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2021 Subaru Outback vs Toyota Highlander

2021 Subaru Outback vs Toyota Highlander

2021 Outback vs Highlander - How do they stack up? Which is Better?

Both the Subaru and Toyota brands are known for their reliability. Subarus, in particular, are famous for their standard all-wheel drive and practicality, and Toyotas have long been leaders in the market because of their affordability and safety. With the 2021 Outback and Highlander, these companies are giving customers two great options to consider.

There are some big differences between the two models, including that the Highlander has three rows of seats while the Outback has two rows, but there are many similarities. This overview will go over several areas in detail so that customers can be armed with the information they need to make the right purchase.

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The Powertrain

There are two available powertrains with each SUV. With the Outback, the standard engine is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder. It can generate 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. This is a pretty good amount of power that would satisfy many drivers.

The XT trims of the Outback can do even better since they have turbochargers. They use 2.4-liter, four-cylinder turbo engines that have 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Even the average person would be able to notice a difference in how this engine performs, especially when accelerating, climbing hills, or driving around with a full cabin.

All trims have symmetrical all-wheel drive to enhance their traction. They also have X-Mode. This is a program that can improve control when conditions are really difficult. Some models have snow, mud/sand, and rock/dirt driving modes that would be very handy if dealing with tough trails.

Hill Descent Control is another standard component in the Subaru, and it can limit the vehicle's speed when it's traveling down steep roads. This way, a driver doesn't have to ride the brakes and can instead concentrate on steering. (The Highlander has Hill Descent Control as well.)

All Subaru Outback trims use lineartronic continuously variable transmissions. This type of transmission can do its job perfectly fine, though it does not have a manual shift mode for people to take advantage of. With the smaller engine, the Outback can tow up to 2,700 pounds. The larger engine gives the SUV the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Toyota offers a hybrid option with the Highlander. This is sure to be appreciated by consumers looking to reduce their gas consumption. The hybrid powertrain uses a 2.5-liter engine and an electrical component to yield a net horsepower of 243. This is almost as much horsepower as the turbocharged Outback has.

The traditional powertrain in the Toyota SUV uses a 3.5-liter engine. It's a V6, and it has a very impressive 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. This engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The hybrids use electronically controlled continuously variable transmissions with a sequential shift mode.

All of the Toyota Highlanders come with the option to get all-wheel drive. Otherwise, the default powertrain would be a front-wheel-drive one. Note that the hybrids can be equipped with an electronic on-demand AWD system. It would have the same effect as a traditional AWD system. All of them can make instantaneous adjustments if any issues with traction are detected.

The XSE trim of the Highlander is designed to be more athletic, and it has a special dynamic torque vectoring AWD system that can improve performance. It also has a sport-tuned suspension that sharpens handling and makes things feel more crisp.

If someone is specifically searching for an SUV that will be used for towing, perhaps the Highlander would be the preferred model. Its hybrids can tow up to 3,500 pounds, and with a standard V6 engine, it can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

The real advantage of getting a hybrid is its fuel efficiency. A hybrid Highlander can earn up to 36 miles per gallon in the city and 35 miles per gallon on the highway. Models with V6 engines can earn up to 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon on the highway. The Outback can do just a little better than this. A turbocharged model has an estimated fuel economy of 23/30 (city/highway) miles per gallon, and the trims with the 2.5-liter engines can earn up to 26/33 (city/highway) miles per gallon.

Both models have limited powertrain warranties that are good for up to five years or 60,000 miles, whichever mark is reached first.


The size of the Highlander is fairly large. If people aren't used to driving larger SUVs, it may take some time for them to get used to the Highlander. The Outback is a bit easier to handle, but honestly, the differences in this area are quite minimal.

As mentioned previously, the Highlander has three rows of seats. It has an overall length of 194.9 inches to accommodate all of those seats. Leg room in the first and second rows is a generous 42 and 41 inches, respectively. The third row is really best for children, as it only has 27.7 inches of leg room.

In the middle row of the Toyota, there could either be a bench seat or captain's chairs. Captain's chairs are ideal if customers only need seven total seating positions and want to have easier access to the third row. The bench seats are typically found in the lower trims.

Behind the seats in the Highlander, there's a cargo area that has a volume of 16 cubic feet. Lowering the third row brings the cargo capacity to 48.4 cubic feet, and folding down the second and third rows gives the cabin a maximum cargo capacity of 84.3 cubic feet.

The Subaru Outback is a little shorter than the Highlander is, but not by much. It has a length of 191.3 inches, so it is a fairly sizable two-row SUV. It's a little narrower and shorter than the Highlander is, too. However, it has a higher ground clearance. It sits 8.7 inches off the ground, and the Highlander is eight inches off the ground.

There are 42.8 and 39.5 inches of leg room in the first and second rows of the Outback. Since it doesn't have the third row, it might not work well for people with large households. Its rear cargo area has a volume of 32.5 cubic feet, and its maximum cargo capacity is 75.7 cubic feet. It's simple to lower the rear seats down, just as it is in the Toyota.

With plenty of technology available, drivers should be able to stay connected while they venture out onto the roads. The Subaru Outback starts off with a seven-inch touchscreen on its base model. All of the other trims have 11.6-inch touchscreens and Wi-Fi capability. Every model has Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, HD Radio, and SiriusXM, so people can find many ways to stay entertained. Select trims have integrated navigation that can get people efficiently from one point to another. A Harman Kardon premium sound system is available, and it comes with 12 speakers.

In the Toyota Highlander, there could either be an eight-inch or a 12.3-inch touchscreen. The larger touchscreen would come standard with built-in navigation, and actually, navigation is available on select trims that have eight-inch touchscreens. Regardless of the size of touchscreen, the SUV would have an infotainment system complete with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, SiriusXM, and Amazon Alexa. Amazon Alexa is very convenient to use and can give people instant access to all sorts of information. Wi-Fi capability is available, as is a JBL audio system with 11 speakers.

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To everyone's benefit, many advancements have been made in the field of safety in the last few years. The Subaru's driver-assist package is called EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, and Toyota's Safety Sense 2.5+ package is very similar. With advanced components in place, these SUVs can monitor how things are going, warn drivers about potential problems, and help them avoid collisions by correcting steering and/or braking.

Subaru's package consists of adaptive cruise control, lane centering, automatic emergency braking and collision warning, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist. Further, every Outback has automatic high beams. Many trims have blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear automatic braking. Some trims could have a driver attention mitigation system that keeps people focused on their most important job when they're behind the wheel. Select trims could also have a 180-degree front-view camera in addition to the standard rear-view camera. This would make parking and maneuvering a lot easier.

Rather than having a front-view camera, the Toyota Highlander has an available 360-degree camera that gives a bird's eye view perspective of the SUV. Another advanced system that is available is parking assist with automatic braking. All Highlander trims have pre-collision warning and mitigation, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, and lane tracing assist. All Highlanders have automatic high beams to help with driving at night in more rural areas.

One component that the Highlander has is Road Sign Assist. The SUV can read road signs as it travels, and it can then display that information on the dashboard. It does a good job of reminding drivers about speed limits, stop signs, and other signs that would be important to follow.

Which Has the Best Value?

In terms of pricing, the Subaru Outback is significantly cheaper than the Highlander is. Its base model costs only $26,795, which is a fairly reasonable amount. The Premium trim costs $29,045, and all the others cost more than the $30,000 mark. The Touring is the nicest non-turbo trim available, and it costs $37,495. The three turbocharged trims are the Onyx Edition XT ($35,145), Limited XT ($37,995), and Touring XT ($39,945).

In contrast, the Highlander has a starting cost of $34,910. That price applies to the L trim, which is the entry-level model. There are actually ten different trims, and that takes into account all of the hybrid versions. In general, hybrids cost about $1,500 more than their non-hybrid counterparts. The Platinum is the nicest trim available, and the Platinum Hybrid is priced at $48,465. Also remember that all-wheel drive costs extra.

What people get for their money is going to be an important factor. In the Highlander, the nicest models have leather seats and heated and ventilated front seats. The second row can be heated, and so can the steering wheel. An in-vehicle intercom is found on the premium trims as well, not to mention all the advanced technology that was described in the earlier sections. On the exterior of the Highlander Platinum, there are LEDs in the fog lights, taillights, and headlights, and there are 20-inch wheels and a very luxurious power panoramic moonroof.

The top trims of the Outback are limited to 18-inch wheels. They can have LED steering responsive headlights and LED fog lights. The moonroof has more of a traditional size versus a panoramic one. Nappa leather upholstery is available, the front seats can be heated and ventilated, and the rear seats can be heated. There's a heated steering wheel, too. In general, though, the higher trims of the Outback feel less upscale than the higher trims of the Highlander do.

Which is Better?

There are some similarities between the Outback and Highlander, but there are several noticeable differences. First of all, the Highlander has more seating. For some buyers, that third row is necessary. Going along with that, the Highlander has more cargo capacity, but the Outback still has a generous amount of interior space.

It's great that Subaru offers a turbocharged engine. Otherwise, the SUV is a little lackluster in the performance department. The Highlander is much more powerful. It also has a hybrid option, and this is going to help it attract some more attention.

In terms of amenities, safety, and technology, the two models are comparable to each other. There's nothing that really stands out about one model when compared with the other. That being said, the overall effect of all of the high-quality components in the Highlander is impressive. If a customer has the money to spend on the higher trims of the Highlander, then he/she will be rewarded with a great ride.

The Subaru Outback is still a solid choice. Out of the two models, it could be the more practical and durable. There are no surprises with the Outback; it's exactly what people would might imagine when they think of Subarus. It's safe and reliable, and it has good value.

When deciding between the Subaru Outback and the Toyota Highlander, people will have to decide whether they really need that third row of seats, how much is a comfortable amount of money to spend, and how many extra features they'd like to have in their cabin.

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