A white 2023 Ford Explorer is shown parked near a carnival after winning a 2023 Ford Explorer vs. 2023 Toyota Highlander comparison.

Need A New Family Vehicle? Consider the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander

Have your kids outgrown the family car? When you have younger children, it’s easy to pile them into the back of the car. But as they grow older, the limited space and lack of practical features for the entire family ends up causing a lot of strife that could be avoided. When it’s time to upgrade to a bigger, better family vehicle, you’re most likely looking for those extra practical features. Fortunately, you have plenty of choices. Comparing the likes of the 2023 Ford Explorer vs. 2023 Toyota Highlander side by side allows you to see which one has the features that fit you and your family best. It can be difficult to narrow things down, so to keep it simple, know what features are most important to you and your family, and use that to eliminate some choices. Also think about brands. Ford and Toyota are reliable, modern brands that produce quality vehicles, but there are some other brands with lesser reputations when it comes to durability and features. So what makes the Explorer different from the Highlander? Which one is better for your specific family? Read on to find out.

A green 2023 Toyota Highlander is shown driving off-road.

Fuel Efficiency

One of the most practical features a vehicle can possess is high fuel efficiency. Though family-style SUVs are not small, there are still brands that put an emphasis on fuel efficiency, or even alternatives to running solely on gasoline. The 2023 Ford Explorer has several drivetrains to choose from, and efficiency will vary between them. Even if you go with the base level four-cylinder engine with all-wheel drive, you’ll get 20 miles per gallon in the city, and 27 on the highway, and one mile per gallon better with a rear-wheel drive model. This is much better than full-size or older SUVs, which tended to get less than 20 miles per gallon. If you decide to go with the hybrid powertrain, you’ll get around 27 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway with a rear-wheel drive model, and 23 city, 26 highway with all-wheel drive, which is an excellent way to save money for all those extras the kids always need.

The Toyota Highlander also has multiple powertrains to choose from. The standard gas engine is a 2.4L Turbo I-4, which gets 22 MPG in the city and 29 on the highway with front wheel drive, or 21 MPG city and 28 highway with all-wheel drive. The hybrid model nets an impressive 36 MPG in the city, 35 on the highway if you choose the front wheel drive option. This number reduces slightly to 35 MPG for both city and highway driving if you decide to go with all-wheel drive, but still manages to save you quite a bit of money and time with fewer visits to the gas station.

The black and gray interior and dash of a 2023 Ford Explorer is shown.

Cargo Space

With a growing family, you’ll need space for everyone’s necessities: sports equipment, picnic supplies, sleepover bags, and, of course, all the groceries that will feed your family. SUVs are a great option for a growing family because of their extra cargo space, and both the Explorer and Highlander have more than enough space to seat your family comfortably while also leaving room for all the essentials. Not only do you have trunk space, you can fold down the second row, put heavier items on the roof rack, and store smaller items in one of the cubbies in the cabin. If you want to load up a giant Christmas tree, or are looking for a way to bring a large piece of furniture home, both SUVs are incredibly versatile, allowing for several configurations to give you all the space you need.

The Toyota Highlander boasts 16 cubic feet of trunk space, 48.4 cubic feet if you put the third row of seats down, and 84.3 cubic feet with the second and third rows down. The Ford Explorer is even more impressive, offering 18.2 cubic feet of trunk space, 47.9 cubic feet if the third row is folded, and 87.8 cubic feet of available space if you fold down both the second and third row. That’s quite a bit more space when configured for maximum cargo space, and the maximum amount of passengers.

Safety Features

One of the most important aspects of any SUV is its safety features, which keep you and your family safe. The Ford Explorer has Ford’s MyKey system, which allows an “administrator,” or primary driver, to configure additional keys to promote and enforce good driving practices for young drivers. These include being buckled up before driving, and not allowing the speed to go above a certain number. Seat belts not only include the regular set-up, but the LATCH system for child car seats that holds them securely in place.

The Toyota Highlander also features a LATCH system, as well as a hands-free liftgate for easy access to groceries and other items stored in the back. It does not have a young driver feature like the Ford, so if the MyKey system is something you want, the Explorer is your default choice.

The tan and black interior of a 2023 Toyota Highlander is shown.

Tech Features

Though tech features used to be considered optional and nice to have, nowadays they are pretty much mandatory in any family vehicle. Navigation, USB outlets, and other helpful features provide a better driving and passenger experience, and they aren’t typically part of the bells and whistles that only come with higher trim levels.

The 2023 Ford Explorer’s trim levels are all available with a built-in navigation system, as well as a backseat entertainment system. It has four USB ports, and every Ford Explorer comes standard with a WiFi hotspot. With such a wealth of features from base trim level to highest, you and your family will be able to go anywhere you please, and never have to worry about bringing along your entire entertainment system.

Toyota’s 2023 Highlander has five USB ports, and with an optional subscription (not standard) you can utilize Toyota’s 4G network for WiFi. There is no backseat entertainment system, but there is enough room for everyone to charge their tablet or phone. The Highlander’s infotainment system includes cloud-based navigation that updates automatically as Toyota rolls out new features or patches.

A white 2023 Ford Explorer is shown driving on a dirt road.

Ford vs. Toyota: Which One Suits Your Family?

Ford’s practical features lean more toward young drivers, extra interior space, and entertainment that can be monitored by the adults. Toyota’s features are more geared toward ease of use, versatility, and personal entertainment. Depending on the makeup of your family, one of the two will probably stand out as the best fit for you.

Which features appeal to you the most? What are the most practical features for you and your family? Knowing the answer to these questions will help you narrow down your choices so that you don’t feel overwhelmed when you visit your local dealership to take a look around. Some families prioritize the practical safety features over tech features, while others are more concerned with cargo space and child restraint systems. No matter which practical features are at the top of your list, you’ve got excellent choices when comparing the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander.