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2021 Toyota Highlander vs RAV4

2021 Toyota Highlander vs RAV4

2021 Highlander vs RAV4 - How do they stack up? What are the differences?

SUVs are so popular these days; it seems like in every neighborhood, there's at least one Toyota Highlander or RAV4, if not more. These SUVs make sense for many because they're versatile, capable, and practical. Toyota makes many trims of each model, giving customers a range of options to consider. Given the fact that they offer so much, it can be hard to decide whether to get a Highlander or a RAV4. This detailed comparison should hopefully provide people with the information they need to make the right choice.

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Size and Styling

As many people are aware of, the Highlander is a three-row SUV while the RAV4 has two rows of seats. This is one of the biggest differences between the two vehicles, and it's going to be a main factor as customers make their purchasing decisions.

To accommodate all of those seats, the Highlander has to be a larger model than the RAV4. It has a length of 194.9 inches, which makes it almost 15 inches longer than the RAV4. The width of the Highlander is 76 inches and its height is 68.1 inches. The RAV4 is approximately three inches narrower and an inch shorter than the Highlander.

In the first and second rows of seating, the Highlander has more leg room than the RAV4 does. Up front, there's 42 inches of leg room in the larger SUV, and in the second row, there's a very generous 41 inches of leg room. In comparison, the RAV4 has 41 and 37.8 inches in its first and second rows, respectively. These are still good numbers, and adults should be comfortable riding in the back.

The major benefit of having a Highlander is its third row. In this row, there can be space for three additional passengers. However, those passengers will need to be fine with having not much room to move around. There's only 27.7 inches of leg room back there, making it a perfect place for children but not adults.

If the Highlander has a bench seat in its middle row, it can accommodate a total of eight people. Some people prefer this arrangement because they need all of those seats. If a Highlander has captain's chairs in its second row, the numbers of seats drops to seven. This configuration is often found in the more premium trims of the SUV because it creates a more spacious feeling in the cabin and provides easier access to the third row.

It's no surprise that the Highlander is the one that has more cargo room. Its maximum cargo volume is 84.3 cubic feet, and that's when all the rear rows have been folded down. Behind the second row, there's 48.4 cubic feet of space. Behind the third row, the dedicated cargo area is fairly small, having a volume of 16 cubic feet. In the RAV4, the area behind the second row has a volume of 37.6 cubic feet. Cargo capacity can expand to 69.8 cubic feet by lower that second row.

In general, there are many similarities between the two Toyotas when it comes to exterior styling. They've both been redesigned in recent years so that they look modern and sleek. Many high-end features are available with both, such as hands-free liftgates, rain-sensing wipers, and power moonroofs. A traditional moonroof is part of the package on many trims, and a power panoramic roof is available on select trims. This panoramic model has two panels, with the front one being able to tilt or slide and the rear one being fixed. Together, they can bring in a lot of natural light into the cabin.

The Highlander comes standard with a Smart Key System, which makes for easy entry. It has heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators, LED headlights, and LED taillights. It can have LED fog lights, too, as well as mudguards and a twin-tip exhaust. This SUV rides on either 18-inch or 20-inch wheels.

That Smart Key System and heated side mirrors can be found on the RAV4, but they're not included in every trim. Lower trims do have remote entry, though. This SUV can be enhanced with red or blue shock absorbers to give it a sportier look, and the TRD models have special front skid plates. LED taillights, headlights, and Daytime Running Lights are all standard, ad fog lights are available. The RAV4 can have mudguards and a dual chrome-tipped exhaust, and the wheels could measure 17, 18, or 19 inches.

One feature that helps the RAV4 stand out is its available two-tone exterior color. Having a two-tone appearance can make the SUV really eye-catching.


Two powertrains are offered with both SUVs. With the Highlander and the RAV4, there's a traditional powertrain and a hybrid one. The RAV4 is also available as a plug-in hybrid, but it's really a separate model and won't be discussed in this comparison, other than a quick note that it's more powerful than any other type of RAV4.

Under the hood of most Highlanders, there's a 3.5-liter V6 engine. It makes 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. These are impressive numbers, and people who want their SUVs to perform well should be happy with this amount of capability.

The other engine is a 2.5-liter engine, and it has been paired with an electric motor. Together, the two components make 243 horsepower. While this isn't as much as the traditional powertrain makes, it should be enough for the majority of drivers.

Eco-minded consumers will be pleased that there's a hybrid option for the Highlander. It can earn 36 miles per gallon in the city and 35 miles per gallon on the highway. The non-hybrids have an estimated fuel economy of 21/29 (city/highway) miles per gallon. Fuel economy drops slightly if the SUV has all-wheel drive.

Toyota has given the trims with the V6 engine an eight-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. The hybrid Highlanders have electronically controlled continuously variable transmissions with sequential shift mode.

With all trims, there's the choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. A hybrid could have an electronic on-demand all-wheel system, and the XSE trim could have dynamic torque vectoring all-wheel drive for enhanced performance. Plus, that XSE trim would have a sport-tuned suspension to give it better handling.

The Highlander was built with strength in mind. Its trims with V6 engines can two up to 5,000 pounds. Its hybrid trims can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

The RAV4 is strong, too, but it's not as strong as the Highlander is. Its non-hybrid trims can tow up to 1,500 pounds, and its hybrid trims can haul a bit more, having a towing capacity of 1,750 pounds.

Whether someone gets a hybrid or a non-hybrid RAV4, there would be a 2.5-liter engine powering the vehicle. This engine can generate 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. For an SUV of this size, these are pretty good numbers. A hybrid RAV4 would have that gas-powered engine along with an electric motor. Net horsepower is 219, which may come as a surprise to those who would have thought that hybrids are always less powerful than the their traditional counterparts.

Much like with the Highlander, the hybrid RAV4 has an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. The others have eight-speed electronically controlled automatic transmissions. Both types of transmissions have sequential shift mode, which allows for some manual shifting if drivers ever want to exercise more control.

Front-wheel drive is standard on the RAV4, at least for most trims. The hybrids automatically come with all-wheel drive, and so do the TRD Off-Road and Adventure trims. The TRD Off-Road and Adventure trims have dynamic torque vectoring all-wheel drive, which comes with a rear driveline disconnect. This would be an improvement over the standard all-wheel drive that the other trims can have. As seen with the Highlander, some RAV4s have enhanced suspensions to improve their handling.

Toyota has put in different drive modes into the RAV4. Front-wheel-drive trims have Sport, Eco, and Normal modes. Sport would make things more aggressive, and Eco would make the vehicle more energy-efficient at the expense of some excitement. The hybrids have Sport, Eco, Normal, EV, and Trail modes, with EV mode optimizing the use of the electric motor. The front-wheel-drive Highlander has the regular drive modes, too, bbut hybrid Highlanders don't have this feature.

RAV4s and Highlanders with all-wheel drive have Multi-Terrain Select. By turning a dial, a driver can choose from Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand, Rock and Dirt, and Snow modes. Many trims have Downhill Assist Control as a choice on the Multi-Terrain Select dial, and this would be used to limit speed when traveling down steep slopes.

The RAV4 does better than the Highlander with fuel efficiency. The hybrid RAV4 earns an estimated 41/38 (city/highway) miles per gallon. Non-hybrids have an estimated fuel economy of 28/35 miles per gallon. Again, having all-wheel drive would result in slightly lower numbers.

Comfort, Options and Performance

People should be comfortable in either model. The RAV4 has plenty of things to appreciate, but the Highlander has more to offer. For example, in the RAV4, the lowest trim has a standard climate control system, and higher trims have dual-zone automatic climate control. In the Highlander, every trim comes with automatic climate control. They have three different zones to give people in different parts of the cabin some input as to how cold or hot their areas should be.

Fabric and SofTex (which is a synthetic leather) are the choices for seating upholstery in the RAV4. They're available in the Highlander as well, but the premium trims of the Highlander have leather seats. This definitely adds to the sophistication.

Both models can have heated front seats to add some warmth in the winter. The top trims of the Highlander come with heated and ventilated front seats and heated second-row seats. In the RAV4, those features can be added on to the top trims for an additional cost.

The same is true for wireless charging and a heated steering wheel. At the high end of the Highlander lineup, they're both standard. If anyone wants to have them put into the RAV4, he/she would have to pay extra.

This theme continues when examining the technology packages of the Highlander and RAV4. While the RAV4 isn't lacking anything notable, the Highlander just has higher quality components. In the RAV4, there could either be a seven-inch or eight-inch touchscreen. In the Highlander, lower trims have eight-inch touchscreens and higher trims can have 12.3-inch touchscreens.

With both models, there is a long list of standard features. Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, Bluetooth, and SiriusXM can all be found on every one of these Toyota SUVs. Higher trims have dynamic navigation and JBL sound systems with 11 speakers, to include a subwoofer.

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The two vehicles have comprehensive safety packages, so people can drive them with confidence. They can sense potential frontal collisions with vehicles or pedestrians, and if an issue is detected, they'll send out alerts and can hit the brakes if necessary. These SUVs know when they're drifting out of their lanes, and if so, they can warn drivers about the problem and center themselves.

There are other abilities as well. They can read road signs and display that information on the dashboard as a reminder for the driver, and they turn their high beams on and off as appropriate. Every Highlander and RAV4 has adaptive cruise control. This lets them adjust their braking or acceleration if the leading vehicle has changed its speed. This would be in order to maintain safe distancing. The Highlander, but not the RAV4, has an available head-up display.

Mid-level and higher trims of both Toyotas have blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. They can also have parking assist with automatic braking, a program that can prevent minor accidents when making maneuvers in small spots. An available 360-degree camera can help further with precision.

Which Model to Choose?

Given the more expensive price tag of the Highlander, customers will really have to think about whether they need all the extras that come with this SUV. Is it important to have that extra row of seats? Is the additional power necessary, and are all the interior features worth the cost?

If the answer to those questions is yes, then the Highlander should make people quite satisfied. Of course, they'll have to be able to afford this SUV. The Highlander starts off with a cost of $34,910, so it's not cheap, and its highest trim costs $48,465.

In comparison, the RAV4 has a starting price of $26,250. This is much more reasonable for many customers. If they want to equip their new SUVs with higher-quality components, there are ten other trims to choose form. The lineup ends with the Limited Hybrid, which costs $37,330.

The RAV4 has a good amount of interior space, solid powertrain choices, and attractive technology and safety packages, so it would be a wise pick. If a customer needs more space or power, though, then the Highlander would then be the one to select.

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