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2019 Toyota Highlander vs. 4Runner: How to Choose

It’s a difficult choice between Toyota’s wildly popular Highlander and 4Runner. Here’s how to decide.


For those of us who’ve ever shopped for an SUV, we know it’s not an easy decision to narrow down your final choice. So let’s say you know you want to buy Toyota. I mean why not? Toyota’s do have that legacy of quality, reliability and dependability after all. But how can you choose between a 2019 Toyota Highlander and a 2019 Toyota 4Runner? I’ll help you decide.

Do you want a “car” or a “truck”?

When you first start up each SUV, just from the roar of the engine, you’ll know you’re evaluating a car versus a truck. Highlander has always been known as the SUV that rides like a Camry. It’s smooth. It’s quiet. It’s comfortable. 4Runner is your rugged, tough, truck-like SUV. But 4Runner is also smooth and comfortable. You definitely know you’re in a truck though!

Another difference is how they’re built. The 2019 Toyota 4Runner is built as a body-on-frame, as in the body is bolted right to the frame. This is the ideal SUV to withstand harsh off-road conditions where your vehicle is certain to take a beating.

Most SUV’s have gone away from this body-on-frame. It’s for this reason many people refer to the 4Runner as “the last true SUV.” Because it’s heavier, you will see lower gas mileage than in the Highlander.

Highlander, on the other hand, takes advantage of a unibody design. In other words, the frame and the body are considered one unit. It’s lighter, and therefore offers better mpg than its 4Runner counterpart. You’ll also see a smoother, quieter ride with what some would call improved performance. On the flip side, Highlander probably isn’t the ideal vehicle to tackle deeper sand, tough mud and rocky terrain. Pack your 4Runner for that.

3rd row compartment is important too!

First of all, how will you be using the “3rd row area” of your Toyota? Do you need to have 3 rows of seats for your family?

Highlander comes with 3rd row seating that is standard on every trim level. You can also fold the seats 100% flat for cargo options. With those 3rd row seats down, Toyota Highlander provides you with 42 cu. ft. cargo capacity.

4Runner's Sliding Rear Cargo Deck

The 2019 4Runner, on the other hand, gives you 3 different options for the back compartment. You can choose 3rd row seats, a sliding rear cargo deck, or nothing at all. This gives you 46.3 cu. ft. cargo capacity with 3rd row seats down.

The one limitation here with 3rd row seats is there are no rear air vents giving people flowing heat/air. Sliding cargo deck looks like a composite material table top you’d set over sawhorses in your garage, but much more refined. It’s great for working in the back of your truck, and I’ve been told ideal for tailgating too! Some buyers don’t need either of these options and choose to leave the back part empty.

Other 3 Factors to Think About

1. AWD vs 4WD – 4Runner is offered in part-time 4WD. You can choose between two-wheel drive (rear-wheel drive), 4WD-Hi (for driving in heavy rain or with snow and mud and gravel) or 4WD-Lo (for getting through really tough off-road obstacles). Highlander has On-Demand AWD (all-wheel drive). It only kicks in when each wheel is losing traction and needs more grip on the road. This is ideal for drivers who will encounter heavy rain or snow, but will not be facing tough off-roading conditions.

2. Gas Mileage – Highlander has 21 city / 27 highway / 23 combined for front-wheel drive. AWD models have 20 city / 26 highway / 22 combined. 4Runner 2WD has 17 city / 21 highway / 18 combined. 4WD 4Runner’s have 17 city / 20 highway / 18 combined.

3. Hybrid Option – Highlander comes available as a Hybrid. You can choose from LE, XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum. 4Runner is not available in Hybrid.

So what would you choose if you could – 2019 Highlander or 2019 4Runner? I would pick a Highlander for my family. Write your choice in the comments section. Have a great day!

You can reach Jeff Teague on Twitter at @toyotajeff1 and tweet him tips for new stories.


Inyima (not verified)    December 12, 2018 - 12:41PM

I will go for a Highlander if I have the chance to choose, I like the car the way it was built, the smoothness and the comfort it provides.

Jeff (not verified)    May 31, 2019 - 11:27AM

I'm trying to decide between this two vehicles. I'm looking at them because I do a lot of building projects and I would be able to have lumber sticking out the back window of either. What I really don't like about the Highlander is the horrible roof rack or lack there of. It only has crossbars. Who thought this was a good idea? In order to strap lumber to the roof, I need rails the go front to back of the vehicle. Sure, I can rest the lumber on the crossbars, but I can't tie it down. What were they thinking? My current Highlander has been great, but it's a 2003 with 180K miles, so it's starting to struggle. When I drove in the new Highlander, it felt like a mini-van to me and actually felt more delicate and sensitive than my wife's Honda Odyssey. The 4Runner really does feel like a truck and the seats were uncomfortable (LE version). My current Highlander feels like it's between the new 4Runner and new Highlander in steering and comfort. I have 3 kids, so I might go with the new Highlander and then buy and after-market roof rack, but from what I read, I would have to buy the XLE (higher package with leather) because the LE has proprietary roof rack connections, so nothing after-market actually fits it. Tell me if you've heard otherwise though.

Kennethnuabs (not verified)    January 26, 2022 - 8:55AM

2019 Toyota Highlander vs. 4Runner: How to Choose | Torque News

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