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Mid-size SUV buyers have many options to choose from, and Toyota offers two great choices. Comparing the Toyota Highlander versus the Toyota 4Runner comes down to a matter of what you need for your particular situation. One is rough around the edges, but great off road, while the other is more polished and perfectly suited for city duty. For more information on how to compare any two cars you’re interested in read our article on finding the perfect car for you.

About the Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander is a light-duty mid-size crossover SUV designed for everyday use. The Highlander offers seating for up to eight passengers in three rows.

Toyota offers the Highlander with three engine options. The standard engine is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic transmission. Upper level trims include Toyota’s proven 3.5-liter V6 and an eight-speed automatic. There’s also a hybrid that uses the same V6 engine along with electric motors. The Highlander comes with front-wheel-drive as standard, but an all-wheel drive system is optional.

The Toyota Highlander comes in five different trim levels. Your options range from the basic economy LE trim to the luxurious Limited edition. If you want the hybrid, there are three trims to choose from. Notable awards for the Highlander include a place on Kelley Blue Book’s 12 Best Family Cars of 2018. The Highlander is built at a Toyota assembly plant in Princeton, Indiana.

About the Toyota 4Runner

The Toyota 4Runner is a different kind of SUV from the Highlander. It’s truck-based chassis makes it better suited for off-road use and towing. The 4Runner can carry up to seven passengers in three rows.

Every 4Runner comes with Toyota’s 4.0-liter V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. The 4Runner gets rear-wheel-drive as standard equipment. However, many buyers choose the optional four-wheel-drive. The SR5 and the Limited trim use an electronically-controlled system while the TRD Off-Road and Pro trims use a traditional lever-operated transfer case with a locking center differential. In both cases, the 4Runner includes standard gears for normal highway speeds and low-range gears for off-road traction. The 4Runner is rated to tow trailers up to 5,000 pounds.

The 4Runner comes in seven different trim levels, including the luxury Limited and off-road oriented TRD Pro options. The Toyota 4Runner is made in Aichi, Japan.

Highlander vs 4Runner price comparison graph

Toyota Highlander versus Toyota 4Runner: What has Better Interior Quality, Space, and Comfort?

Both the Highlander and the 4Runner offer comfortable interiors. However, the interiors are quite different based on the intended use of the vehicle. The 4Runner offers a rugged look designed for an active lifestyle, while the Highlander is oriented towards family use.

Highlander economy trims are equipped with basic cloth seats and standard climate control. If you upgrade, you’ll get features like power-adjustable heated leather seats. The Highlander provides up to 83.7 cubic feet of cargo space which is excellent for the class.

The 4Runner interior design has a rugged look reflecting this SUV’s personality. The most basic SR5 trim includes cloth seats, but upper level trims include SofTex synthetic suede or leather. You can choose luxury upgrades with the SR5 Premium, Limited, or Limited Nightshade trims, or an off-road upgrade with any of the TRD trim levels.

The 4Runner offers up to 89.7 cubic feet of cargo with all rear seats lowered. That’s enough for a full load of camping gear. Buyers should also note that it may be harder to get into and out of the 4Runner because of the taller off-road suspension.

Toyota Highlander versus Toyota 4Runner: What has Better Safety Equipment and Ratings?

The Highlander has more advanced safety equipment than the 4Runner. The traditional body-on-frame construction of the 4Runner will never fare as well as the unibody design of the Highlander in a crash. Also, the 4Runner was last updated before many modern safety devices were available.

The 4Runner does come with Toyota’s Star Safety System, which includes:

  • Vehicle stability control.
  • Traction control.
  • Anti-lock brakes with brake assist.
  • Smart stop technology to avoid unintended acceleration.

The Highlander comes with the Star Safety system, plus Toyota Safety Sense on all trim levels. Toyota Safety Sense is a package of advanced driver assistance features that includes:

  • Adaptive cruise control.
  • Automatic emergency braking.
  • Lane departure alert with steering assistance.
  • Pre-collision mitigation system with pedestrian detection.
  • Automatic high beam control.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 4Runner mostly good crash ratings. The 4Runner did get a marginal score for small-overlap crashes on the driver’s side. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards the 4Runner four out of five stars for crash safety.

The Highlander did better. The IIHS rates the Highlander as a Top Safety Pick. NHTSA rates the Highlander’s crash safety at the full five stars.

Toyota Highlander versus Toyota 4Runner: What has Better Technology?

The basic infotainment system on both the Highlander and the 4Runner is a 6.1-inch touchscreen display with an AM/FM radio and a CD player. This system supports voice control, hands free phone calls, and streaming music with Bluetooth.

In the 4Runner, all trim levels use the 6.1-inch screen. You can get navigation, satellite radio, Internet apps, and the JBL premium audio system. Upgrades are available as options or as standard equipment on higher trim 4Runners.

Upgrade options on the Highlander include an 8.0-inch touchscreen, plus navigation, apps, and the JBL premium audio system. The Highlander also offers options like a surround-view camera system and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert

One feature to call out in the Highlander is the Driver Easy Speak feature, which uses a microphone near the driver to project their voice all the way to the back of the cabin. Every parent will see the value in that feature.

Toyota Highlander versus Toyota 4Runner: Which is Better to Drive?

On the road, the Highlander offers an easier, quieter driving experience. The 4Runner drives more like a pickup truck, and the larger tires produce more road noise.

However, all that changes when you get off pavement. The all-wheel-drive system in the Highlander is great for typical winter conditions. In contrast, the 4Runner is designed for serious off-road use.

Toyota has done a great job making the 4Runner enjoyable under all conditions, so if your path will take you well away from the highway, the 4Runner is ideal. On the other hand, the Highlander is a better choice for suburban or urban driving.

Toyota Highlander versus Toyota 4Runner: Which Car is Priced Better?

Warranty coverage is the same for both vehicles. Toyota covers their products for 3 years or 36,000 miles, and 5 years or 60,000 miles on the powertrain. Rust is covered for 5 years, and the passenger restraint systems are covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

The 2019 Highlander starts with the base LE trim for $31,680. The mid-grade XLE trim includes leather seats, navigation, and a power moonroof for $39,750. The top Limited trim adds blind spot monitoring, heated and ventilated front seats, and a premium JBL audio system for $42,780.

The 2019 Toyota 4Runner starts at $35,110 for the base SR5 trim. The TRD Off Road model adds hill start assist, crawl control, and Multi-terrain Select for $38,285. The TRD Off Road Premium trim adds SofTex seats and navigation for $40,195. The ultimate TRD Pro trim includes upgraded off-road suspension for $46,615. Finally, the luxury Limited trim includes front and rear parking alerts, heated leather seats, and the JBL premium audio system for $43,425.

Toyota Highlander versus Toyota 4Runner: Which Car Should I Buy?

When weighing the Toyota Highlander versus the Toyota 4Runner, you should make your decision based on the style of driving you do. For most people, this won’t be a hard decision.

Do you think you’ll be going off-road in the future? If so, the 4Runner is the clear choice as it’s a traditional SUV made for rough duty.

If your plans involve normal highway use, then the Highlander is a better choice. However, you may want to wait a few months. Toyota unveiled the all-new fourth-generation 2020 Highlander this spring. Next year’s Highlander has been totally redesigned and is expected at Toyota dealers in December 2019.

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Toyota Highlander vs. Toyota 4Runner: Which Car is Right For Me?
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Toyota Highlander vs. Toyota 4Runner: Which Car is Right For Me?
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We pit the Toyota Highlander vs Toyota 4Runner, with a Pro comparing driving, tech, safety features, and pricing to clarify which is right for you.
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Jeff Zurschmeide has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years as a writer, editor, and photographer. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, and websites, and he has written nine books on automotive topics. Because cars cost money, Jeff is also a keen student of personal finance. In fact, he went to graduate school for an MBA degree just to understand how the auto and finance industries work. Jeff makes his home in Tillamook, Oregon.

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