A silver 2022 Ford Explorer is shown parked on the dirt after a 2022 Ford Explorer vs 2022 Honda Pilot competition.

2022 Explorer vs 2022 Pilot: Finding the “Fun” In “Family-Friendly”

The world of SUVs and crossovers largely catered to family-oriented people. That said, there are many different variations of family-friendly SUVs on the market, none of which are more fun than a model that can tackle pavement and dirt just the same. Two popular midsize SUVs are marketed as “adventure-capable” models, but which midsize SUV truly offers the most fun for families? When we look at the 2022 Ford Explorer vs 2022 Honda Pilot, it’s safe to say that it’s all in the name – it’s time to do some Exploring.

What Makes for a Fun Family Vehicle?

Obviously, the word “fun” can mean many different things in the automotive world. While a racecar driver may see “fun” as being lots of horsepower and torque in the lightest possible chassis, a parent is going to see those specs as risks rather than rewards. A fun family vehicle is one that offers safety to go along with capability and good looks.

While any crossover or SUV model can make it to and from basketball games and the park, only certain models are good for outdoorsy activities such as camping and hiking. Getting to your favorite backwoods location requires all-terrain capabilities and sometimes sufficient towing capacity to go along with space to haul passengers and gear.

The Timberline Versus the TrailSport

Let’s start by looking at each model’s “off-road-specific” trims. Before we get started here, remember that this isn’t going to be a Ford Bronco versus Jeep Wrangler type of comparison. Neither the Explorer nor the Pilot is a dedicated off-road model, even when looking at their Timberline and TrailSport variants. However, if we were to pick a model to compete as a true off-roader, the Explorer’s Timberline trim would win, hands-down. Here’s why.

The 2022 Explorer Timberline comes with a standard Intelligent 4WD system. In short, this means that while you’re typically driving with 2WD, Intelligent 4WD can kick all four wheels into gear when necessary. Thanks to sensors and modern technologies, drivers won’t have to switch it into 4WD manually when the terrain gets tough. The Timberline also includes a Terrain Management System that offers up to seven different drive modes so that you can better prepare for the road ahead. These modes include Trail, Deep Snow/Sand, Slippery, Tow/Haul, and more.

The Ford Explorer Timberline also comes with underbody skid plates, off-road-specific steering calibration, and a 5,300-pound towing capacity (when the Max Trailering Package is added). Standard Hill Descent Control is also included to help the Timberline maintain a safe, slow speed when headed downhill. The model also offers 8.6 inches of ground clearance, making it ideal for tackling rocky, uneven trails. These features come together to help make the Timberline one of the best off-road capable options for family drivers.

What about the Honda TrailSport, you ask? Well, let’s just start off by saying it isn’t as rugged as Honda suggests. Put simply, most of the “off-roading” upgrades given to the TrailSport trim are simple aesthetic changes, mostly to the interior. They include TrailSport badging on the seats, better tires with 18-inch black wheels, and a mere 0.6-inch increase in ground clearance. The Pilot’s max towing capacity is also 300 pounds less than the Explorer’s, while its average, standard tow capacity falls at 3,500 pounds. Overall, the TrailSport’s perks are more centered on looking good, while the Timberline’s features are actually designed with off-roading in mind.

A grey 2022 Honda Pilot Trailsport is shown from a rear angle driving up a rocky path.

How About Safety?

While you want to have fun with the family, you still want safety to be a top priority, too. After all, you can’t truly have fun if there’s more risk than reward. While driving poses a risk no matter what, you want a vehicle that can keep you as safe as possible using modern driver-assist features that won’t cost thousands of dollars extra.

Honda is known for its standard safety features, so the question here is, can Ford keep up? The 2022 Honda Pilot includes standard Honda Sensing, which is a driver-assist suite that comes at no additional cost to buyers. This suite includes a Collision Mitigation Braking System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Road Departure Mitigation, and Lane Keeping Assist. As you begin to climb the trims of the 2022 Pilot, you’ll gain Blind Spot Monitoring, but only three out of eight trims include parking sensors.

That said, Ford keeps right up with Honda this time, offering Ford Co-Pilot360 as a standard feature, which includes six standard driver-assist technologies. These consist of Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Blind-Spot Monitoring, Rear-Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keep Assist.

In addition to these standard features, the Explorer also includes optional safety add-ons such as Active Park Assist 2.0, which is a technology that automatically parks your Explorer for you. While it’s not a necessary feature, it does make otherwise complicated scenarios (such as parallel parking) much safer and easier. Active Park Assist 2.0 even includes side-sensing technologies that help determine whether it’s safe to exit a parking spot or not.

Altogether, it is no surprise that the 2022 Ford Explorer is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, guaranteeing that it will keep your family safe on the road. However, it may come as a shock to learn that the 2022 Honda Pilot failed to even be named an IIHS Top Safety Pick as a result of its poorer crash test ratings. If you are shopping for the safest family vehicle out there, the Explorer should be much higher on your list than the Pilot.

Aesthetic Differences Matter

Now, back to the fun! As shallow as it is, kids and teenagers still care deeply about looks. While you or your partner may be more concerned with practicality, there’s no way the family can have fun if the kids are embarrassed by your ride. So, which one of these models offers the greatest aesthetic appeal?

While family commuters aren’t typically known for their good looks, we can safely say that the 2022 Ford Explorer outdoes the 2022 Honda Pilot by a landslide when it comes to visual design. The Explorer rocks that sportier, off-roading vibe, looking similar to the Ford Bronco, while still exhibiting “practical” SUV vibes. It has a square body with rounded corners, which pairs nicely with its wide grille and front fascia.

The Pilot, on the other hand, looks far more like a minivan than an SUV. Honda takes a more traditional approach in design, going for more of a mom-friendly appeal. Even the TrailSport looks like something you’d see at the mall, but definitely not off-road. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with this style, the Explorer’s looks are a lot more “fun” for everyone involved. Each Explorer trim offers its own unique exterior differences, but the overall design remains the same, even at the base level.

A dark green 2022 Ford Explorer Timerline is shown at a campsite.

Which Model is Right for Your Family?

Both the 2022 Ford Explorer and the 2022 Honda Pilot are safe, family-friendly models that can certainly handle the roadways better than your average sedan can. That said, the Pilot is simply not as “adventure-friendly” as it’s advertised, even when you opt for the TrailSport edition.

While some SUVs truly are off-road capable, many crossover and SUV models are being portrayed as all-terrain-friendly simply because they include AWD capability. The truth is that there’s a big difference between a model that offers seven different terrain modes, underbody skid plates, and off-road-specific handling and a model that has unique wheels and tires with an insignificant ground clearance increase.

Plus, the TrailSport’s inability to tow makes it even less family-friendly. While the Pilot is great for family commuting, it’s not so great for family fun. When you’re ready for adventures, the 2022 Ford Explorer is definitely the way to go.