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Published March 02, 2022
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After a midsize SUV from a reputable Japanese manufacturer? Then a Toyota Highlander or 4Runner are your two main choices. As both are built by the same brand there’s plenty of overlap in terms of performance, features and style. Yet they’re distinct models, each with unique traits.
While the Toyota 4Runner has been around since the early 1980s, the Highlander only appeared on the scene at the start of this millennium. Since then, both have seen great advancements to become two of the leading SUVs on both the new and used markets.
To choose which is best for your driving needs, it’s vital you compare a variety of important elements to understand the difference between the Highlander and 4Runner. Here we measure up their key elements, including:
Decide which Toyota SUV is right for you by comparing the following aspects.
Compare those important top-level numbers for the Highlander vs 4runner – including their prices, engine sizes and fuel economy.
Priced from: $35,205
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 engine or hybrid 2.5-liter L4HV engine
Miles per gallon: 21 MPG in the city, 29 MPG on the highway
Priced from: $37,605
Engine: 4.0-liter V6 engine
Miles per gallon: 16 MPG in the city, 19 MPG on the highway
If price and fuel economy are your main considerations, then the Toyota Highlander just about edges it here. Starting at around $2,000 cheaper when new, it also has slightly better MPG for both city and highway driving. You’ll likely make small savings for both urban or long-distance driving, compared to the 4Runner.
However, should power be what you’re after then the 4Runner comes out on top, with a dominant 4.0-liter V6 engine. The Highlander does come with the option of a hybrid engine too, which is currently unavailable for the Toyota 4Runner. It comes down to your preference – price or power?
As both the Highlander and 4Runner are built by Toyota, safety is a priority for all their models. Many features overlap and both come with the Toyota Star Safety System™ as standard, which includes:
Some of the key safety aspects of the latest Toyota Highlander include:
The latest Toyota 4Runner includes the Toyota Safety Sense™ P as standard across all trims, which comprises:
Reliability is an important consideration when comparing SUVs as it provides an idea of how long-lasting each should be. Greater reliability means fewer repairs and maintenance, leading to lower running costs. Again, as both are manufactured by Toyota and follow similar quality control, there’s little difference in terms of their reliability
According to Consumer Reports, the 4Runner is ranked as slightly more reliable, with a score of 5/5. It’s highly durable with a strong body structure and a more powerful engine that helps it handle rugged conditions and long-term use well. Having been around for a couple more decades, it has evolved too.
The Highlander also scored highly, with a 4/5 rating that’s only just behind the 4runner. It’s generally agreed the Highlander also offers a smoother ride, better and more reliable for those driving in the city and highways, rather than off-roading.
The Highlander’s suitability for city and highway driving is matched by a more upscale interior, which increases in quality as you move through the trims. The 4Runner’s style is more practical and utilitarian.
One difference is the body construction, which affects interior space. As the Highlander has a unibody construction that’s part of the SUV, it allows more headroom for the driver and passengers. The body on frame construction of the 4Runner means it sits atop the frame, reducing cabin space.
With both made by Toyota, much of the in-car technology is similar. A Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration are included in both, alongside a similar infotainment system. There are some differences though.
A few of the key interior and infotainment features of the Highlander include:
Some highlights from inside the 4Runner and its tech include:
The interior and tech change as you move up the trim levels on both models. Generally, the Highlander features a slightly more modern and extensive array for those who technology is a prime focus when looking for an SUV.
Both SUVs offer plenty of room with the flexibility to increase or decrease cargo space for all your gear depending on what you’re doing and how many passengers you have.
The Highlander has three rows of seating. Its cargo space depends on how many seats you have up or down. Behind each row you get:
It’s a similar story with the 4Runner if you opt for a three-row model. Behind each row you get:
With the two-row model of a 4runner though, you get:
So, if you’re always going to use three rows of seats, then the Highlander offers more space. But, if you want to pack in lots of gear with just one passenger riding shotgun, then a 4Runner may be best.