highlander Hybrid can tow a racecar like a Miata on a trailer, two snowmobiles, or a decent sized boat.

Ford Explorer Platinum vs. Toyota Highlander Hybrid – Safety
The Toyota Highlander line is rated by IIHS as a Top Safety Pick Plus vehicle. It scores Good on all crash tests and has Advanced forward collision protection. In an analysis of real-life crash data, the Highlander Hybrid AWD is one of the best nine models in the U.S market.

The Explorer was tested by IIHS in 2016 and scored Marginal on a key crash test. IIHS rates its active safety systems as basic. The Highlander is the clear winner of this category.

Ford Explorer Platinum vs. Toyota Highlander Hybrid – Infotainment
The Highlander Hybrid Limited has a simple to use touch-screen system with JBL premium audio. A feature allows the driver to speak to the rear passengers without shouting. In our testing, we noted more than average glare on the screen of the system. Overall we give the Toyota system high marks, but Android Auto and Apple Car Play are not available.

Ford’s Explorer for 2017 features its highly-regarded Sync 3 system. The system is simple to operate, and faster and more reliable than past Ford offerings. Ford says Android Auto and Apple Car Play will become available on 2017 models*.

Conclusion
Both the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD and Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD are roomy, comfortable luxury crossovers from mainstream brands. Our Toyota test vehicle had a price of $51,385 and the Ford an as-tested price of $53,930. The Highlander Hybrid will also save its owner $650 per year on fuel at today’s low fuel prices compared to the Ford’s cost. The Ford is slightly larger, which we find to be both a plus and a minus. It is harder to park in a garage, but more room is always helpful in family vehicles. The Highlander has the safety edge, but the Ford can tow a bit more. These two great vehicles pose a buyer with a choice of two very different ways to do a large, 7-passenger crossover.

*Test Note: Both models in this comparison were 2016 models tested in July. However the 2017 model year has arrived, and the vehicles are basically unchanged except as noted. There may be very minor price differences and feature differences between the two model years.


Sign-up to our email newsletter for daily perspectives on car design, trends, events and news, not found elsewhere.