If you’re in the market for a modern and affordable SUV, then you probably know that Toyota offers several amazing choices, like the mid-size models – Highlander and 4Runner. These two are very similar when it comes to price and dimensions. The question is what are the main differences between the two? Which one is the better pick, and which one is the close second?
Nowadays, no major company – including Toyota – would ever roll out two identical models into the market. It’s just not right.
Manufacturers spend A LOT of money on each new brand, trying to find a perfect niche, a perfect segment on the market to fit them all in. So, what that basically means is that both the Highlander and the 4Runner have their strong sides, as well as their weak spots. And that’s why I’ve decided to write this article – to make a thorough comparison of the Toyota 4Runner vs Highlander and to tell you about every little detail, so that you can see the clear picture and make a decision.
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The main difference between the two SUVs is immediately obvious from the very first time you lay your eyes on both of them: the Highlander is all about that classic – even oldschool maybe – look that says family, reliability and tradition. The 4Runner, on the other hand, is a bad-ass, with that aggressive off-road-ready and “Not-afraid-to-get-dirty” grill. And even though they’re both manufactured by the same company, and are pretty much equal in size, the 4Runner is a truck-based vehicle intended for off-road glory, while the Highlander is a car-based crossover SUV designed for an enjoyable ride around the city with your family in one of the most comfortable passenger seats ever.
In the interior the 4Runner and the Highlander offer very different cabins, which is another clear demonstration of the big differences between the two SUVs. Take the Highlander, for example: its interior is very comfortable, “warm” and family-oriented, with easy-to-understand buttons and knobs and very high-quality materials. At the same time, the interior of the 4Runner reminds me a lot of that of a pick-up truck, with hard surfaces, hard angles, and a “manly” and muscular layout.
However, the major difference is in the passenger capacity: the Highlander, being a 100% family-friendly vehicle, offers three rows of seats, while the 4Runner has only two rows. So, in terms of exterior and interior, I can’t really name any of the two SUVs a winner, ’cause, even though this is a head-to-head Toyota 4Runner vs Highlander competition, they serve different purposes, and you just have to decide for yourself, what it is exactly that you want from a Toyota SUV.
Toyota 4Runner VS Highlander – The Powertrain
As for the powertrain, the two SUVs are pretty different as well. The Highlander’s basic engine is a 4-cyl, while the 4Runner’s standard-level is a V6. Even if we start comparing the V6 engines in both vehicles, we’ll see that they’re designed for different tasks. The Highlander’s 3.5-lit V6 is good for 270HP and is very smooth, comfy and noise-free; the 4Runner’s 4.0-lit V6 (also good for 270HP) is all about might and muscle, with extra attention to torque.
The family-friendly Highlander has the advantage of offering a hybrid powertrain (or, rather, powerplant), which is capable of 28 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 mpg in the city. At the same time, the 4Runner’s best fuel-efficiency stats are around 22 mpg hwy/17 mpg city. So, if you want fuel economy and a smooth ride, go with the Highlander. If you’re after that mighty roaring engine, that’s great off-road and superb when it comes to pulling heavy weights, then the 4Runner is your best bet.
Features And Tech
When it comes down to comparing basic and optional equipment, the Highlander outruns its rival by miles; and it’s no surprise, as it’s been fully redesigned recently. So, it offers an impressive array of the latest techy advancements, like lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems, blind spot monitoring, a back-up camera (comes standard) and rear cross-traffic alert. As for the rusty 4Runner, its most impressive safety features are the front and rear parking sensors.
And the excellence of the Highlander doesn’t end with the safety gadgets. It’s got a panoramic sunroof, heated seats and a heated steering wheel available. And while the 4Runner comes through with a solid 6.1-inch touchscreen, the Highlander is still far more impressive with the 8-inch screen. To put it simply, these two SUVs don’t really go head to head when it comes to technological features: the 4Runner is an off-road brat that spends every last penny on the engine, rather than the techy equipment; the Highlander, on the other hand, is easily one of the most feature-packed SUVS on the market. So, this round of the Toyota 4Runner vs Highlander battle is not even a draw. It’s a win-win.
As for safety ratings, the Highlander gained a perfect five-star score in the NHTSA’s crash tests, while the 4Runner got only 4 stars. In the IIHS tests the Highlander also beat its rival with the highest Top Safety Pick+ rating. Furthermore, as I just mentioned, the Highlander is super rich with all the latest equipment (safety features included), while the 4Runner is less than average. So, in the safety round the Highlander is the obvious winner.
The Driving Experience
Remember in the beginning I told you that these two SUVs were designed for different purposes? Well, it’s true! When you get behind the wheel of the 4Runner, you feel like you’re the king of the off-road, the master of the dirt, rain and snow, so, the somewhat rough driving experience only emphasizes that feeling. Driving the Highlander after the 4Runner is a blast – you get a smooth, noise-free, super-comfy ride with amazing seats. While the Highlander’s sophisticated suspension smoothes out all the bumps on the road, the 4Runner crashes through them with pride. Furthermore, the Highlander is a very “sneaky” car – it’s very flexible, and can easily maneuver through traffic and tight corners. At the same time, when you’re driving the Runner, you feel like it’s much larger and clumsier, even though they’re almost equal in size.
Toyota 4Runner VS Highlander – The Verdict
Gotta make one thing clear: both the 4Runner and the Highlander are great Toyota SUVs, but intended for different drivers.
Folks with family will most certainly pick the Highlander that offers a very comfy experience, better fuel-efficiency, a lot more techy features, higher safety scores and a third-row seat, which is imperative for a big happy fam.
And people who love manly and muscular SUVs with excellent off-road capabilities won’t find anything better than the 4Runner.
These two vehicles have that same Toyota logo on the front, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. So, it’s actually a no-brainer: If you know what you want, then you’ll immediately make your pick. And if you don’t – read my article once again and make a list of all the + and – sides of both cars. That will help you make your decision. By the way, you can always ask me anything you want in the comments section below. I’ll always be there to lend you that helping hand.