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2020 Nissan Pathfinder vs Toyota Highlander

2020 Nissan Pathfinder vs Toyota Highlander

2020 Pathfinder vs Highlander - How do they stack up? Which is Better?

For many families, a three-row SUV is precisely what they need for their day-to-day life. They offer room for the whole crew, plus ample cargo space. As a bonus, they are typically considered much more stylish than the minivans that used to dominate with these consumers.

The 2020 Nissan Pathfinder is a three-row SUV with room for up to seven. It has a comfortable cabin and more than enough power under the hood. At the same time, poor predicted reliability and the fact that it has not be redesigned in seven years may make some buyers pause.

As for the 2020 Toyota Highlander, it can seat up to either seven or eight, depending on the configuration. It appears to get right the things that the Pathfinder does not. In fact, it has been completely redesigned for 2020 and is predicted to be much more reliable. On the flip side, its third-row is too small for adults and even some children to ride comfortably in.

Buyers looking into these two SUV options will find they are very different in significant ways. While personal priorities are definitely going to factor in, it is entirely possible that one of these vehicles is simply better than the other. The following will explore key aspects of both to help buyers decide.

The Powertrain

Although four different trim levels of the Pathfinder exist, there is only engine available for this SUV. All models find themselves powered by a 3.5L V6. Making 284-horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque, this engine is ideal for a vehicle of this size. It accelerates nicely and can merge onto the highway without worry.

A continuously variable transmission is standard and works a lot smoother than one might expect. Front-wheel-drive is the standard. All-wheel-drive, which can be added for an extra $1,690, is an option on all trim levels as well.

For the Highlander, Toyota also stuck to one engine across the lineup. All five trim levels have a 3.5L V6 giving them 295-horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, making it just a touch more powerful than the Pathfinder. This engine is well-suited for the needs of the Highlander. With a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, the Highlander falls just short of the Pathfinder.

An eight-speed automatic transmission does a good job of keeping things running smoothly. Once again, buyers will find that front-wheel-drive is the norm. All-wheel-drive is an option. For lower trims, this will set buyers back $1,600. Upper trims charge an extra $1,950 for this upgrade.

With such similar power, the next obvious question becomes which one is more fuel efficient? The 2020 Pathfinder is estimated to get 20mpg in the city along with 27mpg on the highway. Going up to all-wheel-drive means losing just a bit of efficiency, dropping the estimates to 19mpg city and 26mpg highway. These numbers are slightly better than average for the class.

The 2020 Highlander actually manages to do a bit better than the Pathfinder. Front-wheel-drive models see 21mpg in the city and 29mpg on the highway. All-wheel-drive models get 20mpg in the city and 27mpg on the highway, which is quite impressive considering the size.

Despite their names, neither the Pathfinder or the Highlander are meant for a lot of off-roading. Their designs are focused on comfort on the pavement, instead. Buyers who do want to take the occasional adventure in their SUV should note that the Highlander offers 8-inches of ground clearance, whereas the Pathfinder has only 7-inches.

Reliability estimates are produced by J.D. Power to help consumers find a vehicle they can count on for the long haul. The 2020 Nissan Pathfinder received a disappointing score of just 2.5 stars out of a possible five. As for the 2020 Toyota Highlander, it got a more average 3.5 stars.

Those who pay extra attention to the warranty will find that this is not a good way to choose between these two vehicles. Both the Pathfinder and Highlander give buyers three years or 36,000 miles for the basic warranty. The powertrain warranties goes a bit longer, running five years or 60,000 miles.


Interior space is often a major factor in determining the drivability of a vehicle. The first thing to be aware of is that the 2020 Nissan Pathfinder offers up 154 cubic feet of passenger space, compared to just 141.3 cubic feet inside the 2020 Highlander. As a result, the Pathfinder is as good as or better in all measurement categories.

For example, the Pathfinder has an inch more headroom in the front row. Legroom in the front is more or less identical. The Pathfinder does have significantly more shoulder room in both the front and second-rows.

There is substantially more legroom in both the second and third-rows of the Pathfinder. In fact, the Pathfinder has over three extra inches over the Highlander when it comes to third-row legroom. Considering how cramped the third-row of these vehicles typically is, that three inches makes a huge differences. Buyers should note that the Pathfinder only has seating for two in its third-row, whereas the Highlander can have up to three.

The Highlander regains some lost ground when buyers compare their cargo space. Both of these SUVs have approximately 16 cubic feet behind the third row. The Pathfinder has 47.4 cubic feet with that row folded down, while the Highlander has 48.4 cubic feet. Maximum cargo capacity for the Pathfinder is 79.5 cubic feet, while the Highlander has up to 84.3 cubic feet. While neither of them offer up class-leading numbers, the Highlander is going to undoubtedly be able to haul more gear when needed.

Both of these vehicles have cloth upholstery standard with the option of getting leather on select trim levels. The Highlander has a few extra standard interior touches, however, likely thanks to its fresh redesign. Most significantly, this SUV comes standard with eight-way power-adjustment for the driver's seat. It also comes with Driver Easy Speak, which can project voices from the front seat into the rear speakers, reducing the need to shout.

Either option can be equipped with several luxury upgrades, provided the buyer is willing to pay for a higher trim. The Pathfinder offers comfort features like heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Buyers can also get a heated steering wheel. As for the Highlander, it offers all of those things, plus extra power-adjustment for the driver and front passenger.

On the technology front, both the Pathfinder and the Highlander start out with an 8-inch touchscreen. The Highlander also has a 12.3-inch touchscreen that comes with navigation available. For the first time, Toyota has given the Highlander Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa as standard features on all models. These are not available on even the most expensive version of the 2020 Pathfinder.

Six-speaker stereo systems are found in the entry-level models of both SUVs. The Pathfinder can upgrade to a 13-speaker Bose system. For the Highlander, the available upgrade is an 11-speaker JBL setup. Both have satellite radio standard. HD radio is standard for the Highlander.

The Pathfinder also offers navigation, just without the upgrade in touchscreen size. HD radio is also added to upper trims of this Nissan SUV. One thing missing from the Pathfinder, however, is wireless charging capability. This is a standard feature for the top three trim levels of the Highlander.


Several popular driver aids are standard for the 2020 Nissan Pathfinder. All models will give buyers a rearview camera, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and rear parking sensors. Also standard is the rear door reminder feature that alerts drivers to check their backseat before leaving their vehicle. Upper trim levels have a few extra driver aids, to include a surround-view camera system, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control.

The list of standard driver aids for the Highlander is even more impressive. Included with all models is adaptive cruise control, lane trace assist, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, traffic sign recognition, and pre-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Also standard is a head-up display, as well as cyclist and pedestrian detection.

Upper trim levels unlock more driver aids for the Highlander. Buyers can get front and rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitor, a surround-view camera, and rear cross-traffic alert. There is even an impressive larger 10-inch head-up display setup available.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named both the Pathfinder and the Highlander a Top Safety Pick for 2020. The Highlander received a "good" rating in all six of the main categories tested. As for the Pathfinder, it received "good" in five categories and "acceptable" for its passenger-side small overlap front test.

Buying Tip:

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Which Has the Best Value?

The Pathfinder starts out more affordable than the Highlander, which is pretty pricey for its class. An entry-level 2020 Pathfinder starts out at $31,680. At the same time, a Highlander will cost buyers at least $34,600. While the top-trim of the Pathfinder starts at around $42,000, while the fanciest Highlander starts at $46,850.

Buyers should also pay attention to the cost-to-own estimates for both of these vehicles. Over a five year period, the Highlander LE is estimated to cost $8,760 in fuel. This assumes that the driver averages 15,000 miles a year. At the same time, the Pathfinder SL will cost $9,557 in fuel during that first five years. Although it may not be noticeable in the moment, the Highlander can save drivers eight hundred dollars at the pumps.

On the other hand, the Highlander LE is estimated to cost drivers $4,446 in maintenance in its first five years. This is considerably higher than the estimate for the Pathfinder SL, which sits at just $3,025. Buyers may see this as evening out these two vehicles in their cost-to-own comparison.

Depreciation is another thing to savvy shoppers consider. Over five years, the Highlander LE is expected to lose $15,415 in value. This may seem like a lot, until drivers factor in that the Pathfinder SL is estimated to lose $20,596 in that same time period.

Which is Better?

Considering the fact that these vehicles are very similar when it comes to power and safety, buyers need to dig a little deeper to decide which is right for them. In most cases, the 2020 Toyota Highlander is going to be the right call. Its more modern cabin is full of luxury and convenience touches that are simply not matched by the Pathfinder. It also has a much better predicted reliability rate, making it a safer buy.

That is not to say that the Pathfinder will not be right for some, however. The tiny third-row of the Highlander reduces its practicality for larger families, especially as children grow. The spacious third-row of the Pathfinder makes it a true family vehicle. Plus, it is much more affordable than the Highlander, placing it within the budget of more consumers. As long as buyers are willing to go without things such as smartphone integration, the Pathfinder is a respectable choice.

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