2021 Honda Pilot vs. 2021 Toyota Highlander Comparison

Erin Riches-Wong | Feb 24, 2021

Few vehicles match up feature for feature as well as the 2021 Honda Pilot and 2021 Toyota Highlander. Both of these 3-row midsize SUVs can seat up to eight people. Both can swallow a biweekly haul from the warehouse store. And both are capable of simplifying family life to such an extent that you'll (probably) never wish for something smaller and sleeker to drive.

Honda and Toyota sell vast quantities of Pilots and Highlanders every year, and both are built here in the United States. Toyota builds the Highlander at its assembly plant in Princeton, Indiana, while the Pilot rolls off the line at Honda's plant in Lincoln, Alabama.

If you're shopping for a 3-row midsize SUV, you've probably given serious thought to buying one of these two. Here's a 2021 Honda Pilot vs. 2021 Toyota Highlander comparison to help with your research.

Price and Value

2021 Honda Pilot Elite Red Driving in Dirt 1

2021 Honda Pilot Elite

Consumers looking at the 2021 Honda Pilot will find that it ranges in price from $32,550 to $50,220, not including a $1,175 destination charge. There are seven trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, SE (Special Edition), Touring, Elite, and Black Edition. 

A V6 engine is standard on every Honda Pilot. Most versions of the Pilot also have standard front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available for another $2,000.

The Pilot has an extensive menu of Honda Link connected services, but they are limited to the higher trim levels. There are no services on the LX trim, while Pilot EX and EX-L owners can use the Honda Link app to check fuel range and oil life, or get information about warning lights, and that's it.

Stepping up to the Pilot Touring unlocks all the good stuff, including collision notification, live emergency assistance, rapid access to roadside services, and live concierge services. These are all complimentary for the first year of ownership.

Other features are free for the first three months that you own a 2021 Pilot. This list includes remote door locking, anti-theft alarm notifications, geofencing (allowing you to set limits for inexperienced drivers), stolen vehicle locator, and Amazon in-vehicle package delivery. You also get a 3-month trial subscription (up to 3 GB) for the Wi-Fi hotspot.

Honda does not offer complimentary scheduled maintenance for the 2021 Pilot, but there are prepaid maintenance plans available for purchase.

In the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Resale Value Awards, the Honda Pilot ranked second in the midsize SUV segment.

If you're shopping for a 2021 Toyota Highlander, you'll find that pricing starts at $34,810 and tops out at $48,365, not including a $1,175 destination charge. There are six trim levels: L, LE, XLE, XSE, Limited, and Platinum.

On the Toyota, you can have either a V6 engine or a 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain. The base L and sporty XSE trim levels are V6 only, but all other trims are available with either powertrain. The Highlander Hybrid starts at $38,410.

All trim levels have standard front-wheel drive. If you want AWD, you'll pay an extra $1,600 on the L, LE, and XLE trim levels and $1,950 on the XSE, Limited, and Platinum trims regardless of engine choice.

Toyota doesn't offer as many connected services on the 2021 Highlander, but the lower trim levels have better access to basic features. Every Toyota Highlander, for example, comes with a free year of Safety Connect, which provides automatic collision notification and quick access to emergency responders. You also get a 3-month free trial for the Highlander's Wi-Fi (2 GB limit).

Starting at the LE trim level, there's a complimentary 12 months of Remote Connect, which allows to you to lock the doors, start the engine, and track down your Highlander in a crowded parking lot. Higher trims are available with a 10-year subscription to Service Connect, which makes it easier to stay on top of maintenance and safety recalls, along with one year of Destination Assist, a 24-hour concierge service.

Toyota provides complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first two years or 25,000 miles that you own your Highlander. 

In the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Resale Value Awards, the Toyota Highlander ranked third among the midsize SUVs – right behind the Honda Pilot.

Advantage: Honda Pilot

Reliability and Quality

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum Moon Dust Front Quarter View 1

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum

The Honda Pilot did not rank in either the J.D. Power 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study or the 2020 Initial Quality Study. The Pilot comes with the following warranty and roadside assistance coverage:

  • Standard warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
  • Roadside assistance: 3 years or 36,000 miles

The Toyota Highlander ranked second in the Midsize SUV segment in the 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, but did not rank in the 2020 Initial Quality Study. Toyota's 3-row midsize SUV comes with the following warranty and roadside assistance coverage:

  • Standard warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
  • Hybrid system warranty: 8 years or 100,000 miles
  • Hybrid battery warranty: 10 years or 150,000 miles
  • Roadside assistance: 2 years or 25,000 miles

Advantage: Neither. The previous-generation Highlander ranked high for dependability, but that bodes well for the latest model. The Honda Pilot, meanwhile, offers a longer period of free roadside assistance should you need it. 

Performance and Efficiency

2021 Honda Pilot Elite Interior Dashboard

2021 Honda Pilot Elite

Rated at 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, the 3.5-liter V6 engine in the 2021 Honda Pilot is notable both for its performance and refinement.

This engine is paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission on all trim levels. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and downshift rev-matching are standard, and these are rare features for this class. A standard start-stop system shuts off the engine when you're idling in traffic.

Honda offers only one AWD system on the Pilot, and it's a good one. Similar in design to Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, the Pilot's AWD system has torque vectoring capability and can direct up to 70% of engine torque to a single rear wheel when needed. The system also includes multiple terrain modes.

A properly equipped, all-wheel-drive Honda Pilot has a 5,000-lb. tow rating. Front-drive versions are only rated to tow 3,500 lbs.

The front-wheel-drive 2021 Honda Pilot rates 23 mpg in combined city and highway driving. The AWD Pilot rates 22 mpg combined.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander also comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine. It's rated at 295 hp and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. An 8-speed automatic transmission is included with this engine, as is a start-stop system. 

If you choose the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, your SUV will come with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, two electric motors, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and a small battery pack housed under the second-row seats. Total system output is 243 hp. 

Toyota offers three different AWD systems. If you opt for AWD on the hybrid Highlander, a third electric motor provides torque to the rear axle. On entry-level V6 models, you get a conventional AWD system with a driveshaft delivering engine torque to the rear wheels when needed.

A third, more deluxe AWD system on the V6-equipped XSE, Limited, and Platinum is similar to the Pilot's AWD system. It has torque vectoring capability, allowing it to redistribute power left to right for better traction and control, along with selectable terrain modes.

With front-wheel drive, the V6 Toyota Highlander is rated at 24 mpg in combined driving. With the V6 and AWD, it rates 23 mpg. Fuel economy with the hybrid is stellar, with a 36 mpg rating in combined city and highway driving with front-wheel drive and 35 mpg with AWD.

A properly equipped V6 Highlander has a 5,000-lb. tow rating, while the Highlander Hybrid has a 3,500-lb. rating when equipped for towing. The Toyota's stability control system includes trailer sway control.

Advantage: Neither. Both SUVs are capable, but we prefer the Honda's V6 engine and AWD system. If you want a hybrid powertrain, the Toyota is the easy pick.

Safety and Driving Assistance

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum Interior Dashboard

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum

If you're reading up on advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), in the 2021 Honda Pilot, you'll find them grouped under the brand name Honda Sensing

Standard on all 2021 Pilots, Honda Sensing includes adaptive cruise control, a forward collision warning system, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance (which Honda calls Road Departure Mitigation), and automatic high-beam headlight control. It also includes lane-centering assistance, but Honda calls this aid a Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), which can be confusing when you're comparing features.

Since the Pilot has both adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance, it effectively offers Level 2 semi-autonomous driving assistance. But it's not something you can rely on in heavy traffic, because the adaptive cruise lacks stop-and-go capability (or "low-speed follow" in Honda terminology). You have to reset it after a traffic delay.

In addition, Honda Sensing does not include blind-spot or rear cross-traffic warnings. If you want these aids, you'll need to step up to the EX trim level.

The Pilot has a 5-star rating from the government for overall crash protection, though it received a lower 4-star rating for frontal-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) formerly rated the Pilot a Top Safety Pick but lowered the SUV's rating after a less than perfect performance in the Institute's small-overlap frontal offset crash test on the passenger side (it rated "Good" on the driver side in this test). 

Every 2021 Toyota Highlander comes with Toyota's Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+), which has all the same features as Honda Sensing and then some.

The most obvious difference here is that the Highlander's adaptive cruise control has stop-and-go capability and will automatically resume after a brief traffic delay. The Highlander's TSS 2.5+ includes road sign recognition technology, too. In addition, an intersection support feature warns you if you're about to make a left turn into an oncoming vehicle or pedestrian. And there's emergency steering assistance if you're taking an evasive maneuver to avoid hitting a pedestrian.

Similar to the Honda, the base Highlander L trim level does without blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings, but these features are standard on all other trims.

All Highlanders have a rear-seat reminder system to help you avoid leaving kids in the car. Rear emergency braking is standard on the Limited and Platinum trim levels. The Platinum also comes with a surround-view camera and adaptive headlights; the former is optional on the Limited.

The Toyota also earned a 5-star overall NHTSA rating, and like the Honda, received four stars for frontal-impact safety. The 2020 Highlander fared better in IIHS testing, though, and was named a Top Safety Pick+.

Advantage: Toyota Highlander

Infotainment and Technology

2021 Honda Pilot Elite Blue Rear Quarter View

2021 Honda Pilot Elite

Most shoppers will want to step up to the 2021 Honda Pilot EX, because there's not much to recommend the base LX in the infotainment category. It has an undersized 5.4-inch LCD screen and no smartphone integration. It offers Bluetooth, a 3-month SiriusXM trial subscription, an auxiliary audio jack, and a single, charge-only USB port.

Meanwhile, the Pilot EX comes with an appropriately sized 8-inch touchscreen infotainment interface, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an additional USB input, and seven stereo speakers. The EX-L adds two more USB ports, both in the second row. The SE provides wireless phone charging and a second-row HDMI input.

You get some genuinely desirable upgrades on the Pilot Touring, which has factory navigation with Honda HD Digital Traffic, a premium audio system with 10 speakers, and a rear entertainment system with a Blu-Ray player and built-in streaming apps.

The Pilot's higher-trim levels include the CabinTalk public address system, which minimizes the need to shout at rear passengers. In the SE and Touring, CabinTalk only works if rear-seat passengers are wearing headphones. In the Elite and Black Edition, CabinTalk also broadcasts your voice through the Pilot's speakers. If your passengers happen to be using the Pilot's Blu-Ray player or built-in apps, the PA system will pause the audio and video before you start speaking.

Most 2021 Toyota Highlander models come with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment interface. If that's not large enough, a 12.3-inch display is optional on the Highlander Limited and standard on the Platinum.

Even the base L trim comes with full smartphone integration, six audio speakers, five USB ports, and a 3-month satellite radio trial subscription. The XLE has a standard wireless charging pad and can be optionally equipped with factory navigation and a premium audio system (still only six speakers, though). The nav system uses the over-the-air updates to provide up-to-date maps and accurate voice recognition. A 3-year subscription to updates is included.

Navigation is standard on the Limited, as is an even more premium 11-speaker JBL audio system. The Platinum has a head-up display and a digital rear camera mirror (in addition to the conventional mirror). The digital mirror display uses a high-mounted camera to give you a wider view of what's behind your Highlander. 

Toyota doesn't offer a rear entertainment system for the Highlander, but in a nod to 21st century living, you can get accessory tablet holders for the front seatbacks to keep iPads from being spiked to the floor.

Finally, there's Driver Easy Speak, which is similar to Honda's CabinTalk. It's available starting on the XSE trim. It uses the Highlander's rear speakers and doesn't require headphones.

Advantage: Neither. The Toyota Highlander can be equipped with a larger touchscreen display, while the Honda Pilot has an available rear entertainment system that's useful on long road trips.

Comfort and Utility

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum Moon Dust Rear Quarter View

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum

Yes, eight people can conceivably ride in the 2021 Honda Pilot. The third-row seat has a 60/40 split, three seatbelts, and adequate room and comfort by the standards of the midsize SUV class. 

A second-row bench seat is standard on most versions of the Pilot. On the Pilot Touring, you can choose between the second-row bench and second-row captain's chairs, which reduce seating capacity to seven. Higher trims have the captain's chairs only.

Every 2021 Honda Pilot comes with triple-zone climate control, but you'll have to step up to at least an EX to get a power driver’s seat. It's a 10-way power seat with lumbar adjustment. The EX also provides front seat heaters and second-row climate controls.

The Pilot EX-L gives you leather upholstery, driver memory settings, a 4-way power front passenger’s seat, second-row sunshades, and a power liftgate. The SE upgrades to a hands-free liftgate.

The Pilot Touring gets second-row seat heaters, but only when equipped with captain's chairs, along with ambient LED lighting. The Elite and Black Edition get ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic moonroof.

If you have every seat occupied, the Pilot gives you 16.5 cubic-feet of luggage capacity. With the third-row sections down, you'll have 46.8 cu.-ft. With the second-row seats folded, you'll have 83.8 cu.-ft. (82.1 in Elite and Black Edition trims). Overall, it's a lot of space, and it's enhanced by clever storage solutions elsewhere in the cabin, including tiered shelves in the door panels and underfloor storage for grocery items in plastic bags.

Like the Pilot, the 2021 Toyota Highlander seats seven or eight, depending on whether you have a bench seat or captain's chairs in the second row. The third-row seat has a 60/40 split and three seatbelts, but the accommodations are more cramped than in the Pilot. Kids in car seats probably won't care. But you'll think twice before asking the in-laws to sit back there.

Standard equipment is more generous than in the Pilot, as the base Highlander L starts you out with an 8-way power driver’s seat (4-way manual for the front passenger), and the expected triple-zone climate control. The LE provides a power liftgate. 

The Highlander XLE comes with Toyota's SofTex leatherette upholstery instead of cloth, along with a 10-way power driver’s seat (4-way power for the front passenger), heated front seats, and second-row sunshades.

You can option the XSE with leather upholstery or get it standard on the higher trim levels. Ventilated front seats are standard on the Limited, along with driver memory settings, a heated steering wheel, ambient LED lighting, and a hands-free liftgate. The Platinum offers premium leather upholstery, heated second-row seats, and a panoramic moonroof.

Cargo capacity numbers in the Highlander are almost identical to the Pilot's. If you're using all the seats, you'll have 16.0 cu.-ft. for a quick grocery run. Drop the third-row seat and you'll have 48.4 cu.-ft. Fold the second-row seats flat and you'll have a maximum capacity of 84.3 cu.-ft. 

Advantage: Honda Pilot

Learn More About the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander

If you’d like to learn more about these 3-row midsize SUVs, be sure to read our expert reviews of the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander. To find out how people like you rate vehicles in this segment, be sure to check out our ratings from verified vehicle owners.

Also, please keep in mind that while the information in this article was accurate and valid on February 23, 2021, it may have changed since that date. Always confirm product details and availability with the automaker’s website or your local dealership.

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