2020 Toyota Highlander vs. Honda Pilot: Compare Crossover SUVs

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

The 2020 Toyota Highlander and the 2020 Honda Pilot might not have the same rugged good looks as the 2020 Kia Telluride, yet those legacy family haulers excel where it matters most to most families, in comfort and safety. 

But which one of them does it better?

The redesigned 2020 Highlander narrowly wins with a TCC Rating of 6.8 before any crash testing has been factored in. Since it’s new, it understandably has more tech features than the spartan base model of the 2020 Honda Pilot, which has a TCC Rating of 6.5. 

The numbers rarely tell the whole story. Here’s a bit more how they stack up beyond their overall ratings. 

 

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

 

The redesigned Highlander got swole for 2020, bro, with flexed wheel arches, bulging air intakes, and a raised rear-end that completes its athletic look. Fortunately, Toyota tamed its ever-growing trapezoidal grille for a split mesh grille with a pouty lower lip intent on hitting that last power clean. Inside, the asymmetrical style of the dash and the controls are visually…interesting, while the shallow storage shelf between the dash and the glove box adds some truck-like convenience.

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

 

The 2020 Honda Pilot is more staid, inside and out. But conservative can be appealing. It’s clean and straightforward, without rugged pretensions or angular nonsense that doesn’t serve the function of the family hauler to get here, there, and everywhere safely and in comfort. It was updated in 2019 with more chrome, but the large crossover leans more toward minivan than SUV. Inside, the soft black upper part of the dash is nicely wedded to the lighter, earthier tones on the lower plastic parts. An electronic gear selector keeps the console narrow and offers up more interior room than the Highlander, and the low sightline of the windshield makes for excellent outward vision. The center stack is more symmetrical and attractive, and conservative wins on the inside every time. Even though the scores are the same, the Pilot gets the nod for a cleaner interior. 

But under the hood, the 2020 Highlander has more to it than the 2020 Pilot. Both use a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, but the Highlander provides more grunt. With an 8-speed automatic, It makes 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque in front- or all-wheel drive. Most Pilots will take off with a 6-speed automatic, which makes 280 hp and 262 lb-ft in front- or all-wheel drive. Both the Highlander and Pilot can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Honda provides a 9-speed automatic on higher trims to boost fuel economy, but it only adds about 1 mpg combined to 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined. All-wheel-drive versions lose 1 mpg.

Fuel economy is better in the Highlander, with a rating of 20/27/23 mpg in all-wheel drive. The Highlander Hybrid swings for the fuel economy fences with an excellent 243-hp Hybrid system that uses a 2.5-liter inline-4 with a battery mounted below the rear seats and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) overseeing the motors on either axle for all-wheel drive. It’s not as quiet or refined as the Pilot, but it is relatively seamless and gets 35/34/35 mpg.

The creature comforts inside tilt the scales back to the Pilot. 

Larger and roomier than the outgoing model, the 2020 Highlander has comfy seating for four or five people who sit in the first two rows. The three seats in the third row are fine for small passengers, or the small at heart, but the Pilot does it better (the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica minivan does it better than both). 

The Highlander has slightly more total cargo space at 84.3 cubic feet compared to the Pilot’s 83.8 cubic feet, but all three rows of seats are roomier in the Pilot—even though second-row leg room is greater in the Highlander. The Pilot could fit eight adult-sized passengers, though teens in the third row will be a gangly bundle of knees and elbows and acne. 

Both models come with a three-seat middle row bench that can be swapped out for individual captain’s chairs. In higher trims of the Pilot, the second row slides out of the way for better access to the third row with the push of a button.

Things get complicated when it comes to standard features. Both automakers equip their family haulers with standard active safety features that should be copied by every other automaker. Both have automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control, which often is a pricey option. The Highlander edges the Pilot with lane-departure warnings. 

 

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

 

The redesigned Highlander comes in L, LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels. Its newness is reflected in a starting price of just under $36,000, and includes power features, a power driver seat, keyless ignition, LED headlights, three-zone climate control, 18-inch wheels, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. All-wheel drive adds $1,600 on the L, LE, and XLE. The Hybrid is available on all but the base L trim for an additional $1,400. We recommend the LE at $37,920, which adds a power liftgate, blind-spot monitors, fog lights, and leather trim accents. 

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

The Pilot starts just over $32,000 as an LX model, and ascending trims are the EX, EX-L, Touring, or Elite. The base model is pretty basic, with a 5.0-inch display screen and one USB port. All-wheel drive adds $2,000 across the board. We recommend the Pilot EX, which costs $35,525 for front-drive models. The extra cost adds blind-spot monitors, an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, three-zone automatic climate controls, power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, and two USB charge ports. 

It’s easy to spend more than $50,000 on either family hauler, but at that price, there are more luxurious options. 

The 2020 Highlander gets the edge overall but the newer model is accordingly more expensive. The aging, less expensive Pilot is still stylish and well-equipped. For the fuel-conscious buyer, consider the peerless Highlander Hybrid.

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