The Toyota RAV4 and Highlander are two of the most popular vehicles to roll off the automaker’s assembly line. Both crossover SUVs offer distinct styling and features, but the RAV4‘s comfort oddly surpasses that of the larger, higher-priced Highlander.
Consumers and industry analysts alike were surprised to find the compact crossover is the more comfortable model. It appears that it comes down to the class-leading seating in the best-selling Toyota RAV4.
The battle of the crossovers
In a side-by-side comparison, U.S. News evaluated the performance, reliability, and safety of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 and Highlander. And in comfort, the smaller RAV4 proved superior.
Toyota, long known for the use of quality materials in its interiors, has been providing comfortable vehicles since the first Corona hit U.S. showrooms in 1965. The 2021 Highlander is no exception. Redesigned in 2020, the midsize crossover SUV can accommodate up to eight passengers. The spacious cabin offers three rows of seating. According to Toyota, optional captain’s chairs can be swapped out for the rear bench seat, but that drops seating capacity to seven passengers.
The Highlander’s first two rows are heated, and the front passenger and driver have power-adjustable seats. There’s ample room for occupants of both rows with plenty of legroom. Cloth upholstery comes standard, but a leather upgrade is available in higher trim levels.
Third-row seating is undeniably cramped. Adult-sized passengers will be hard-pressed to feel comfortable in the rear with limited headroom and limited space to stretch out.
The 2021 Toyota RAV4
In comparison, the smaller 2021 Toyota RAV4 seats five adult passengers comfortably. The compact crossover SUV offers generous space in both rows. Though the RAV4 has no third-row seating like the larger Highlander, there’s plenty of cargo room.
U.S. News found the Toyota RAV4 more comfortable. “Both SUVs feature comfortable seats, but the RAV4 bests the Highlander in this category with its ample passenger room,” the publication reported. “The Highlander’s small third-row seats knock it down to second place.”
The publication also said the interior quality is better in the RAV4. Cheap plastic used throughout in the lower trims mars the Highlander. Only on the higher trims does Toyota use real leather upholstery, wood accents, and softer materials.
There’s a noticeable difference in the 2021 Toyota RAV4‘s interior quality. Soft-touch materials and high-end plastics are consistently used in all models regardless of trim level. And seating features include ventilation in the front and heat controls for maximum comfort. The driver’s seat is also power-adjustable. The RAV4’s upper trim levels include synthetic leather and offer the option of adding distinct stitching. The interior’s upscale feel enhances the cabin’s stylistic design.
The Toyota SUV that offers the best value
The 2021 Toyota Highlander starts at $34,810. Six trims are available and gradually increase in price depending on the model and options. The top-of-the-line Highlander Platinum pushes $50,000 with an MSRP of $46,965.
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 also offers six trim levels but has a more affordable starting price of $26,050. The RAV TRD Off-Road is the top trim with an MSRP of $35,780 plus $1,400 for all-wheel drive.
U.S. News selected the 2021 Toyota RAV4 over the 2021 Toyota Highlander. Ranking the RAV4 as one of the best compact SUVs on the market, the publication found it to have a better, sportier ride with more economical gas mileage. And the comfortable seating pushed the RAV4 over the top.