Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The 2016 Toyota 4Runner and the 2016 Toyota Highlander are midsize SUV siblings with little in common except their iconic brand name.

The Highlander has the power, technology, and versatility to suit family members of all ages. The 4Runner is its athletic-looking brother that has great cargo space and off-roading capabilities but not much else to recommend it.

The 2016 Highlander is ranked No. 1 in U.S. News and World Report's midsize SUV rankings with a score of 8.8 out of 10. It was also a finalists for U.S. News' Best Cars for Families award. In contrast, the 4Runner came in at No. 17 out of 18, only besting the 2016 Dodge Journey.

So what makes the Toyota siblings so different?

2016 Toyota Highlander: The Basics

The 2016 Toyota Highlander has three rows of seating in a spacious, upscale cabin. Even the $30,000 base model offers plentiful extras for the money, including high-quality design and materials, and minimal cabin noise.

The Highlander’s standard 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine has 185 horsepower. There’s an optional 3.5-liter V6 with 270 horsepower. The four-cylinder is plenty powerful, but we recommend buyers opt for the extra kick and nearly identical fuel economy of the V6. The four-cylinder gets 20/25 mpg city/highway, while the V6 gets 19/25.

2016 Toyota 4Runner: The Basics

The 2016 Toyota 4Runner comes with two rows of seating, but a third row is optional. Beware. Reviewers note the third row is a tight squeeze and the second row’s bottom cushions are mounted too low for comfort.

The standard 4.0-liter V6 produces 270-horsepower and 278 pound-feet torque. It's mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The engine is powerful enough for most drives but pales when compared to others in its class, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Pricing

Winner: 2016 Toyota Highlander

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

A new 2016 Toyota Highlander starts at just $30,490. Standard features include a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a USB port, and Toyota's Entune infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touch screen.

In contrast, the 2016 4Runner is more expensive at $34,010. It comes with similar standard features, including a rearview camera, a USB port, Bluetooth, satellite radio, HD Radio, an eight-speaker audio system, a 120-volt power outlet, voice recognition, Toyota’s updated Entune Audio Plus infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touch screen.

Safety

Winner: 2016 Toyota Highlander

The 2016 Highlander earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It also has a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Highlander gets high marks for safety features, though only the rearview camera is standard. Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring are among the options.

For an SUV built to handle tough terrain, the 4Runner’s safety ratings are surprisingly low. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 4Runner mostly Good ratings. However, it earned a Marginal rating in the small overlap front crash test. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rated the 4Runner five out of five stars in its side crash test, but it earned four stars in the overall and front crash tests, and three stars in the rollover test.

Seat Comfort and Interior Refinement

Winner: 2016 Toyota Highlander

If you want a comfortable ride, the 4Runner isn’t the SUV for you. Its seating offers little lateral support. Adding to the discomfort, the second row is mounted too low for comfort, and the third row is cramped, even for kids. On the plus side, the interior is stylish, and the dashboard controls are simple.

In contrast, the Highlander offers seating for eight with plenty of room in the first two rows. The third row isn’t roomy, but adults can squeeze in. It's easy to access, too, thanks to the sliding second-row seats.

The Highlander has a posh interior with plenty of storage spaces, high-quality materials, and sound insulation.

Cargo Space

Winner: Tie

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The Highlander is built for families, as evidenced by the extra-large glove box and center console. The cargo capacity is a generous 83.7 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats folded down. That is roomier than the majority of its competitors. Whether you want to haul sports equipment, luggage, or furniture, the Highlander will likely take it for you. The only caveat: There’s only 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. That’s a bit less than average.

The 4Runner is built for rough-and-tumble trips, so it makes sense that the cargo space is above average. With the second and third rows folded down, the 4Runner sports a hefty 89.7 cubic feet of cargo space. With all rows up, the 4Runner has 9 cubic feet of cargo space. Without the optional third row, the 4Runner sports 47.2 cubic feet of cargo space. A pullout cargo deck with a 440-pound weight limit is optional. The power-retractable liftgate window is standard – it's handy for carrying long objects.

Fuel Efficiency

Winner: 2016 Toyota Highlander

The four-cylinder Highlander gets 20/25 mpg city/highway, while the V6 model gets 19/25. As mentioned above, we recommend buyers choose the V6.

The Toyota 4Runner doesn’t boast great fuel efficiency. Base models get 17/22 mpg city/highway, which is low for the class.

Off-Road Performance

Winner: 2016 Toyota 4Runner

The Highlander is for the family, not the off-road enthusiast. The 4Runner, on the other hand, is built for action. Reviewers at Car & Driver wrote that the 4Runner is “sure-footed off-road, and standard downhill assist control was helpful on muddy hills, and likely would be in the snow, too." 

Towing

Winner: 2016 Toyota 4Runner

Again, the four-cylinder 2016 Toyota Highlander is built for families, not roughing it. The base model can only tow 1,500 pounds.

You'll have to upgrade to the V6 model if you need to tow. It can tow 5,000 pounds with front- or all-wheel drive. For 2016, V6 Highlanders come standard with a tow package that includes heavy-duty engine and transmission cooling.

The 2016 Toyota 4Runner comes standard with a tow hitch receiver and has a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.

Reliability

Winner: Tie

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Both the 2016 Toyota 4Runner and 2016 Toyota Highlander scored four out of five in reliability, which is above average for the class.

The Winner Is:

2016 Toyota Highlander

The 2016 4Runner is a terrific choice for sports and off-roading enthusiasts. Everyone else, though, will be happier with the 2016 Toyota Highlander. It’s got the comfortable seating, ample storage, and high safety ratings that are ideal for everyday family travel and long vacation getaways.

Toyota's Top SUVs

Model
(Click link for review)

MSRP

(Click link for Best Price)

Ranking
(Click link for full rankings)

Toyota Sequoia

$45,325

No. 4 in Large SUVs 

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

$28,370

No. 7 in Compact SUVs

Toyota RAV4

$24,350

No. 12 in Compact SUVs

Toyota Land Cruiser

$83,825

No. 4 in Luxury Large SUVs                  

Toyota Highlander Hybrid

$47,870

No. 3 in Midsize SUVs

Toyota Highlander

$30,490

No. 1 in Midsize SUVs

Toyota 4Runner

$34,010

No. 17 in Midsize SUVs