2020 Honda Pilot vs. 2020 Ford Explorer: Compare Crossover SUVs

2020 Ford Explorer ST – First Drive – Portland OR, June 2019

Three-row crossover SUVs are having their day in the sun. These family haulers provide the spaciousness and safety of a minivan with the style and performance of something less…egg-shaped. 

Two of the bestselling three-row SUVs, the 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Ford Explorer, go about their family business a bit differently. What the Pilot lacks in style it makes up for in roominess and top safety ratings. Overhauled for 2020, the Explorer added new powertrains, including hybrid and ST performance models, but still provides a comfy ride in a more stylish package. 

The 2020 Ford Explorer earned a 6.8 TCC Rating, which narrowly edges out the Pilot’s 6.5. The difference is in the details. 

MORE: Read our 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Ford Explorer full reviews 

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

Let’s start in the back, the wayback, where that third row has evolved from minivans and station wagons before it. The 2020 Honda Pilot has the edge not only for offering eight seats to the Explorer’s seven but also because teens and some adults could fit in any of the Pilot’s seats. Second-row captain’s chairs replace a bench seat in upper trims, and the third row in the Pilot has seat belts for three compared to the Explorer’s two. You could reasonably fit six adults in the Pilot, and in all but the base LX trim, moving the second-row seats are as simple as pushing a button. The only three-row vehicle that’s easier to get in and out of is a minivan. The 60/40-split third-row bench folds into the floor with an easy set of pull straps that automatically collapse the headrests. That increases cargo space from 16.5 cubic feet with all seats up to 46 cubic feet; collapsing the second row expands the space to 80 cubic feet. 

The 2020 Ford Explorer might not have the roomiest seats, but it tops the Pilot for cargo space, expanding from 18.2 cubic feet behind the third row to 87.8 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded flat. Limited and higher trims offer power-folding 50/50-split seats, and those same power features collapse and tumble forward the second row; it doesn’t get any easier. But for the more affordable base and XLT models, collapsing and sliding the second row takes the kind of work that grade-schoolers would bicker about. Getting into the third row isn’t as easy as the Pilot, and once you’re wedged into the third row, the low floor pushes up knees and cramps legs.

2020 Ford Explorer ST - First Drive - Portland OR, June 2019

2020 Ford Explorer ST – First Drive – Portland OR, June 2019

2020 Ford Explorer ST - First Drive - Portland OR, June 2019

2020 Ford Explorer ST – First Drive – Portland OR, June 2019

2020 Ford Explorer ST - First Drive - Portland OR, June 2019

2020 Ford Explorer ST – First Drive – Portland OR, June 2019

The 2020 Honda Pilot is a better value based on its features. Skip the base LX and head to the Pilot EX for the best bang for the buck. In addition to pushbutton seats, the $35,525 EX with front-wheel drive adds an 8.0-touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, three-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats and two USB charge ports. All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option. It also adds blind-spot monitors to its impressive array of standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. Those features, as well as a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS and five-star crash-test rating from the NHTSA, give us everything we need out of a family hauler at a good price.

The 2020 Ford Explorer comes standard with similar safety features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts. Active lane control and adaptive cruise control cost extra. We’d skip the base model—which hadn’t been made available as of May 2020—for the XLT. The Explorer Limited Hybrid model is loaded, but it starts at $49,375, which is a huge jump over the $37,920 XLT. Even with power front seats, second-row captain’s chairs, keyless ignition, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone compatibility, the XLT is more expensive and no better equipped than the Honda Pilot EX.

2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid - First Drive - Portland OR, June 2019

2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid – First Drive – Portland OR, June 2019

The 2020 Ford Explorer gets the edge in performance and powertrain options, however. The Pilot is most often powered by a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 with a 6-speed automatic transmission that drives the front or all four wheels. The cushy suspension provides a smooth, quiet ride. A 9-speed automatic is equipped on higher trims and bumps combined fuel economy from 22 mpg to 23 mpg.

The spiciest Explorer is the ST model and its 400-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 with a 10-speed automatic transmission powering all four wheels. It’ll cost you more than $55,000, but after you drop off the kids you can hit 60 mph in less than six seconds without much effort. Most Explorers will have a more modest 300-hp 2.3-liter turbo-4, but the Limited Hybrid version and its 318-hp 3.3-liter V-6 presents an interesting alternative to the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. The rear-drive Hybrid Explorer gets 27 city, 29 highway, 28 mpg combined, which is better than any available Pilot but falls far short of the Highlander Hybrid’s 36 mpg combined. Four-wheel drive is a $2,000 extra, when it isn’t standard equipment. The base engine of the Explorer is exceptional for the class at 21/28/24 mpg, according to the EPA; four-wheel drive drops it 1 mpg. The $12,000 charge for a hybrid powertrain hardly seems worth it. Most Explorers are more efficient than Pilots, anyway.

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

The 2020 Honda Pilot is a better value with roomier confines and solid creature comforts. The 2020 Explorer offers more choice, better performance, and it doesn’t feel like a compromise to drive. It can tow up to 5,600 pounds to the Pilot’s 5,000. Either one is not a bad choice, which is what we expect from having so many three-row SUVs to choose from.

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