The all-new Toyota Highlander, which was recently launched for 2021, offers several notable improvements and refinements compared to the outgoing model, most notably its all-new TNGA platform and the addition of a new plug-in hybrid option. In addition to all the other upgrades, the Highlander also has one big benefit over the Ford Explorer—better off-road capabilities.
In terms of pure off-road performance, the 2021 Toyota Highlander takes the lead. While both vehicles come equipped with AWD, the Highlander is capable of delivering up to 17” of wheel articulation.
That means it’s capable of powering over obstacles such as deep potholes, deep snow, and rugged terrain. Furthermore, the Highlander also has an extra half-inch of ground clearance, giving it an advantage in terrain where clearance is needed to pass through safely.
In terms of tech, the Highlander also comes with an Off-Road trim package which includes special suspension, tuned shocks, and adjustable height settings. It also has unique traction control settings that adjust to the terrain you are on. This helps the Highlander to maintain its composure while maneuvering over challenging terrain, something the Explorer doesn’t have.
The Highlander’s powertrain options give it a bit of an edge over the Explorer, as well. It comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine which puts out 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque.
For those who want a bit more power, the Highlander can be equipped with an available 4-cylinder engine which puts out a very respectable 239 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. By comparison, the Explorer is equipped with a 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that puts out just 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque.
Overall, the 2021 Toyota Highlander is an excellent off-road SUV that offers great power and capability. The additional suspension, tuning, and adjustable settings, plus the more powerful powertrains give the Highlander an edge over the Ford Explorer when it comes to traversing off-road terrain. It is sure to be a great choice for drivers who want to get off the beaten path, but still require a vehicle that is comfortable enough for everyday driving.