What’s the Difference Between the Toyota Highlander and 4Runner?

Toyota presents an appealing lineup of versatile SUVs, two of them being the Toyota Highlander and the Toyota 4Runner. The Highlander and 4Runner are among the most dependable vehicles you can buy. Both have their charms, but what’s the difference between the Toyota Highlander and 4Runner?

Let’s start with some similarities

2020 Toyota Highlander in a park
2020 Toyota Highlander | Toyota

It’s hard to go wrong with a used Highlander or a used 4Runner. Consumer Reports has consistently given these Toyotas above-average predicted reliability ratings since the early 2000s. The Highlander and the 4Runner both compete in the midsize SUV class; both can accommodate large families.

A rear shot of a green 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro on a forest off-road trail near a creek
2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro rear | Matthew Skwarczek

For 2020, the Highlander and 4Runner are also good options if you value in-car tech. These Toyotas come with modern infotainment systems complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Standard safety features, including adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. However, these two SUVs offer entirely different driving experiences.

The Toyota Highlander is a gentle cruiser 

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Over the years, the Highlander has made a name for itself with its smooth ride quality and trendy style. Critics especially recognize the 2020 Highlander for its gentle nature and upscale cabin. That said, the Highlander isn’t the sportiest option in the midsize SUV class, but it’s a worthy choice all the same.

The 2020 Highlander comes with a 295-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine linked to an eight-speed automatic. The Highlander provides satisfying power for everyday driving situations. It also has a solid fuel economy rating of 23 mpg overall. But if fuel efficiency is one of your priorities, you’ll also want to consider the hybridized version, which gets a combined 36 mpg. 

On the inside, the Highlander pleases with its handsome design and in-car tech. Depending on the configuration, this Toyota can seat up to eight. It can also be as luxurious as you want it to be. You can replace the standard cloth seats with faux leather or genuine leather. Other amenities include heated and cooled seats. Overall, the Highlander is comfortable to ride in, but its third-row is narrow.

The Toyota 4Runner is an accomplished off-roader 

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Critics recognize the 2020 4Runner for its serious off-roading capabilities and not much else. While Toyota has made significant changes to the Highlander over the years, the 4Runner has mostly stayed the same. The 4Runner is one the few remaining old-school, truck-based SUVs which sets it apart from car-based options like the Highlander.

With the 4Runner, you get a 270-hp 4.0-liter V6 and a five-speed automatic. As U.S. News highlighted, the majority of respected critics consider the 4Runner’s powertrain to be outdated. It’s below-average for fuel economy with a combined 17 mpg. It’s also noticeably rough and bumpy on paved roads. 

That said, the 4Runner will appeal to those who want a dependable off-roader. This SUV has nine inches of ground clearance and is standard with rear-wheel drive; two four-wheel-drive options are available. For a more enhanced off-roading experience, there’s the TRD Pro trim. 

The 4Runner has a rugged inspired interior to match its outward appearance. Standard models have five seats; the available third-row configuration brings seating up to seven. Like the Highlander, the 4Runner also offers upscale amenities, including leather upholstery. 

Wrapping it up 

The 2020 Highlander begins at $34,600, and the 2020 4Runner starts at $36,120. The Highlander is the better choice if you want a comfortable and fuel-efficient ride. If you’re longing for a capable off-roader, the 4Runner is worth considering.