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A blue 2021 Ford Explorer looking both rugged and stylish in front of a downtown bistro.

2021 Ford Explorer vs. Honda Pilot

Posted at Wed, Jun 9, 2021 12:00 PM

If you've been looking around at three-row SUVs, you've probably come across the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. These two SUVs have built solid reputations within the segment in quality, comfort, and performance. So how do you choose between them? That's why we've put together this head-to-head review, comparing trim levels, performance, pricing, and more to help you make an informed decision.

Explorer Trim Levels & Pricing

A blue 2021 Ford Explorer looking both rugged and stylish in front of a downtown bistro.

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The 2021 Ford Explorer underwent a complete redesign for the 2021 model year. The Explorer's modern exterior features an aggressive front fascia and an athletic profile throughout the trim levels. The base model Explorer comes in four available colors, all with LED headlights and taillights, a power liftgate with a body-color rear spoiler on it, and privacy glass for the second row, third row, and rear windows. The XLT adds exterior chrome accents and five additional exterior colors. You also get LED signature lighting, heated side-view mirrors, and the option for a twin-panel moonroof.

You find more chrome with the three-bar grille and satin aluminum roof rails moving up to the Limited trim. Body-color door handles, and dual chrome exhaust tips come standard on the Limited trim, along with LED fog lamps. The sport-inspired ST trim offers blackout treatment on the headlight and taillight housing, a black mesh grille insert, a black liftgate applique, and black roof rails. You also get 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with a 21-inch option.

The King Ranch trim adds exclusive badging and signature style points like the Stone Gray mesh grille insert. The top-trim Platinum adds unique satin aluminum touches to the door handles, grille insert, liftgate, bodyside cladding, and roof rails. Plus, you get the hands-free foot-activated liftgate and power-folding side mirrors with memory.

Pricing begins at $32,675 MSRP on the base Explorer. The XLT shows a modest jump to $34,825 before the Limited trim climbs to a $45,005 starting point. King Ranch models start at $52,350, and the Platinum pricing begins at $52,480.

Pilot Trim Levels and Pricing

The Honda Pilot offers seven trims starting with the base model LX, which features 18-inch alloy wheels, a black roofline rear spoiler, and LED low-beam headlights and taillights. The EX adds a body-color rear spoiler and LED fog lights to go with heated side-view mirrors. The EX-L trim builds upon the EX model with a power moonroof and liftgate. Moving up to the Special Edition Pilot, you add roof rails, 20-inch alloy wheels, and a hands-free liftgate to the exterior. 

The Touring trim switches to LED headlights, but not much else, while the Elite trim comes with a panoramic roof and chrome door handles. The Black Edition Pilot comes with signature black-out exterior styling, including 20-inch black alloy wheels and a gloss-black grille.

The base model LX starts at $32,550 MSRP with small increases to $35,230 on the EX and $38,660 on the EX-L trims. The Special Edition checks in at $39,260 before seeing the Touring start at $43,220 and the Elite trim at $48,720. The Black Edition tops out the lineup with a starting MSRP of $50,220.

As you compare the two vehicles from a trim level and pricing perspective, the Ford Explorer and Pilot are relatively similar. Ford offers a variety of option packages to improve towing, interior technology, and equipment. Honda's approach doesn't allow for customization. The year 2016 marked the start of the Pilot's third generation with a minor facelift in 2019. In the end, the Ford Explorer has the edge in modern style.

Towing Capacities

Ford uses a 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder engine in the lower trims and a twin-turbo 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine in the upper trims. The 2.3-liter puts out an impressive 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque and can tow up to 5,300 pounds in either two or four-wheel drive. Ford's EcoBoost V-6 engine delivers 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque with the ability to tow up to 5,600 pounds. You also have a hybrid powertrain option that puts out 318 horsepower and 322 pound-feet of torque and can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

The Honda Pilot comes with one engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 that puts out 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Two-wheel-drive models can tow up to 3,500 pounds, while the all-wheel-drive versions tow 5,000 pounds.

The edge goes to the Explorer with its multiple powertrain options, all out-performing the Pilot's lone V-6 engine.

Interior Comfort, Convenience, and Cargo

Ford redesigned the Explorer in 2021, now offering seating for up to seven passengers. Premium cloth comes standard on the lower trims and upgraded leather appointments on the higher trims, including exclusive pallets and stitching on the ST and King Ranch models. 

You also get Active Motion seats for the driver and front passenger, which feature five massage settings to help reduce fatigue. Interior tech on the Explorer flows through the 10.1-inch touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. 

Cargo space behind the third-row seats measures 18.2 cubic feet. Folding the third row brings that number to 47.9 cubic feet, and folding the second row brings your total volume to 87.8 cubic feet.

The Honda Pilot seats up to eight passengers. You get cloth seats on the lower trims and leather upholstery on the higher models. Technology flows through Honda's 8-inch touch screen that also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. 

Cargo volume behind the third row measures 16.5 cubic feet. With the third row stowed, you get 46.8 cubic feet, and with all the seats folded, that number totals 83.9 cubic feet.

When you look at the interiors of both vehicles, the Explorer's redesign adds the latest technology and comfortable amenities, plus it has more cargo space. The Pilot offers similar appointments, but the dated style and technology lag behind the Explorer.


At Planet Ford Dallas, we understand what drivers want from an SUV. That's why we have the most expansive inventory of Explorer SUVs in Dallas and the surrounding area. We invite you to browse our inventory online or visit our dealership. You can find us conveniently located on Inwood Road in Dallas. When you visit us, one of our friendly, professional staff will show you all the features of the 2021 Ford Explorer and let you take your favorite for a test drive.

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