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The 2014 Toyota Highlander Vs. the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot

Posted by Jared Katsoupis on Sun, Mar 09, 2014 @ 08:00 AM

Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer

With the arrival of the 2014 Toyota Highlander, we thought it would be a good time to take a further look at the vehicle and compare it to some of the other mid-sized SUVs out there, including the Ford Explorer and the Honda Pilot. For those who may not have known, the Highlander received a complete makeover for the 2014 model year and now features a sleeker and more athletic design, which I will get into further below.

Trim Levels and Prices 

Many SUV crosser models now have four trim level options and the Toyota Highlander even has a fifth with its hybrid model. The Highlander offers its basic LE at $29,215, the LE Plus at $32,740, the XLE at $36,040, the Limited at $39,640, and lastly the Hybrid Limited at $47,300. Comparably, the Ford Escape offers 4 trim levels in its base Explorer at $28,910, the XLT at $31,795, the Limited at $36,995, and the Sport at $40,570. Finally, we have the Honda Pilot and its four trim levels with the LX at $31.270, the EX at $33,520, the EXL at $36,770, and the Touring at $41,420. Overall, they are all comparable within $2,000 of each other, the Toyota Highlander sits on the lower side of that scale for all trim levels.


2014 Ford Explorer, Interior, Steering Wheel, Display ConsoleWhile each of these vehicles serve the same function, the style of these SUV’s are anything but similar. The Ford Explorer is actually a pretty stylish car on the outside since it got a makeover. While it still has that trademark Explorer look of years past, you can obviously tell they made adjustments to make it look more like a crossover with a less boxy rear and a wrap around window look. The interior feels a little different. I had the opportunity to test one out not too long ago and immediately felt like I was sitting in the very bottom of a soup bowl. Everything felt so high up with the exception of the seat, and it was not a matter of adjusting the seat height. 


2014 Honda Pilot, Interior, Steering Wheel, Display ConsoleThe Honda Pilot is by far the boxiest of the three and quite possibly the least attractive as well (in my opinion). While the exterior is passable, the interior just lacks a sense of comfort and utility. It has a very plastic utility truck feel rather than an everyday SUV feel. The gear shifter looks like it was just placed into the center console for no reason, while the traditional center area where it used to be looks like a bland conveyor belt used for storage. There is also the matter of this ill placed storage tray below the passenger dash that that just looks out of place.

What I like so much about the Toyota Highlander is that it no longer looks like an SUV and
has fully crossed over into, well, the Crossover territory (so that’s why they call it that!). The
front grill has been redesigned as well as the headlights and taillights which now wrap around to the quarter panels, as well as a nice chrome trim that also wraps around the side windows. The interior is inviting and comfortable with its simplified yet stylish design that feels appropriate for 2014. Subtle sleekness is key. The Highlander does a much better job of utilizing the dash tray by extending it across to the center console and adding some needed color. Besides that, everything feels like it is where it should be. The audio display has been simplified with smaller knobs that line up with some consistency.

2014 Toyota Highlander, Interior, Steering Wheel, Center Console, Leather Seats


Dimensions and seating

The overall sizes of these Crossovers don’t vary greatly besides the fact that the Ford Explorer is the longest at 197.1 inches while the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot are both 191 inches long. The main difference lies in the cargo capacity. While the Highlander offers the least amount of space behind the third row with 13.8 cubic feet, it offers the second best with 83.7 cubic feet of space behind the first row. Depending on how you look at it, the Explorer may offer the worst amount of storage space. While it offers the most space behind the third row with 21 cubic feet, it offers the least space behind the first row with just 80 cubic feet. Last, we have the Honda Pilot, which offers the most space behind the first row with 87 cubic feet, and the second most space behind the third row with 18 cubic feet.

The main difference between the 2013 Highlander and the 2014 Highlander is the addition of the 8th seat in the third row, ranking it amongst the best in seating capacity along with the Honda Pilot which can also seat 8. The Ford Explorer, however, still seats only 7.


2014 Toyota Highlander, Navigation Display, Climate ControlThe more technology becomes an everyday part of our lives, the more we expect from it. In the car industry, it is now a requirement that vehicles have some type of technology to satisfy the consumer and age we live in. Some automakers do this better than others. Take the Toyota Highlander for instance; it comes with a standard back up camera for all four trim levels whereas the Ford Explorer makes it standard only on their Limited and Sport models. The Honda Pilot also makes good use of the backup camera by making it standard on all trim levels.

Navigation however, is more of a premium option and available on higher trim levels. The Toyota Highlander makes their navigation available on their XLE, Limited, and Hybrid Limited models. The Honda Pilot make theirs available on their EXL, and Touring models, and lastly the Ford Explorer offers navigation only as an option on all models but having it standard on none.

Music and media have become an important part of anyone’s smartphone, so it seems like a pretty smart idea to make it a standard part of one's vehicle as well. The Toyota Highlander uses the multimedia platform called Entune, which is standard on all trim levels and gives you features such as a 6.1 inch display screen, Bluetooth, hands free phone calls, a 90 day satellite radio trial, and a host of apps to sort through. The Ford Explorer uses SYNC with MyFord, which gives you most of the same features and is available on every trim level but the base. And last is the Honda Pilot, which uses its own version called i-MID that is available on all of their trim levels.

Ford Explorer, Smart KeyThe Smart Key is a useful feature when you don't want to dig your keys out of your pocket or your purse. What your car does instead is sense that your key (which is more of a wireless computer chip) is nearby and will automatically unlock your doors for you as you approach the door. The Toyota Highlander offers this feature on their XLE and Limited models, the Ford Explorer offers it on their Limited and Sport models, and for some reason, the Honda Pilot does not offer it at all.

Heated mirrors are especially useful if you live in any parts of Northern America and understand what it’s like living with snow for three to four months out of the year. Luckily, The Toyota Highlander has made heated mirrors standard on all of their models, while both the Ford Escape and the Honda Pilot have made it available on all their trims except on the base models.


All three Crossover SUV’s are pretty similar when it comes to horsepower and torque. The Toyota Highlander has a respectable 270 hp and 248@4700 lb ft of torque. The Ford Explorer has the most horsepower at 290 hp and a higher torque at 255@4000 lb ft. Last is the Honda Pilot, which has just 250 horsepower and torque of 253@4800. The Highlander and the Explorer have 6 speed automatic transmissions while the Pilot has just 5 speeds. The Pilot can tow 4500 pounds while the Highlander and Explorer can both tow up to 5000 pounds.

Gas mileage is also a big factor in any vehicle you’re looking at. While you’re most likely aware that mid sized SUV’s don’t offer the best fuel economy out there, you should still be able to expect decent results. With that, The Toyota Highlander can offer you 18/24 and a combined of around 20 mpg. The Ford Explorer will get you just under that with 17/23 and a combined of 19 mpg. And last, the Honda Pilot will get you 17/24 and a combined 20 mpg, making the efficiency of all these cars virtually identical.


The safety features on some of these SUV’s are pretty cool. The biggest feature probably being the blind spot monitor system that detects when cars are on either side of you to warn you not to change lanes. The Toyota Highlander has this available on their Limited trim, while the Honda Pilot has it available on its EXL and Touring models. However, on the Ford Explorer, the blind spot monitor feature is only optional and can add as much as $5000 to an already steep price tag. The Highlander also has the most airbags with 8, while the Explorer has 7 and the Pilot has just 6.

Cost Of Ownership

The 5 Year cost of ownership shows what you would be paying for using the car over the course of 5 years. This includes factors such as fuel, insurance, financing, fees, maintenance, repairs, and the car's overall depreciation.  For this example, I chose to compare the base model from each manufacturer, and the results varied. The Toyota Highlander had the lowest cost of ownership at just $44,380 over a five year period. The Ford Explorer had the highest cost of ownership at $49,498 over five years, and the Honda Pilot was in the middle with a cost of ownership at $45,475 over five years. People may tend to overlook future costs mainly because you don’t have to worry about it right now. However, they are every bit as important as the upfront costs you pay for a new vehicle, so this is something to keep in mind as you make your purchase.


All three vehicles come with a 3 year/36,000 mile new vehicle warranty and a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain limited warranty. As always though, Toyota offers their exclusive Toyota Care program, which gives you 2 years of free maintenance including oil changes, tire rotations, and fluid refills.


All three of these Crossovers offer very similar features and performance. To me, it all comes down to personal preference and price. The style of the Pilot is enough to turn me off and also costs the most and has the second highest cost of ownership. The Ford Explorer has the least amount of standard features such as navigation and a backup camera, and charged the second most for each trim level on top of having the highest cost of ownership at $49,498. Not great value there. What you may have noticed about the Toyota Highlander was that it is very consistent in features, performance, safety, and warranty on top of having very competitive prices and the lowest cost of ownership of all the makes. If value and dependability is what you are looking for, we highly recommend you take a look at the 2014 Toyota Highlander. For more on the Highlander, visit us at Wellesley Toyota Highlander Inventory or be sure to leave us a comment below for any and all questions you may have!

Toyota Highlander

2014 Toyota Highlander, Exterior, Outside

2014 Toyota Highlander, Trunk, Open Window, Rear, Outside

2014 Toyota Highlander, Cargo room, Folded Seats, Third Row Seats, Dog

Ford Explorer

2014 Ford Explorer, Sport, Exterior, White

2014 Ford Explorer, Steering Wheel, Interior

2014 Ford Explorer, Driver seat, Passenger Seat, Leather

Honda Pilot

2014 Honda Pilot, Exterior, Outside, Silver, Grey

2014 Honda Pilot, Interior, Leather Seats, Driver Seat, Steering Wheel

2014 Honda Pilot, Second Row Seats, Folded Down, Leather, Cargo Room

Topics: Toyota, Wellesley Toyota, Honda, Comparison, Ford, Highlander, Pilot, Explorer

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