2011 Ford Explorer vs. 2011 Toyota Highlander

The Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander both compete in the mid-size SUV class. The Explorer has been around since 1991 while the Highlander was first introduced for the 2001 model year. A 2011 Ford Explorer vs. 2011 Toyota Highlander comparison is worth doing if you are considering buying a mid-size SUV with capability for up to seven passengers.

The 2011 Ford Explorer is all-new. Built on the same platform as the Ford Taurus sedan, the Explorer is now a crossover, no longer a truck-based SUV. Similarly the Highlander is like the Toyota Camry of three-row crossovers. For 2011, third-row is now standard on all Highlander trims. This further differentiates it from the five-passenger Toyota Venza mid-size SUV, which is also built off the Camry platform.

The 2011 Explorer is more fuel-efficient than any Explorer model before. The V-8 engine option that was available in prior model years is gone. The Explorer is offered with a 290 horsepower V-6 that gets an estimated 17-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. An optional more fuel-efficient 237 horsepower EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine will be available for the Explorer later this year. The V-6 Explorer is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, as is the V-6 Highlander. The Explorer was awarded the 2011 Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show.

The 2011 Highlander has three engine options: a base 2.7-liter 187 horsepower four-cylinder engine available only on the SE model, a 3.5-liter 270 horsepower V-6 engine, and a hybrid engine that pairs the V-6 with an electric motor producing a total of 280 horsepower. The Highlander hybrid has great fuel economy, which is improved for 2011. It is one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the market today. It gets an estimated 28-mpg city and 28-mpg highway with all-wheel drive. Most buyers will opt for the gas V-6, as a 2011 Highlander Hybrid Limited 4X4 can reach a price exceeding $45,000.

The Explorer has 80.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third row folded flat, 43.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row folded flat, and 21 cubic feet with all seats up. The Highlander has 95.5 cubic feet of cargo room with the second and third row folded flat, 42.3 cubic feet with the third row seats folded, and 10.3 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in use. Thus, in everyday driving, the Explorer has a slight advantage in cargo room. The Explorer also has the advantage in third row seating space with 33.2 inches of legroom vs. 29.9 inches for the Highlander.

The Highlander has received exterior styling updates for 2011. It has a larger front grille and new taillights. The Explorer debuted in dealer showrooms in December 2010 and has sold well thus far. These midsize SUVs offer the ride of a midsize sedan with a higher ride height, seating for up to seven, and greater cargo capacity.

Both of these models with comparable V-6 engines will cost in the $35,000 price range. A Highlander Limited 4X4 has EPA estimated fuel economy of 18-mpg city and 24-mph highway. Do your own 2011 Ford Explorer vs. 2011 Toyota Highlander comparison test to determine which model you prefer. Other seven-passenger mid-size SUVs include the Dodge Durango, Ford Flex, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, and Hyundai Veracruz.

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