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2022 Subaru Outback vs Toyota Highlander

2022 Subaru Outback vs Toyota Highlander

2022 Outback vs Highlander - How Do They Stack Up? Which is Better?

With good capability and comfortable cabins, the Subaru Outback and Toyota Highlander are great SUVs to consider. They're reasonably priced, considering all the technology and safety components that they have to offer. There are many trim and powertrain options for the Outback and Highlander, so customers may have some difficulty figuring out which ones might be the best for them. This overview will review the similarities and differences between the two.

The Powertrain

Subaru and Toyota have both come up with two engine options of these SUVs. For the Subaru, there could either be a 2.5-liter engine or a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine. Toyota offers a 3.5-liter V6 engine with the Highlander, and it has also made a hybrid system available.

The Subaru Outback has a fair amount of power. Its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine can generate 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. The turbocharged model is slightly smaller than the standard engine, but its turbocharger makes a significant impact on its performance. The turbo engine can deliver 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque.

Towing capacity with the turbocharged engine is 3,500 pounds. With the standard engine, towing capacity is 2,700 pounds, which is still more than decent. In fact, this is more than a lot of tow-row SUVs are capable of hauling.

Subaru has matched the two available engines with the same type of transmission. It's a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, and it comes with an eight-speed manual mode.

As many people may already know, the Outback comes standard with all-wheel drive. This system can determine how best to send power to the front and rear wheels, and it's always ready to make adjustments. X-MODE is another standard component. It enhances all-wheel-drive capability, and it can be useful when dealing with snowy or muddy conditions.

The versions of the Outback with the standard engines can earn up to 26 miles per gallon in the city and 33 miles per gallon on the highway. Those with the turbocharged engine can achieve up to 23 miles per gallon in the city and 30 miles per gallon on the highway. These numbers seem fine, if not that impressive.

The exception is the Wilderness trim, which has an estimated fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 26 miles per gallon on the highway. The Outback Wilderness has a turbocharged engine, but its gearing has been re-tuned so that it can do better with low-speed climbing. It's particularly suited for rugged terrain, and it has an enhanced X-MODE system with modes for deep snow, sand, and mud. It sits higher off the ground than the other trims do, and it has off-road wheels and all-terrain tires.

The notable thing about the Highlander is that it's available as a hybrid. The hybrid system uses a 2.5-liter engine and a set of electric motors. These components work together to create a net horsepower of 243. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds for the hybrids, and fuel economy can be up to 35 miles per gallon in the city and 36 miles per gallon on the highway. Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are both available with the hybrid Highlanders; this doesn't affect fuel economy too significantly, but it does influence how well the SUV can handle slippery road conditions.

Another option is to get a traditional powertrain. In this case, the SUV would run on a 3.5-liter V6 engine. This engine can pump out 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque, and it gives the vehicle a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.

Again, front-wheel and all-wheel drive are available. With all-wheel drive, the Highlander would have a Multi-Terrain Select dial that allows drivers to choose from Mud and Sand, Rock and Dirt, and Normal modes. Note that the all-wheel-drive hybrids don't have this same program. Instead, they have Trail mode in addition to the standard drive modes of Sport, Eco, Normal, and EV modes. A front-wheel-drive, non-hybrid Highlander would also have Sport, Eco, and Normal modes. It also gets to have Snow mode in case it runs into wintry conditions.

With front-wheel drive and the V6 engine, a Highlander can earn up to 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon on the highway. Having all-wheel drive results in a slightly less efficient powertrain. A Highlander with AWD can achieve 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 miles per gallon on the highway.

Toyota has given its non-hybrid Highlanders a direct shift eight-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. The hybrids have electronically controlled continuously variable transmissions. Honestly, most drivers won't be able to tell the difference between the two.

What may be noticeable is the enhanced suspension that some Highlanders have. The XSE trim has a sport-tuned suspension. It exhibits better handling with its stiffer suspension, and driving enthusiasts may prefer the way it feels. An XSE with all-wheel drive, like a few other trims, also gets to have a special system called Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD. It can send power to each rear wheel, independent of the other, and this can be very useful when cornering or when facing slippery surfaces.


These vehicles are powerful, so people can drive them with confidence in a variety of terrain. Even when loaded down with a full cabin or when hauling cargo, these SUVs feel strong and athletic.

While the Outback is a fairly sizable vehicle, the Highlander is even bigger. It's able to offer three rows of seating, with accommodations for up to eight passengers. The first and second rows have plenty of room, with 42 and 41 inches of leg room, respectively. The third row is noticeably smaller, only offering 27.7 inches of leg room. However, this could still work for people who plan on having smaller riders in the back.

There are two seating configurations for the Highlander. One consists of two bucket seat in the front and bench seats in each of the second and third rows. A bench can fit three people, so it's great for packing in passengers. The other configuration would be to have a pair of captain's chairs in the middle row. This is found on select mid-level and higher trims, and it makes the cabin feel more open and makes it easier to access the third row of seats. In this case, seating capacity is reduced to seven.

In contrast, the Subaru Outback only has two rows of seats and space for five total people. Its first row has 42.8 inches of leg room, and its second row has 39.5 inches of leg room.

What the Outback does have a lot is cargo space. Behind its rear seats, it has a cargo hold that has a volume of 32.5 cubic feet. Lowering the rear seats increases cargo capacity to about 76 cubic feet.

As the larger vehicle, though, the Highlander has more to offer. Its maximum cargo capacity, when all the rear seats have been folded down, is approximately 84 cubic feet. Behind its third row, the cargo area is fairly small, only having a volume of 16 cubic feet. If that back row has been lowered, there would be 48.4 cubic feet of space. Since each side of the rear bench can be folded down, independently of the other, a strategy that some drivers employ is to keep one side down to allow for more cargo.

The Toyota Highlander is longer, wider, and taller than the Subaru Outback. The differences in height and width are only a few inches, and the difference in length is about six inches. This might not seem like that big of a deal, but obviously, it has allowed the Highlander to squeeze in an extra row of seats.

The Highlander sits eight inches off the ground, while the Outback has a ground clearance of 8.7 inches. The Wilderness trim rides even higher, having a ground clearance of 9.5 inches.

Aside from their size, these SUVs have a lot going for them. In the Subaru, there are many standard features that drivers will appreciate. They include automatic headlights, adaptive cruise control, and automatic climate control. Most trims have climate control systems that have two different zones, and they have push-button start and hands-free power rear gates, too. At the higher end of the lineup, the Outback could have heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and heated steering wheels.

Some things are a bit different with the Highlander. For example, the entry-level trim starts out with a smart key system and push button start, and every trim has tri-zone automatic climate control. Also, the Highlander is available with a digital rearview mirror, a head-up display, and a bird's-eye view all-around monitor. These high-tech components can get a lot of attention from prospective buyers. Like the Outback, the Highlander can have heating elements in its second row and steering wheel, and its front seats can be heated and ventilated.

To keep everyone's devices charged, these vehicles can have several charging ports. All trims of the Highlander have a total of five USB ports, and select models have wireless charging pads, too. Wireless charging is not available in the Outback at this point. The Outback's base trim has two USB ports in the front row, and all the others have two front USB ports as well as two USB ports in the back row.

Every one of the trims of the two models comes with a touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth. SiriusXM is another standard feature, which is great for staying entertained.

The entry-level trim of the Outback has a seven-inch touchscreen, and the others have 11.6-inch touchscreens, along with Wi-Fi capability. Several of the higher trims come standard with built-in navigation. Navigation is actually optional on almost every other Outback. The Outback can have four, six, or 12 speakers; the most advanced set-up uses Harman Kardon speakers.

An eight-inch touchscreen is found in most of the Highlander trims. Amazon Alexa is included with the Highlander's infotainment system. This sets Toyota vehicles apart from those made by other companies.

The entire Highlander lineup comes with Wi-Fi Connect, and towards the upper end of the lineup, trims can be upgraded with navigation and premium sound systems that consist of 11 speakers. Like what's seen in the Outback, the other options are to have four or six speakers. The Platinum and Hybrid Platinum are the only ones to automatically come with navigation, and in addition, they feature 12.3-inch touchscreens.


Toyota has more available safety components, since it can come with the 360-degree camera and heads-up display, as mentioned above. Every Highlander has a full set of driver-assist technologies. They include pre-collision braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and the corresponding steering mitigation system, and road sign assist. All trims, expect the first one, have blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Automatic high beams are standard as well.

The Outback has many of the same components, including automatic high beams and automatic emergency braking. To keep itself centered in position, it has lane keep assist, and it can warn drivers when they seem to be drifting to one side or the other.

However, the Outback doesn't have road sign assist. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert aren't offered on the first trim and are optional on the second; they become standard with the Limited trim, which is the third one in the lineup. The Limited trim is also the level at which reverse automatic braking becomes standard.

The Highlander has something similar to reverse automatic braking. Its available program is named parking assist with automatic braking. It can kick into action when the SUV is traveling at slow speeds, and it can hit the brakes if it seems like this is necessary to avoid a collision.

Which Has the Best Value?

Anyone who has compared the price of two-row versus three-row vehicles shouldn't be surprised to hear that the Highlander is the more expensive model. In general, three-row models are priced higher than their smaller counterparts.

The Highlander starts off with a cost of $35,855. If someone wanted all-wheel drive, then an additional fee would be added on to that amount. Several trims have hybrid options, and to get the hybrid powertrain, it would require about an extra $1,500. The Toyota Highlander lineup ends with the Hybrid Platinum, which costs nearly $49,510.

The numbers are significantly different in the Outback. Out of the eight trims, three of them cost less than the entry-level trim of the Highlander. The base Outback has a more reasonable starting price of $27,645, and that's with all-wheel drive included. Keep in mind that the trims with turbocharged engines are priced between $35,845 and $40,645.

After reading the differences mentioned earlier, it makes sense that the Highlander is the more premium vehicle. It offers more capability, more technology, and more interior space.

Which is Better?

The biggest question for a prospective buyer to ask is whether he/she needs the power and seating that the Highlander offers. If the answer is yes, then it would be a good fit. Otherwise, the capable and relatively spacious Outback could be the smart choice.

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2021 Subaru Outback VS Toyota Highlander
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