2021 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2021 Toyota Highlander: Is It Worth the Upgrade?

Toyota offers several SUVs to choose from. Among them? You’ll find the 2021 Toyota RAV4 and the 2021 Toyota Highlander. While both SUVs certainly have plenty to offer, there’s no beating around the bush that the Toyota Highlander is the more expensive option. But is it worth the upgrade? It all depends.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 is the cheaper option

Let’s get this out of the way. If you’re looking to save rather than spend, upgrading to the 2021 Toyota Highlander may not be the right decision for you. This year’s Highlander is relatively expensive and boasts a base price of $34,810. The Highlander, as you might have guessed, only gets more expensive from there. For a fully loaded model? You’ll be spending at least $46,965.

The 2021 RAV4, on the other hand? It’s not nearly as expensive as the Highlander. This year’s model boasts a base price of $26,150, which isn’t all that bad. At its most expensive, the RAV4 will run you about $34,680, which is still a lower price than that of the 2021 Toyota Highlander’s. 

The 2021 Toyota Highlander boasts more power under the hood

At the heart and soul of the 2021 Toyota Highlander is a 295-hp V6 engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. According to U.S. News & World Report, the pairing offers up “brisk acceleration and ample power.” Car and Driver reported much of the same, adding that “the ride is perfectly suitable for family-chauffer duty.”

Unfortunately for the 2021 Toyota RAV4, its base engine isn’t quite as powerful. While the Highlander comes outfitted with a 295-hp engine, the RAV4’s standard engine can only manage 203-hp. According to Car and Driver, the RAV4’s engine doesn’t just offer less power. It’s also pretty noisy, especially on the highway. Its transmission reportedly struggles with downshifting too.

But the 2021 Toyota RAV4 is the more fuel-efficient choice

While the Toyota Highlander may come equipped with a powerful engine, it’s the RAV4 that delivers better fuel economy ratings. Just take a look at the numbers. According to the EPA, this year’s Highlander comes rated at 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. U.S. News reports that while those figures may be impressive for a three-row SUV, they do out guzzle the RAV4’s EPA estimated fuel-economy ratings of 28 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander offers up three-rows of seating 

While the 2021 Toyota Highlander may be the more expensive option here, there are some benefits to choosing this year’s model over the RAV4. Why? Because unlike the RAV4, the Highlander comes standard with a third-row of seating. And while Consumer Reports may have called its third-row snug, more often than not, it’s kids taking up residence in that third-row.

As for the RAV4? As we mentioned, it’s not available with a third-row of seating. So, if you need an SUV that can handle more than five passengers, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 probably isn’t the vehicle for you.

Choose the Toyota Highlander for added tech features

Now, both the Toyota RAV4 and the Highlander come standard with features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, a Wi-Fi hot spot, and a six-speaker sound system. Both are also available with popular features like navigation, wireless device charging, and an 11-speaker JBL sound system. But, when it comes down to it, it’s the 2021 Toyota Highlander that offers more tech features.

While the RAV4 is available with a larger infotainment screen, that screen is nothing in comparison to the Highlander’s, which measures 12.3-inches in size. The Highlander is also available with Toyota’s Driver Easy Speak feature, which projects the driver’s voice to rear passengers.


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Is it worth the upgrade?

It depends on what you’re looking for. If you need three rows of seating and find yourself wanting after additional tech-features, then the 2021 Toyota Highlander may be a good choice for you. But if you’re after a fuel-efficient SUV that won’t break the bank? Then you might want to stick with the RAV4.