Here’s Why You Should Buy a Toyota Sienna and Not a Highlander

So, you want a Toyota with seating for eight. The most popular in their segments are the Sienna or Highlander, and the Sienna makes a good case that the Highlander is superfluous in the Toyota lineup. “But the Sienna’s a minivan,” you may say, and you are right. The Sienna’s MSRP is lower, it comes standard with a hybrid engine, has a lot more passenger and cargo space, it even has more airbags and cupholders, and it’s a newer design. Don’t write the Sienna off because behind those sliding doors is a capable van.

The Sienna isn’t just for fans of vans

Fun fact, the Highlander is based on the same platform as the Sienna (and the Avalon) so in many ways, it offers the same amount of everything. The same hybrid engines, same reliability, same options like Toyota Safety Sense, optional captain’s seats in the middle, optional all-wheel drive, and much more. But somehow the Sienna weighs 110 pounds less, which comes with a lot of perks when it comes to capacity, handling, and wear and tear.

Maybe we’re just fans of minivans and their ultimate utility. There are very few other vehicles that seat eight, tow, have back-seat entertainment, and excellent on-road manners.

Which is bigger, Highlander or Sienna?

2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid cargo space
2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid interior from second row | Toyota

Guess which one you can fit a 4×8 sheet of plywood in: the Sienna. When you want to haul stuff, you might be surprised to learn that the Sienna can pack in up to 101 cubic inches of stuff with the seats folded. The Highlander only holds 84.3 cubic feet. But, it’s when the seats are up that the Sienna really shines, with slightly more than double the Highlander’s 16 cubic feet of space with a whopping 33 cubic feet by the tailgate.

Both the Highlander and the Sienna seat eight. You can order captain’s chairs in the middle row that reduce that to seven. But it’s in the interior room that the Sienna really shines. While the Highlander has a cramped 27.7 inches of legroom in the back seat, the Sienna has regular-person-sized legroom at 38.7 inches. The other dimensions, whether that’s headroom or front and middle-seat legroom, are within an inch of each other.

By the numbers, they’re very similar

A 2021 Highlander in silver at an auto show
2021 Highlander XLE | Joel Lerner, Xinhua via Getty Images

The Highlander gets a powerful 3.5-liter V6 with 295 horsepower tied to front- or all-wheel-drive. The Sienna though can only be bought as a hybrid, with either front- or all-wheel drive, too. If you opt for the Highlander Hybrid, you get the same engine and hybrid system as the Sienna, which has 243 horsepower that’s boosted by instant electric torque.

The Sienna will hit 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. The Highlander does it 7.3. The Highlander can tow more, at 5,000 pounds, but Sienna’s 3,500-pound capacity isn’t terrible. The gas-powered Highlander only sees 29 mpg on the highway, while the Sienna gets 36 mpg combined.

Are the Toyota Sienna or Highlander Safe?

For sure, if you’re buying an eight-passenger vehicle, you want to make sure everyone is safe. Both the Sienna and the Highlander earn five stars from the NHTSA. They both also earned Top Safety Pick Plus designations from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS. The Sienna has 10 airbags ringing the cabin, while the Highlander has eight.

Both now offer standard Toyota Safety Sense, which is Toyota’s driver’s aid package that has a pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, land departure alert, and road sign assist, which can recognize yield signs, speed limit signs, and even stop signs.

The Sienna is less expensive than the Highlander

The Sienna starts at $35,285, which is just about the same as the base Highlander at $35,855. But to get that fuel-sipping hybrid Highlander, you’ll spend at least $39,555. And, if you want a bit of off-road attitude, you can get the $45,500 Woodland edition of the Sienna that packs in most of the capability of the SUV, or you can go full luxury and pick up a $50,000 Platinum version that shames many luxury cars with its leather and wood trim.

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