Auto Show Face-Off: 2020 Ford Explorer Vs. 2019 Honda Pilot

H2H-19Chicago-Pilot-Explorer.jpg Illustration by |

New from the ground up, the 2020 Ford Explorer gets a major rethink: switching from front-wheel drive to a rear-wheel-drive platform, a hybrid and a sporty Explorer ST version, a radical vertical multimedia screen and a lot more. But what it doesn’t have is the third-row space of the old one. Does that put it at a disadvantage against a competitor like the popular 2019 Honda Pilot? While we won’t drive the new 2020 Explorer until early summer, we got seat time in the new Explorer and the latest Pilot at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show. Here’s how we think they stack up in a few key areas

Related:  2020 Ford Explorer: Back to the Future

01-ford-explorer-2020-angle--blue--exterior--front.jpg 2020 Ford Explorer | photos by Christian Lantry
01-honda-pilot-2019-angle--black--exterior--front.jpg 2019 Honda Pilot | photos by Christian Lantry

Second-Row Features: Pilot

Both the Pilot and the Explorer feature a standard sliding second row that tilts forward, and both optionally equip a slick one-touch button that allows a third-row passenger to effortlessly move the second row forward. Both have plenty of second-row legroom and headroom, but the captain’s chairs in the Explorer are oddly small. The seatbacks are narrow-waisted, and given the width between the doors in the Explorer’s backseat, one wonders why the seats are so diminutive. That’s not an issue in the Pilot, so we have to give the nod to the Honda here.

05-ford-explorer-2020-interior--second-row.jpg 2020 Ford Explorer | photos by Christian Lantry
06-honda-pilot-2019-interior--second-row.jpg 2019 Honda Pilot | photos by Christian Lantry

Third-Row Comfort: Explorer

Both SUVs have fairly small third-row seats best suited for kids — these are not big SUVs like the Chevrolet Traverse or the Hyundai Palisade/Kia Telluride, where full-size adults are welcome. The Explorer’s feels less copious than the previous version’s thanks to a higher floor that’s a result of its rear-drive architecture. But the Honda’s is even worse, with a low seat that feels as if it’s on the cargo area floor, resulting in a knees-in-your-chest position.

08-ford-explorer-2020-interior--third-row.jpg 2020 Ford Explorer | photos by Christian Lantry
08-honda-pilot-2019-interior--third-row.jpg 2019 Honda Pilot | photos by Christian Lantry

Technology: Explorer

Both pack in a lot of standard safety technology, but they differ considerably in their optional onboard multimedia systems. The Explorer features an optional vertically oriented 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen (that some think looks like a tablet stuck onto the dash) and a 12.3-inch fully digital gauge cluster. The Honda’s 7-inch digital gauges are clear but frankly boring, and the multimedia system isn’t the most modern execution, either.

04-ford-explorer-2020-center-stack-display--interior.jpg 2020 Ford Explorer | photos by Christian Lantry
04-honda-pilot-2019-center-stack-display--interior.jpg 2019 Honda Pilot | photos by Christian Lantry

This isn’t to say that the Pilot doesn’t have a bunch of onboard tech. You can specify a 590-watt, 10-speaker premium multizone audio system, auto-dimming and power folding side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, the CabinTalk in-vehicle PA system and more. There’s even a Cabin Control smartphone app that lets you control a lot of the Pilot’s in-vehicle functions. But the Explorer has most of that, plus it offers a more advanced Terrain Management System for the all-wheel drive, single-button automatic self-parking, an optional 14-speaker B&O premium audio system, adaptive LED headlamps, automatic emergency reverse braking, and standard onboard Wi-Fi that can connect as many as 10 personal devices up to a range of 50 feet from the car itself.

02-ford-explorer-2020-instrument-panel--interior.jpg 2020 Ford Explorer | photos by Christian Lantry
02-honda-pilot-2019-instrument-panel--interior.jpg 2019 Honda Pilot | photos by Christian Lantry

Controls: Tie

Neither the Explorer nor the Pilot offer a traditional transmission gear selector. They’ve both gone to fully electronic executions — and we’re not really big fans of either one. The Honda’s push-button transmission selector hasn’t wowed us, as we’ve found it to be a bit confusing to use quickly, such as during a three-point turn or in a hurry to get the car into gear and out of something’s way. The Ford’s system is a little easier to operate being a single rotary controller, something we’re a bit more familiar with since it started appearing on Chrysler products nearly a decade ago. It’s a bit more intuitive than the push-button setup, but we still think a traditional lever on the console or steering column is a better, easier-to-use option.

Where these two family wagons will likely differ considerably is in the driving experience, with the Honda’s single V-6 engine going up against the Explorer’s smaller, more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder. And we’ll have to see how the new Explorer Hybrid’s system stacks up in the fuel economy battle, as well. Stay tuned later this summer for a road test of Ford’s new SUV.

03-ford-explorer-2020-gearshift--interior.jpg 2020 Ford Explorer | photos by Christian Lantry
03-honda-pilot-2019-gearshift--interior.jpg 2019 Honda Pilot | photos by Christian Lantry

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