2020 Ford Explorer vs. the Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento and Toyota Highlander

Will a ground-up redesign help the Explorer maintain its lead in the three-row SUV space?

Manuel Carrillo III Automotive Reviews Editor
A Porsche 911 S brought Manuel Carrillo III home from the hospital after he was born, so it's no surprise his lifelong trajectory has centered on cars, leading him to a robust career creating rich automotive media for publications prior to joining CNET.

The Southern California native briefly lived in Sydney, and is proud to have developed a barely passable Aussie accent. He also serves on the board of directors of the Motor Press Guild. When not reviewing cars or nerding out on OEM premium audio, you can find manual-labor-averse Manuel doing his best to convince his closest friends to fix the very Porsche that delivered him home.
Manuel Carrillo III
5 min read

The 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 , , and , among others.

Let's take a look at how the 2020 Explorer is positioned against these well-known rivals.

2020 Ford Explorer is better in almost every way

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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 and 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 EnginePower (hp)Torque (lb-ft)TransmissionTowing (lbs.)
Ford Explorer 2.3 EcoBoost 2.3-liter turbo I430031010-speed automatic5,300
Ford Explorer 3.0 EcoBoost 3.0-liter twin-turbo V636538010-speed automatic5,600
Toyota Highlander 2.7-liter I41851846-speed automatic1,500
Toyota Highlander V6 3.5-liter V62952638-speed automatic5,000
Honda Pilot 3.5-liter V62802626- or 9-speed automatic5,000
Chevrolet Traverse 2.0-liter turbo I42552959-speed automatic1,500
Chevrolet Traverse V6 3.6-liter V63102669-speed automatic5,000
Kia Sorento 2.4-liter I41851786-speed automatic2,000
Kia Sorento V6 3.3-liter V62902528-speed automatic3,500


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.

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Ford took an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary approach to its sixth-gen Explorer's styling.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

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.

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That iPad-looking thing atop the center stack is the Explorer's optional 10.1-inch infotainment display.


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.

Cargo space

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 , which is huge inside. In fact, its 98.2 cubic-foot max falls between the Chevrolet Tahoe and the , 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 up3rd row folded2nd and 3rd rows folded
Ford Explorer 18.247.987.8
Toyota Highlander 13.842.383.7
Honda Pilot 164783.9
Chevrolet Traverse 2357.898.2
Kia Sorento 11.33873

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 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 headroomFront legroom2nd-row headroom2nd-row legroom3rd-row headroom3rd-row legroom
Ford Explorer 40.74340.53938.932.2
Toyota Highlander 40.744.239.938.435.927.7
Honda Pilot 40.140.940.238.438.931.9
Chevrolet Traverse 41.3414038.438.233.5
Kia Sorento 39.544.139.339.436.331.7


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.

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Since 1990, Ford has sold nearly 8 million Explorers, making it the best-selling SUV in history.


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 $33,760
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.