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2020 Toyota Highlander vs RAV4

2020 Toyota Highlander vs RAV4

2020 Highlander vs RAV4 - How do they stack up? What are the differences?

If you are looking for a new SUV this model year and have not settled on what size is going to best suit your needs, buckle up and take a ride with us as we go over the 2020 Toyota Highlander and its sibling, the 2020 Toyota RAV4. Both of these vehicles have a lot going for them, but each suffers a few pitfalls that you need to know about before you commit to buying either one.

The Highlander is becoming a powerful competitor in its segment, though it is still up against some staunch rivals. It offers a quiet ride inside of the cabin, a solid V6 engine, a chic-looking interior, and a boosted list of standard features. This is a fully redesigned vehicle for the model year, but it does not quite feel like it. The third row is seriously cramped, and the front passenger seat has no height adjustment function. You do get more cargo space than before, and - finally - smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard.

What about the smaller RAV4? Well, it too offers a quiet ride, and it has a rather spacious cargo area for its class. Also, the controls are really straightforward and, therefore, easy to use. On the downside, the base engine lacks power, and you do not get any other engine options. Steering is vague, and the front passenger seat is not that comfortable. As is the case with the Highlander, the RAV4 does get standard smartphone app integration after years of consumers complaining about Toyota not including it.

So, which of these Toyotas is the right fit for your unique needs? Is the RAV4's off-roading capability something you desire? Do you need that third row (despite it being cramped) inside of the Highlander? Let us go into more details about the Highlander and the RAV4, as we will go over the vehicles' powertrains, what makes them drive-able, and their safety ratings and reviews. After that, we will let you know which Toyota has the most value to offer and which is the best overall buy. Be sure to read right on through to the end to find out our final verdict!


The Powertrain

Let's kick things off by talking about the 2020 Toyota Highlander's powertrain. It comes equipped with a standard 3.5-L V6 engine. This engine is matched up with an 8-speed automatic transmission. These two elements work together to muster up 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive (referred to from here on out as FWD) is standard issue on the Highlander, but all-wheel drive (also known as AWD) is an option on all of the trim levels. There is also a hybrid powertrain available if you are looking for something a bit more economical.

The 2020 Toyota RAV4 also has just one gas-powered engine option. This is a 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine with an 8-speed automatic transmission, which puts out 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Again, FWD is standard, but you do get AWD equipped on the Adventure trim level. The other trim levels have optional AWD, and those with AWD can have the TRD Off-Roading package equipped.


What makes a vehicle so enjoyable (or unpleasant) to drive? It is a number of things. These factors include comfort, interior design, technological features, and how much utility they possess. We are going to start with the 2020 Toyota Highlander here, and we'll let you know right off the bat that its engine offers a quick 0-60 acceleration time of 7.5 seconds. This puts it right at the top of its pack. The Highlander has no problem navigating winding roads, and it displays excellent body control. The available torque-vectoring AWD system will apply the engine power to each rear wheel to better the handling balance. The vehicle does feel bulky while many competitors feel more lightweight.

When it comes to comfort, the Highlander has an impressively plush ride quality. All imperfections get smoothed out by the ultra-compliant suspension. And it does this without starting to feel light and floaty. It never feels disconnected at highway speeds. The front seats are cozy with plenty of padding, as are the optional second row captain's chairs. The third row is padded well enough but is extremely tight. This is not unusual for a third-row SUV, but there are competitors who do better with what space they have. On the plus side, you will not hear any wind or road noise making its way into the cabin wherever you happen to be sitting.

The driver's seat is easy to adjust and makes it easy enough to find a driving position, but taller drivers will probably find themselves wishing that the steering wheel had more telescopic range. You will get a great view from the driver's seat even when you have the cargo area loaded up. The available surround-view camera system has crystal clear graphics and is able to rotate all around the vehicle.

Talking about tech, the Highlander is kind of hit-and-miss here. The addition of smartphone app integration is fantastic, but the optional 12.3-inch touchscreen display shows a ton of glare. There are a ton of USB ports to go around, with five up front and in the second row, but the third row is lacking any at all.

The Highlander is a vehicle with a good amount of utility. It has 16 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats left in place, and it has 48 cubes behind the second row. The liftover height is average for this segment, and there are huge cup holders and door pockets. The two shelves built into the dash are handy, but the wireless charging pad is located in a rather inconvenient spot. LATCH is easy enough to use, as the anchors are not buried deep within the seats. But car seats will need to be placed in the second row since the third row does not have anchors.

Now, on to the 2020 Toyota RAV4. This SUV has an engine that is able to cruise well enough around town, but on the highway, it feels underpowered. Its 0-60 mph time is a sluggish 9.1 seconds, meaning it can easily be left in the dust by its rivals - and by the bigger Highlander. The steering feels vague when it is at the center point, and that means you might wrongly judge your inputs. The optional upgraded AWD system gives you a torque-vectoring system and an improved traction control system with hill descent control and terrain settings that you can select between.

When it comes to comfort, the RAV4 has a well-tuned suspension and plenty of ground clearance, making for a good amount of comfort. Like the Highlander, the RAV4 never comes across as being drift-y and absorbs small bumps with ease. The front seats are well-shaped with a lot of padding, but the seat bottoms are a little flat while on long rides. The passenger's seat up front lacks in adjustability. The vehicle is quiet on the highway save for when you press down for full throttle. The engine will get loud when you do that.

The interior is designed to make entry and exit easy, and the cabin feels cozy overall. The front passenger seat might be too high for many people though, and taller drivers will wish the steering wheel had a wider telescoping capability. The controls are all easy to use and are intuitively placed. Outward visibility is vast thanks to the wide glass and slender roof pillars.

Technology is fairly adequate on the RAV4. The rubber climate control knobs are a nice touch, but automatic climate control seems a bit awkward. The touchscreen is also pretty far away from the driver, and you will have to reach out far to adjust the tuning knob. The Entune system and its graphics are kind of clunky.

Utility is decent though. You get 37.5 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in place and 69.8 cubes when you take the rear seats down. The cargo floor is low, so loading and unloading is pretty hassle-free. The LATCH system is easy to use, and you can simply tether up to three anchors. Rear-facing car seats put on the passenger side might require a front seat rider to squeeze up a bit.

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Toyota tries to make its vehicles as safe as possible. They load them up with safety features and are assessed each year by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (best known as NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (also known as IIHS). So, how do they stack up?

The Highlander has an adaptive cruise control feature that works well, but lane departure warning is a bit too sensitive in normal mode and not sensitive enough when you put it into low mode. NHTSA has not yet rated the Highlander, but there is one known recall at the time of writing - an ECU error that might cause the vehicle to stall out on the road. IIHS named it a 2020 Top Safety Pick, giving it "Good" ("G") grades on most of its tests. The Limited trims got "Average" ("A") ranks for the LED projector headlights and "Poor" ("P") on the lower trim levels' lights.

The RAV4 has a lot of the same features that the Highlander does. Its adaptive cruise control works all the way down to 0 mph, which is not something you can find on systems in just any vehicle. You also get handy driver aids like automatic emergency braking, a system that detects when you're nodding off behind the wheel, and automatic high beams. On top of all that, you get features to help you stay in your lane such as lane keep assist and line tracing assist. NHTSA has rated the RAV4, giving it 5 out ot 5 stars overall. It lost a star each on the front overlap tests for the driver and passenger sides. IIHS gave it almost all "G" ratings on its tests.

Which Has the Best Value

When it comes to value, the Highlander has quite a bit. It is somewhat more expensive than its competitors, and there are not as many standard features on it as you might expect. The interior design quality is fairly standard, and the warranty is as well. However, you do get two years of free scheduled maintenance.

The RAV4 gets an EPA estimated 27 to 30 mpg combined on the base trim (with AWD and FWD, respectively). Fully loaded, you can get a real world average of about 28.6 mpg combined. The vehicle seems well-built and has a nice amount of physical controls along the dash. If you opt for the simulated leather, you get some clean stitching and a ton of softness. Of course, you get the same warranty coverage on the RAV4 as you do on the Highlander. If it wasn't for the laggy engine, we would give the RAV4 the 'best value' title. But we simply cannot do that, so the Highlander takes the cake.

Which is Better?

The 2020 Toyota Highlander and 2020 Toyota RAV4 are both decent vehicles and show that Toyota is trying hard to compete in these SUV segments. Both are able to be taken off the beaten path, but each has its limitations. The Highlander feels powerful enough while the RAV4 does not. The RAV4 has the better fuel economy. So, really, picking the right one depends on what you need most. If you don't need a third row and don't mind something that feels sluggish on the highway and okay around town, get the RAV4. But if you need to put older kids in extra seats, get the Highlander. The Highlander definitely has more power, which is really the one thing that gives it an advantage over the RAV4.

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