2020 Ford Explorer vs. the Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento and Toyota Highlander – Roadshow
The Ford Explorer gets a complete overhaul for the 2020 model year, with big improvements in terms of tech, safety and styling. This all-new Explorer looks to not only maintain the crossover's popularity, but expand its appeal even further.
That's important, since the three-row crossover segment is one of the most competitive in the automotive space. When the new Explorer goes on sale this summer, it'll face fierce competition from the likes of the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento and Toyota Highlander, among others.
Let's take a look at how the 2020 Explorer is positioned against these well-known rivals.
Engine, transmission and towing
At launch, the 2020 Explorer will come standard with a 2.3-liter, turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission. It's not the most powerful standard engine in the segment — the Traverse's V6 beats it by a mere 10 horsepower — but the Explorer offers substantial power compared to its rivals. The standard four-cylinder engines in the Highlander and Sorento look downright anemic by comparison.
For those wanting more oomph, the Explorer's optional 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 leads the class in horsepower and torque. The V6 boasts a 5,600-pound tow rating, which is slightly better than most other entrants in this segment. Only the Dodge Durango and Nissan Pathfinder do better with towing, the former able to tow as much as 8,700 pounds thanks to its optional V8 engine.
Engine, transmission and towing comparison
|Vehicle||Engine||Power (hp)||Torque (lb-ft)||Transmission||Towing (lbs.)|
|Ford Explorer 2.3 EcoBoost||2.3-liter turbo I4||300||310||10-speed automatic||5,300|
|Ford Explorer 3.0 EcoBoost||3.0-liter twin-turbo V6||365||380||10-speed automatic||5,600|
|Toyota Highlander||2.7-liter I4||185||184||6-speed automatic||1,500|
|Toyota Highlander V6||3.5-liter V6||295||263||8-speed automatic||5,000|
|Honda Pilot||3.5-liter V6||280||262||6- or 9-speed automatic||5,000|
|Chevrolet Traverse||2.0-liter turbo I4||255||295||9-speed automatic||1,500|
|Chevrolet Traverse V6||3.6-liter V6||310||266||9-speed automatic||5,000|
|Kia Sorento||2.4-liter I4||185||178||6-speed automatic||2,000|
|Kia Sorento V6||3.3-liter V6||290||252||8-speed automatic||3,500|
The front fascia is the area that's undergone the most transformation, but it's arguably the blandest-looking bit of the whole package. The new crossover's flanks are more sculpted than the current Explorer's, which is a nice touch, but the rear looks pretty much identical to the 2019 model.
When it comes to the competition, there's not a rotten-looking apple in this bunch, but they have their quirks. Winning the award for most minivan-looking of the group is the Highlander, but the Sorento is a close runner-up. The Traverse is blocky-looking, especially in its base trim riddled with black plastic and small wheels. The Honda Pilot, on the other hand, looks the most windswept and unique.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it's perfectly fine if your design interpretations are the inverse of what's written above.
Tech and safety
The 2020 Ford Explorer represents a major upgrade in compulsory tech compared with the current Explorer. Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Waze navigation integrated into an 8-inch touchscreen now come standard. The 2019 model only comes with a 4.2-inch screen and no phone mirroring unless you're willing to shell out extra dough. The 2020 Explorer also comes standard with four USB ports (two of which are USB-C), as well as 4G LTE Wi-Fi for up to 10 devices.
More in line with the current Explorer, the Toyota Highlander is pretty stingy with its standard tech, offering just a 6.1-inch touchscreen. The Honda Pilot is a shade more stingy, offering just a 5-inch LCD screen. The Chevrolet Traverse is much more accommodating with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen, plus 4G LTE Wi-Fi for up to seven devices.
Despite having the lowest price in this comparison, the Kia Sorento brings its tech essentials to the party. Those essentials include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen.
In concert with stepping up its standard tech game, the 2020 Explorer now offers a belly-full of standard safety systems, which is in stark contrast to the 2019 Explorer which offers no standard driver-assistance systems. The new Explorer comes with pedestrian-detecting collision-mitigation braking, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams and a rearview camera that can wash itself if things get murky out on the trail.
Those standard safety features make the base Explorer much more competitive with the well-equipped Highlander and Pilot, which both come with compulsory collision-mitigation braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beams. The Traverse mirrors the current Explorer by offering no standard driver-assistance systems. The same goes for the Sorento.
With 87.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third rows of seats folded, the Explorer offers respectable cargo room, beating most of its competitors except for the Chevy, which is huge inside. In fact, its 98.2 cubic-foot max falls between the Chevrolet Tahoe and the Ford Expedition, both of which are one vehicle class larger.
The Pilot and Highlander, with their middle-of-the-road pricing, also offer middle-of-the-road storage volume, while the value-positioned Sorento is certifiably cargo-cramped. In fact, the Honda CR-V, one size class down, offers more maximum volume than the Sorento.
Cargo volume comparison (cubic feet)
|Vehicle||Seats up||3rd row folded||2nd and 3rd rows folded|
Headroom and legroom
If you have a big head — hopefully not in the personality sense — and you're a passenger in the 2020 Explorer, you're in luck, as the new Ford offers best-in-class second- and third-row headroom. In every other measurement delineated below, the new Explorer remains competitive. If you gave into temptation a little too much this past holiday season, the Explorer has your back(side), too, by offering best-in-class first- and second-row hip room.
Being the space king that it is, it's no surprise the Chevy boasts some top measurements on this chart, namely with front headroom and third-row legroom. Surprisingly, the Sorento can claim a a victory here, as well. It tops the chart with its second-row legroom.
The Honda Pilot ties the Explorer with best-in-class third-row headroom, while the Highlander is the benchmark for front legroom, but offers significantly less third-row legroom than the others.
Headroom/legroom comparison (inches)
|Vehicle||Front headroom||Front legroom||2nd-row headroom||2nd-row legroom||3rd-row headroom||3rd-row legroom|
Ford says the 2020 Explorer's base price will end up being $400 more than the 2019 model's $32,365 figure. Including an estimated destination charge of $995, that amounts to at least $33,760, which will place the Explorer at the more expensive end of the segment. That's nothing new for the Ford, but understandable considering the Explorer's level of standard horsepower, tech and safety features.
2020 pricing for most models in the auto industry is expected to be an average of several hundred dollars more than their 2019 counterparts, so keep that in mind when referring to the pricing of the Explorer's 2019-model-year competitors below.
Ford is yet to release prices for its higher-trim Explorers, but the top-spec Platinum trim level for 2019 starts at $54,165, so the 2020 model shouldn't be much more than that.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Kia Sorento's low base price is due largely to its unimpressive base engine and a lack of standard driver-assistance features. Like the Sorento, the Highlander comes with a low-cost base engine, as well, but a healthy suite of standard driver-assistance systems put it mid-pack among starting prices.
The Honda Pilot LX also offers a stout list of standard driver aids but bundles that with a V6 engine. The Pilot offers less standard tech, though, which explains why it commands only $70 more than the Toyota. The Chevrolet Traverse takes a different approach to landing mid-pack. It offers a standard V6 but a dearth of standard driver-assistance features.
On the upper end, you'll notice most of these crossovers come in at under $50,000 in their top trims. Attribute that to the fact that none offer the level of horsepower that the Explorer Platinum has on tap.
Three-row crossover SUV pricing
|Vehicle||Price (incl. destination)|
|Ford Explorer Platinum||$56,000 (est)|
|Toyota Highlander LE||$32,425|
|Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum||$48,500|
|Honda Pilot LX||$32,495|
|Honda Pilot Elite||$49,065|
|Chevrolet Traverse L||$31,125|
|Chevrolet Traverse High Country||$54,395|
|Kia Sorento L||$27,335|
|Kia Sorento SX Limited AWD||$47,535|
According to this tale of the tape, the new Explorer should have little difficulty defending its sales crown. What remains to be seen is what it will be like to drive, so keep your internet dials locked here for a forthcoming first-drive impression as soon as we can get our mitts on a sixth-gen Explorer.