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Sibling Rivalry 2021 Toyota 4Runner versus 2021 Toyota Highlander

Which 3-row Toyota mid-size SUV best fits your needs?

On paper, the 2021 versions of the Toyota 4Runner and Highlander siblings seem very similar. Both mid-size SUVs offer up to three rows of seating, available traction at all four wheels, and V6 gas engines. But they also differ enough to make deciding which one to buy a bit of a challenge.

Rare in the mid-size SUV segment, the 2021 Toyota 4Runner SUV continues its old school SUV ways. While other vehicles move away from body-on-frame construction and place tiny turbocharged engines under their hoods, the 2021 4Runner keeps the traditional flame alight, inhabiting that category known as “old school” by using a chassis based heavily on the Toyota Tacoma mid-size pickup truck.

Based on the same Toyota uni-body platform that supports the Camry sedan, the 2021 Highlander 3-row mid-size SUV is in the second year of its fourth generation. This fresh Highlander isn’t particularly innovative, but it doesn’t need to be. Instead, its winning approach has consistently provided decent space for families, well-integrated and user-friendly features, excellent drivetrains, and solid dependability.

So which one to choose? Read on to find out which of these Toyota SUV siblings is just right for you.

 

Price

The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price for the 2021 Toyota 4Runner starts at $46,200 (all prices in Canadian dollars) for the base Trail trim. It includes standard features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a roof basket, towing hitch/trailer sway control, V6, automatic transmission, 4-wheel-drive (4WD) and the Toyota Safety Sense suite of safety technologies. The mid-level $48,910 SR5 features a heated, 8-way power-adjustable driver seat with leather and running boards/roof rails. The SR5 also offers various TRD off-road packages. Whereas the Trail and SR5 have room for 5 passengers, the top-line $55,810 Limited is the only 4Runner that offers 3-row seating for a total of 7 seats, plus luxuries like ventilated front seats, premium audio and the X-REAS Sport Enhancement Suspension.

The 2021 Toyota  Highlander starts at $40,450 for the front-wheel-drive (FWD) L trim. All-wheel-drive (AWD) is a $3,500 option. Like the 4Runner, the Highlander comes standard with a V6 and automatic transmission. Key standard features include Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ plus Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. Unlike the 4Runner, a gas-electric Highlander Hybrid LE AWD trim can be had for $45,950. The top-line, luxury-oriented Limited trim is $52,150 for the gas and $54,150 for the Hybrid trim.

Winner: 2021 Toyota Highlander

 

Interior 

The cabin layout in the 2021 4Runner is simple but effective. Buttons and dials are large and easy to use, even when wearing winter gloves. The centre console sports an easily visible instrument panel, an 8-inch touchscreen for the multimedia system, plus the option of a 120-volt outlet. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, fine for longer trips, while the reclining 2nd-row seats split and fold in a 40/20/40 configuration for some passenger/cargo versatility.

The 2021 Highlander is the epitome of user-friendliness. Controls for audio, climate and other functions are easy to use. Its materials and fit-and-finish feel more refined than in the 4Runner. With a bench in the 2nd-row, the Highlander seats up to 8 passengers (the L and LE trims are solely 8-seaters; the Hybrid and $52,150 Limited models come with a pair of captain’s chairs in row two, reducing the occupant count to seven, but the 8-seater configuration is available at no extra cost.) Compared to the 4Runner, adults have more overall space, especially in the 3rd-row. Also, the Highlander Hybrid’s battery pack fits under the floor without compromising interior space.

Winner: 2021 Toyota Highlander

 

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Toyota 4Runner's sole engine choice is a 4.0-litre 6-cylinder generating 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque.  All trims come equipped with part-4WD; a full-time AWD setup with a limited-slip locking center differential is offered in the Limited. In all cases, the transmission is a 5-speed automatic with low-range gearing. The estimated combined city and highway fuel economy is 13.8 litres per 100 kilometres (L/100 km).

The Highlander also gets a V6. But it's slightly smaller, Toyota's familiar 3.5-litre unit making 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. An 8-speed automatic transmission helps score a 10.3 L/100 km combined estimate, whether in FWD or AWD trim. The Highlander Hybrid's gas-electric combination is rated at 243 horsepower. Using a continuously variable automatic transmission, it scores an even more impressive 6.7L/100 km combined fuel economy estimate.

If you need to tow, both the gas-engine 4Runner and Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms), while the Highlander Hybrid is limited to 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms).

Winner: 2021 Toyota Highlander

 

Ride and Handling

No surprise here: the body-on-frame 4Runner results in truck-like rather than the Highlander's car-like ride and handling. 

The 4Runner's relatively unsophisticated ride quality brings bearable manners on smooth roads and some cushioning over rougher surfaces. Still, the 4Runner will lean noticeably if a corner is taken with anything like gusto. However, on challenging terrain, it excels, thanks to a fairly narrow body and a potential 9.6 inches (244 millimetres) of ground clearance (with the dedicated off-road suspension).

Like most mid-size 3-row SUVs, the Highlander doesn’t disguise the fact that it is a relatively long and heavy vehicle. From the driver’s seat, it feels substantial, and body roll is noticeable on winding roads. But the Highlander is relatively easy to maneuver in tight spaces. The ride quality and isolation from road noise are good, and passengers will enjoy a comfortable, quiet cabin environment.

Winner: 2021 Toyota Highlander

 

Overall Winner: 2021 Toyota Highlander

Although the 2021 Toyota 4Runner and Highlander are considered mid-size SUVs, they are remarkedly different in their execution.

The 4Runner’s off-road capabilities cannot be argued. When equipped with one of the TRD off-road packages, the rugged Toyota SUV can traverse off-road terrain the Highlander could never access.

But if we use the criteria most mid-size SUV buyers apply to their purchase—such as pricing, on-road performance, fuel economy, and space for passengers and their cargo—the 2021 Toyota Highlander is easily the better overall choice of this pair of Toyota SUV siblings.

Specs

2021 Toyota 4Runner

2021 Toyota Highlander

Engine(s)

4.0-litre V6

3.5-litre V6

Hybrid - 2.5-litre I4 + Electric Motors

Horsepower

270 hp @ 5,600 rpm

V6 - 295 hp @ 6,600 rpm

 Hybrid - 243 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque

278 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm

V6 - 263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Hybrid 175 hp @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission(s)

5-speed automatic

V6 – 8-speed automatic

Hybrid - Continuously Variable Automatic

Fuel Economy

13.8 L/100 km (14.8 city, 12.5 hwy)

V6 FWD -10.3 L/100 km (11.9 city, 8.3 hwy)

V6 AWD -10.3 L/100 km (11.8 city, 8.6 hwy)

Hybrid AWD - 6.6 city, 6.8 hwy, 6.7 combined

Warranty

3 years/60,000 km

3 years/60,000 km

Max Seating Capacity

5-7

7-8

Curb Weight

2,120.55 kg

2,015-2,075 kgs

Wheelbase

2,790 mm

2,850 mm

Overall Length

4,830 mm

4,950 mm

Width

1,925 mm

1,930 mm

Height

1,816 mm

1,730 mm

Headroom, Front

979 mm

1,014 mm

Headroom, 2nd-row

980 mm

1,001 mm

Headroom, 3rd-row

Not Available

917 mm

Legroom, Front

1,058 mm

1,026 mm

Legroom, 2nd-row

836 mm

1,041 mm

Legroom, 3rd row

Not Available

704 mm

Shoulder Room, Front

1,468 mm

1,500 mm

Shoulder Room, 2nd-row

1,467 mm

1,491 mm

Shoulder Room, 3rd -row

Not Available

1,397 mm

Cargo Volume, Behind 2nd-Row seats

1,337

1,371 L

 

Cargo Volume, Behind 3rd-Row seats

Not Available

453 L

Max. Towing Capacity

 

5,000 lbs (2,268 kgs)

V6 - 5,000 lbs (2,268 kgs)

Hybrid - 3,500 lbs (1,588 kgs)

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