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2021 Toyota 4Runner vs Highlander

2021 Toyota 4Runner vs Highlander

2021 4Runner vs Highlander - How do they stack up? What are the differences?

Toyota has two great midsize SUVs in its lineup. In terms of safety and comfort, the 2021 Toyota Highlander ranks among the top models in the class. If your family craves outdoor adventure, you may be more drawn towards the 2021 Toyota 4Runner. Let’s find out which one of these Toyota SUVs is the better option.


Size and Styling

When comparing these two vehicles, most people are unlikely to notice a big difference in overall size. However, the 2021 Toyota Highlander is a few inches longer and wider. While the 4Runner weighs around 4,600 pounds, Highlander trims weigh an average of 4,200 pounds.

The Toyota 4Runner clearly has a more rugged exterior design. Its looks ready to take you on a serious adventure. Available off-road tires give the SUV an extra degree of toughness. A high-performance hood is available as well. For drivers who prefer a more upscale look, Toyota offers the 4Runner Limited. Blacked-out accents and 20-inch black alloy wheels help set apart the sheek Nightshade Edition model from the rest of the lineup.

While the Toyota Highlander does not look as tough as the 4Runner, many people like its modern styling. Its exterior design is now sportier than ever. This is especially true for the racy Highlander XSE, which features a more aggressive front fascia and cool 20-inch alloy wheels.

Both vehicles prove to be worthy family haulers. The Highlander features a standard third row, which enables it to accommodate up to eight people. While the standard 4Runner is built to handle up to five people, an optional third row increases its passenger capacity to seven.

Families will have more space to unwind in the Highlander. When sitting in the Highlander’s second row, passengers will have an additional 8.0 inches of legroom. There’s not a significant difference in front-seat legroom. Furthermore, neither SUV offers an adult-friendly third row.

These SUVs are evenly matched when it comes to cargo space. With its third-row seat folded flat, the Highlander provides 48.4 cubic feet of cargo space. By comparison, there’s 46.3 cubic feet of cargo space in the back of the 4Runner.

Automotive reviewers praise the Highlander for its outstanding forward visibility. Drivers will be able to scan the entire street. Rearview visibility is about average for the class. A short dash and a large windshield also enable the 4runner to reward drivers with good view of the road. Outward visibility to the sides and rear is decent.


The 2021 Toyota Highlander comes equipped with a modern 3.5-liter, DOHC V6 engine. It pushes out a useful 295 horsepower and more than 260 lb-ft of torque. This engine is linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

While the 2021 Toyota Highlander’s powertrain is not as advanced, it still packs the necessary muscle. Toyota rates the SUV’s V6 engine to squeeze out 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. An older, five-speed automatic transmission sends power to the wheels.

When accelerating from a stop, the Highlander can hit 60 mph in as quickly as 7.2 seconds. Expect the 4Runner to perform nearly just as well. Its tested 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds is only a few ticks slower. Regardless of which one of these SUVs a person chooses, they won’t have to worry about getting left behind the pack.

Like the Toyota 4Runner, the Toyota Highlander is rated tow up to 5,000 pounds. This means drivers should have no issues hauling recreational boats, and small campers, and lawn tractors.

The edge in fuel economy goes to the Highlander. According to the latest EPA calculations, it will return 21 mpg town/29 mpg freeway. Even the AWD-equipped Highlander returns a respectable 20 mpg town/27 mpg freeway. Regular gas is the recommended fuel type.

Fuel economy for the 4Runner is not as great. Owners can anticipate getting up to 21 mpg on the freeway. However, efficiency drops to only 17 mpg in city traffic. This SUV’s lower fuel economy rating can be contributed to its older automatic transmission. On the bright side, drivers can always use regular unleaded gas.

A car-based platform enables the Toyota Highlander to offer the best road handling. It inspires drivers with a bit more confidence. Drivers who desire even better body control should pick the Highlander’s XSE trim. Sports-tuned shocks make it genuinely fun to drive, especially for a family-sized SUV.

Road handling is not the 4Runner’s strong point. Although this SUV feels stable, it does not feel very athletic. Most people describe the rugged 4Runnner’s driving dynamics as being truck-like.

Drives seeking the smoothest-riding family hauler will prefer the Highlander. It rolls along the pavement without subjecting passengers to any rough vibrations. While the sports-tuned Highlander is stiffer, overall ride quality is still decent. The 4Runner’s ride is not as refined. However, street-oriented tires and a touring-tuned suspension help improve the more luxurious 4Runner Limited’s on-road comfort.

When it comes to interior quietness, the Highlander yet again tops the 4Runner. According to some automotive evaluators, this crossover SUV gives you the feeling of being at home in your living room. Although the 4Runner’s interior is not loud, it does not have a library-quiet cabin. Models equipped with all-terrain tires produce more road noise.

An AWD system is on the Highlander’s list of optional equipment. This upgrade will appeal to drivers who need to travel in the snow. While the Highlander may outperform the 4Runner on the street, it’s an entirely different story when venturing off the beaten path. Trail-ready features, such as skid plates and an off-road suspension, are not offered on the Highlander.

The truck-based Toyota 4Runner is a dream vehicle for adventurous families. It can be equipped with a more aggressive 4X4 system for improved traction on slippery landscapes. This SUV’s elevated ride height also helps it to clear obstacles. Toyota’s Crawl Control technology is another rugged feature, which helps drivers to safely travel over challenging terrain. The most adventurous version of the 4Runner is the TRD Pro trim, which receives a heavy-duty front skid plate and high-performance Fox shocks.

The 4Runner is one of today’s most reliable SUVs. It receives a 4.0 out of 5.0 dependability rating. Although the Highlander isn’t quite as bulletproof, this vehicle’s 3.5 out 5.0 dependability rating is still above average.

Comfort, Options, and Performance

The 2021 Toyota Highlander scores well in the comfort category. Even on lengthy road trips, its supportive seats will keep everyone happy. Available second-row captain’s chairs take passenger comfort to the next stage. Ventilated front seats and heated rear seats are offered on the higher trim levels.

The majority of families will also find the 2021 Toyota 4Runner to be a comfy vehicle. Many people will enjoy is high driving position. While heated rear seats are not available for the 4Runner, buyers will have access to heated and ventilated front seats.

Most people consider the 4Runner to have a high-quality cabin. The interior materials are built to last. On the downside, the 4Runner features a lot of hard plastics. Reviewers also criticize this SUV for its rather old interior design. A more up-to-date cabin gives the Highlander a slight edge over the 4Runner. Soft-touch materials are found inside the Highlander’s top-of-the-line trims.

Technology lovers will be more than happy with what the Highlander has to offer. Toyota’s easy-to-use Entune infotainment is found throughout the lineup. An 8.0-inch touch display comes standard. Drivers can link their smartphones using either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Amazon Alexa is another standard convenience. On the list of options is a more stunning 12.3-inch infotainment display. Users can look forward to enjoying sharper HD graphics and split-screen functionality.

Every new Highlander receives a standard Wi-Fi hotspot, which is a hot commodity among today’s families. Drivers who aren’t satisfied with the standard stereo can upgrade to an 11-speaker premium sound system. Other available high-tech upgrades include a head-up display, wireless device charging, and 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster.

The new 4Runner’s comes loaded with many of the Highlander’s same standard technologies, including an 8.0-inch Entune touchscreen and a Wi-Fi hotspot. While the 4Runner offers a 15-speaker JBL premium sound system, certain upgrades are not available. This includes a wide-screen infotainment display, a digital gauge cluster, and a head-up display.

One cool feature that you will not find on the Highlander is the 4Runner’s power back window. It makes summer road trips more enjoyable. Dogs will especially appreciate the extra breeze. This feature also makes it easier for families to grab cargo.

Drivers seeking the best value may slightly favor new Highlander. It has a starting MSRP of around $34,810. By comparison, Toyota lists the base 4Runner with a starting MSRP of $36,340.

Buying Tip:

To avoid overpaying on a new car, shop prices online first. Get up front pricing before you walk into a dealership. We recommend the following free services; Car Clearance Deals, NADAguides, CarsDirect & & Motortrend.
These free services will offer you the lowest prices and supply you with multiple competing price quotes. You will know the best price before you visit the dealer.


Families seeking a safe vehicle will be more than happy with the 2021 Toyota Highlander. It managed to receive an NHTSA five-star overall safety score. The Highlander's fine crash ratings also enabled it to be named an IIS Top Safety Pick+.

While the 4Runner is a secure vehicle, it only received a four-star overall safety rating. According to the NHTSA’s crash tests, the 4Runner doesn't provide as much protection for the front passenger. A three-star rollover rating further prevented the 4Runner from earning a five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA. This SUV also received a “poor” rating from the IIHS in the safety cage category.

Drivers will appreciate the Highlander’s long list of active safety features. Among these helpful features include pre-collision braking with pedestrian alert, lane keeping, road sign recognition, and smart radar cruise control. Some beneficial options are also offered. The Highlander’s rear camera mirror enhances the driver's visibility. Blind-spot monitoring, adaptive headlights, and a surround-view camera are offered as well.

The 4Runner provides standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and smart radar cruise control. While the 4Runner also provides lane departure warning system, it lacks steering assistance. Blind-spot warning, adaptive headlights, and Toyota’s new rear camera mirror are not offered on the 4Runner.

Which Model to Choose?

These SUVs are designed to satisfy different lifestyles. The 2021 Toyota Highlander is more practical. Many car shoppers will appreciate the Highlander’s sedan-like driving dynamics and higher fuel economy rating. There’s also more passenger room inside the Highlander. Keep in mind that certain niceties are only offered on the new Highlander. Highlights include a massive HD touchscreen, a head-up display, and heated second-row captain’s chairs.

While the 2021 Toyota 4Runner may lose to the Highlander in some key aspects, its off-road capabilities are superior. This truck-based SUV is built for the rugged backcountry. The 4Runner’s TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro trims are especially great for tackling hardcore terrain. Adventurous exterior styling adds to the 4Runner’s appeal.

Drivers seeking everyday practicality should pick the Toyota Highlander. However, folks looking for a serious adventure machine will love the 4Runner.

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