As you research the best new SUVs of the year, you’ll likely land on models like the Ford Explorer. Once the segment’s gold standard, the Explorer is certainly a decent crossover that’s capable of doing all the things a crossover should do, but there’s a newer player in the game: the 2018 Toyota Highlander. Built around the premier Toyota Safety Sense system and designed to emphasize affordable elegance for families, the new Highlander shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here’s how the 2018 Explorer and Highlander compare.
Highlander vs. Explorer Interior
Some critics note that the 2018 Explorer’s bland, uninspired cabin leaves much to be desired, particularly when it comes to space.
All Explorer trims are offered as seven-seaters—a downgraded six-seater is optional—but the seventh seat sacrifices passenger comfort dramatically. Pop in a rear-facing child car seat in any of the rear rows, and you’re in for a stressful trip. With the standard 60-40 bench, third-row legroom might as well be a dream, too, and are best suited for passengers under the age of eleven.
The 2018 Highlander, on the other hand, is an eight-seater SUV that doesn’t cut the seventh (or eighth) passenger out of the equation. The middle row slides side-to-side for better access to the third-row bench, which offers more room for hips and shoulders than the Explorer’s rear seats.
Although the Explorer offers a substantial bit of cargo space behind the third row, its lackluster showing up to the first row (81.7 cu. ft.) is bested by the Highlander and its 83.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo room.
Technology and Features
With the Highlander AWD crossover, you get a slew of high-tech features that aren’t standard in the base Explorer 4WD trim. Some of our Newton Toyota drivers’ favorite standard Highlander features include:
- Adaptive Cruise Control
- Side mirrors with integrated turn signals
- Lane Departure Warning
- Lane Keep Assist
- Five USB ports (vs. one in the Explorer)
- Entune™ Audio
- A 6.1-inch touchscreen (vs. the 4.2-inch screen in the Explorer)
- Two AUX outlets
At the top of the lineup—that is, when we compare the Highlander Limited Platinum to the Explorer Platinum—Toyota’s SUV is filled to the brim with exclusive features, such as the following:
- High-end chrome wheels
- Cargo shade
- Rear parking aid
- Digital hard drive
- Advanced lumbar support in the driver’s seat
- An 8-speed automatic transmission
- Tri-zone automatic climate control
- Birds Eye View Camera with 360-degree Perimeter Scan
All in all, the Highlander has a cabin that’s situated at the top of the segment thanks to some clever in-dash flourishes and convenient features like the five USB ports. Yes—every device is welcome when you opt for the 2018 Toyota Highlander.
All ‘Bout Those MPGs
Fuel-economy ratings for the V6-equipped Explorer base model are a measly 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, which is lags far beyond the Highlander and most every other SUV in its segment.
The new Toyota Highlander is available as Hybrid, but it doesn’t need a lithium-ion battery to beat the Ford Explorer toe-to-toe. All Toyota Highlander models, when fitted with the 3.5L V6 and 8-speed transmission, return 21 mpg cities and 27 mpg on highways. The start-stop system built into this Toyota engine is a worthwhile addition and should help you save money at the pump.
Safety is as Safety Does
As a 2018 Top Safety Pick with the IIHS, the new Highlander is your family’s dependable transporter. As we mentioned before, the standard inclusion of certain safety features via Toyota Safety Sense™ P—other safety features include Pre-Collision with Pedestrian Detection and Automatic High Beams—is a step above what’s offered in the Ford Explorer, as are its LATCH anchors, thin pillars that don’t impede driver visibility, and the Toyota Star Safety System™. That’s why it also earned an overall safety rating of 5 stars from the NHTSA.
The 2018 Explorer is a capable SUV with some major driver-side safety issues. Steering columns and dashboards seemed to push inward and airbags didn’t deploy correctly in IIHS-conducted crash tests, indicating that driver safety may be a concern.
The Highlander is the Clear Winner
Bias aside, the 2018 Highlander is a stud in the segment, completely decimating the Explorer in all categories. Surprisingly, the Ford Explorer is still the best-selling midsize SUV on the market, but we imagine that’ll quickly change as more drivers start testing out the Toyota Highlander over the next couple years. Plus, the Highlander Platinum is priced well below the range-topping Explorer Platinum, which should make a compelling incentive for Ford-loyal drivers to make the switch.
If you’d like to become a Toyota Highlander owner, now’s your chance! At Toyota World of Newton, we have various Toyota special offers on the latest 2018 models, including the midsize Highlander crossover. Just stop in to browse our selection or call our sales team at (973) 459-4442 to schedule a test drive. We’ll have you exploring all of Lafayette Township in one of the finest new SUVs around.
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