Toyota Highlander vs. Toyota 4Runner: Pros, Cons & Which One is Better for You

Toyota Highlander vs. Toyota 4Runner: Pros, Cons & Which One is Better for You

Born in Japan in the 1930s, today Toyota is a multinational automaker with a fantastic line of vehicles. They've also been in operation for so long that their reputation for reliability often makes them a top choice for anyone looking to buy a new or used car.

One of Toyota's vaunted, well-known models is the Highlander. This unibody crossover took advantage of being an early mover-and-shaker. Another famously iconic contender among their roster is the Toyota 4Runner, a classic SUV that's undeniably one of the most well-known vehicles on the market for more than three decades.

Both the Toyota Highlander and the 4Runner have an excellent reputation, but if you're stuck choosing between the two, which one do you buy? 

Read on, as we give you all the pros and cons right, so you can make the best decision for all your driving adventures.

Toyota Highlander vs. 4Runner: What’s the Difference?

Because the Highlander is a crossover, and the 4Runner is an SUV, you can find some noticeable changes between the two regarding their basic construction.

With the Highlander, you’re looking at a crossover frame and lower ground clearance, which means it’s better suited for navigating urban roads. As it has only eight inches of clearance, taking the Toyota Highlander off-road may get your vehicle stuck. Although its V6 engine option can tow a maximum of 5,000 pounds, its payload capacity is only 1,280 pounds. That can add up quickly when you account for how many adult passengers it can carry on top of the cargo.

In comparison, Toyota designed the 4Runner for some seriously rough terrain. It has traded some of its seating space to make up for cargo and towing abilities. The vehicle’s strength is thanks to its body-on-frame construction, which gives it firmer suspension. Although its towing capacity is the same as the Highlander’s, its SUV body also allows it to transport a higher payload within the vehicle, giving it the stamina of a draft horse.

Our verdict? The Highlander is great for city environments where you’ll be traveling on paved roads. If you’re engaging in the occasional short-term camping trip, it won’t be bad either. 

Suppose you’re traversing rough roads daily, however, or you live in a rural area with severe weather conditions. In that case, the 4Runner is a better choice.

Fuel Economy and Horsepower

Engine strength and fuel economy are always important factors when buying a new vehicle. Toyota is well known for reliability in this area.

With the Toyota Highlander, expect a smooth, fuel-efficient ride. In newer vehicles, such as the 2019 model, you can choose between three different engine options. 

The base 2.7-liter, 185-horsepower engine allows the Highlander to travel up to 20 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. With the 3.5-liter V6, you'll find 295 horsepower with 21 mpg in town and 27-mpg on the freeway. 

For the top-of-the-line 3.5 liter hybrid, your Highlander features a V6 engine that gets you 306 horsepower, along with 30 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the freeway. While these relatively high numbers will help you save on fuel, it's important to note that all-wheel-drive features can slightly affect the Highlander's fuel economy.

Moving onto the 4Runner, the SUV's fuel economy is not as impressive, although its engine power is nothing to sneer at. With a four-liter, 260-horsepower V6 engine on newer models, the 4Runner can compete with the Highlander, especially on rugged roads. 

The 4Runner's fuel economy is 17 mpg in the city, while highways get you 22 mpg. These relatively low numbers are because of the 4Runner's size and weight, so there's not much getting around it. 

Our verdict is that the Highlander is well-suited for regular commuting, especially the hybrid. The 4Runner is sturdier all-around and suitable for rural areas, but its fuel economy can't compete. Fortunately, its strength can.

Tech, Seats, and Cargo Space: Highlander vs. 4Runner

Suppose you’re interested in a family or cargo-friendly car. In that case, the interior design and tech options for both of these vehicles will appeal to your needs. 

For the Highlander, you’re looking at a passenger’s paradise. With 2019 models, for example, you’ll find three rows of seats as standard, which can fit up to seven. In upgraded models, you’ll find leather seats that can be heated and cooled. Expect to see 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space with all the seats up, too. If you drop the back row, your cargo space grows to 42.3 cubic feet. 

With the 4Runner, the basic model has less passenger capacity, with only two rows of seats. It does outperform in the storage arena, though. If you compare its 2019 model to the Highlander counterpart, the 4Runner has 47.2 cubic feet of cargo with all the seats up. If you drop the back row, it expands to 89.7 cubic feet. 

When it comes to tech, both Toyota models have decent options. The 2019 Highlander offers a 6.1-inch infotainment touchscreen, a few USB ports, and some Bluetooth options. For the 4Runner, you’ll get multiple charging ports, including a 12v household plug in the back to power your larger devices. 

Certain trim features for the 2021 4Runner and the 2021 Highlander are compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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Highlander vs. 4Runner: Which Is Safer?

In all of their vehicles, Toyota prioritizes safety. For the Highlander, you’ll find yourself with a car that can easily fit child car seats in the second row. It also has an overall “Good” score on the LATCH system by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 

Other safety features include pedestrian detection and pre-collision warnings. You can find newer models with optional blind-spot monitoring, too. 

In comparison, the 4Runner’s capacity for car seats isn’t as great as the Highlander’s. To balance this out, its 4x4 drive system, along with rear-parking and front-parking sensors, helps keep it safe in poor weather conditions.

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Which Toyota Car Is the Winner?

Both the Highlander and the 4Runner – and all Toyotas, for that matter – boast a reputation for high-quality construction. So it's no surprise that neither the Highlander nor the 4Runner rank as the cheapest in their respective classes when it comes to cost. However, you can find steep savings by purchasing an earlier model, and those models abound. 

With Shift, you can buy a car from the comfort of your home, all the while knowing there are no hidden issues from their 150-point inspection. You'll get a fair, up-front price on the vehicle, too. Factoring in these savings, you'll find that both the Toyota Highlander and the Toyota 4Runner are excellent purchases. Still, it's essential to keep in mind that both vehicles have different purposes. 

If you're looking for family-friendly day use, the Toyota Highlander will suit you well. If you're looking for a sturdy vehicle to assist you on rough roads or extended camping trips, go with the Toyota 4Runner. This article on how much is a used Toyota 4Runner will have additional stats. If you want to do some more research on either vehicle, consider reading up on the most reliable Toyotas to buy.

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited (from $33,950)

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Author
Shift Editorial Team