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A red 2023 Ford Explorer ST is shown parked after winning a 2023 Ford Explorer vs 2023 Nissan Pathfinder comparison.

Which Mid-Size King Reigns: The Explorer or the Pathfinder?

If it seems like there are a lot of mid-size SUV options out there, you are certainly not kidding yourself. SUVs have taken the market, along with the roads, by storm over the past few decades, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. If you’re into mid-size SUVs, this can be a gift. What’s better than a ton of options on the table? Yet it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of choices, too, especially if you don’t feel like you’re an expert.

The battle of the 2023 Ford Explorer vs 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is a great example of why consumers might feel a little perplexed on how to make a call when it comes time to buy. Both mid-size SUVs look great and seem like solid performers. But there are differences when you look more closely, and those differences can radically affect how buyers will be able to use their SUVs and which one will get you more bang for your buck.

A tan 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is shown driving on a road in a city.

What’s the Market for Mid-Size SUVs?

Before taking a look at whether the Explorer or Pathfinder is better for you, it’s worth considering if mid-sizes are right for you in general. In general, most buyers do end up falling into the mid-size market even when they have disparate desires. Mid-sizes are designed for mass appeal. If you need to do heavy towing and hauling, or you want sports car level performance, then a mid-size is not going to be the right option. For everyone else, however, mid-size SUV should be on your radar.

The term “mid-size” reveals agreat deal about this type of SUV. It aims to please buyers acclimated to sedans just as much as it aims to please drivers of SUVs. It offers more space than sedans, but it does not take up as much room on the road as some of the larger SUVs, which helps out anyone worried about driving a chunkier vehicle (or where to park it). A mid-size SUV can be great for a family thanks to seating and storage, but it can also appeal to the single driver who wants room for road trips. Athletes especially love a mid-size since they can pack in lots of equipment without worries. If the mid-size sounds up your alley, you’ll want to take a look at the Explorer and Pathfinder. Let’s examine their details so you can see which one works for you.


Performance might not be the first word you think of when you hear of an SUV, especially a mid-size. But these SUVs have made massive strides in the past decade, and they can now put quite a bit of pep in their metaphorical step.

As with so many vehicles, the Explorer offers more than one type of engine depending upon your preferences and driving lifestyle. There are two main engines worth examining to evaluate the Explorer’s performance on the road. The standard engine is an impressive 300 horsepower turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder that can get you from zero to sixty in six seconds flat. While not the acceleration of a sports car, that’s still faster than most people assume an SUV can go. If you want a little more power, no worries. Higher trims come with the twin turbocharged 400 horsepower 3.0L V6. But if efficiency is more your style, there’s also a hybrid engine available, too: a 3.3L V6 that makes 318 horsepower. That’s some solid performance for a hybrid engine, make no mistake.

The Pathfinder is similar, but its engines come in just a little below those stats. It has a standard 3.5L V6 engine that gets 284 horsepower. An upgrade can lift that number to 295 horsepower. These are solid numbers for a mid-size, but they come in shy of the Explorer. If performance is high on your list, the Explorer will likely please you a bit more. In terms of efficiency, the Pathfinder does not offer a hybrid model in 2023, although it has offered them in the past. The Pathfinder’s fuel economy is roughly the same as the non-hybrid versions of the Explorer.

A red 2023 Ford Explorer is shown parked near a city.


Safety is at the top of anyone’s mind when purchasing a new vehicle, but since mid-sizes are often used to transport family and friends, safety features become even more imperative. Manufacturers pride themselves on offering advanced safety technology so that you feel you have a co-pilot with you. (Perhaps not a surprise that Ford’s safety system is called the Ford Co-Pilot360.)

The Ford Explorer comes highly rated by safety experts, which is no surprise as it has the much praised Ford CoPilot360 system. Cameras provide 360 degree views so that drivers know what’s going on around the SUV at all times. The Explorer also features advanced braking systems that, if engaged, will slow your vehicle if it senses an incoming collision. During the brief time it takes your brain to react and move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal, you are already stopping, which can avoid or at least minimize the severity of a crash. The Explorer’s advanced lane keeping assist can alert you if you are veering out of your lane, and, if engaged, can also pull you back in your lane.

The Nissan Pathfinder comes equipped with a similar system: the Safety Shield 360. The features are almost identical to the Explorer’s, meaning the Pathfinder’s safety system excels. However, its cameras do not offer as great a range, in my opinion. While a very small detail, I know I like as much camera visibility as I can get. The Explorer weighs more than the Pathfinder, which gives it more feeling of sturdiness compared to the Pathfinder. These are small elements, and drivers of the Pathfinder will be happy with the safety features, but it’s why I end up rating the Explorer a smidge higher.

A white 2023 Ford Explorer King Ranch Edition is shown driving on a dirt road.


Drivers expect to have plenty of choices when they purchase a new vehicle. The base option for an SUV should only be the starting point. The ability to have an SUV designed for a driver’s lifestyle is an expectation, not a perk. Manufacturers are well aware of this, and have made sure that mid-size SUVs can appeal to a wide range of drivers.

It’s here that the differences between the Explorer and the Pathfinder are so stark. The Explorer offers eight versions, including the base, while the Pathfinder only offers four. If you want an SUV that can be malleable, the Explorer is the way to go.

The Explorer’s trims can almost seem like different vehicles. Its Timberline trim excels if you’re into adventures. With its Off-Road Light Kit, you’ll be able to do some outbacking with peace of mind. On the other end of the spectrum is the Platinum, which aims for luxury and exterior beauty. While there’s no trim of the Explorer that isn’t visually impressive, the Platinum makes certain that you’ll be the gem of the road. Trims in between offer mixes between the two in case you want to dabble in both worlds. You also also have to factor in the hybrid trims, which offer plenty of value before you even consider the fuel efficiency.

The Pathfinder comes up a bit short. It has four trims, including the base. The trims it does offer are great, but there’s less choice here. Like the Explorer, there is a trim that aims for outbacking, the Rock Creek trim, and one that aims for luxury, also called the Platinum. Both do an excellent job at their respective missions, but there is only one other trim, the SL, while the Explorer’s list keeps going and going. Here, there’s no question which mid-size wins out. Again, I’m also disappointed by the lack of a hybrid option.

The black interior of a 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is shown.

Spacious Ride

You want to know that you can bring people along with you and not have to cram into a tight vehicle. The Explorer and the Pathfinder can both brag of plenty of seating and space to pack luggage in.

The Explorer, though, inches out ahead. With seats down, you have 87.8 cubic feet of room. If anyone plans to use their Explorer for transporting work materials or toys for the weekend, you’re in luck with this amount of space. This mid-size can be a utility vehicle, too, when called upon.

The Pathfinder also has plenty of room coming just below the Explorer with 80.5 cubic feet of room with the seats down. That’s not radically lower than the Explorer, but anyone who has gone on a cross country trip knows that every inch can end up counting.

The Verdict

No one is going home miserable with the Pathfinder, but the Explorer comes out ahead in almost every area, which is why I feel it’s the better purchase. Its versatility simply can’t be beaten. If you want to know you’re going to be covered no matter what terrain you head out on, then the Explorer will have your back every single time.