Toyota RAV4 or Highlander: Which One Should You Buy?

toyota-rav4-or-highlander:-which-one-should-you-buy?

The Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Highlander are best-sellers and icons of their respective segments. Which one is right for you? The long and short of it is that the RAV4 is a compact crossover built as a versatile all-rounder, while the Highlander is a three-row SUV intended for families. Still, there are aspects that, well, cross over between the two. Here are some of the key differences and similarities between the RAV4 and Highlander.

Legroom, Headroom, and Cargo Space

As the larger vehicle, the Highlander is the better choice if passenger space and cargo capacity are the top priorities. While the RAV4 has capacity for five occupants between its two rows, the three-row Highlander can seat up to seven or eight people, depending on the configuration. Although the Highlander has less cargo space than the RAV4 with all its seats up, folding down the rear seats creates much more.

Highlander

Front-row headroom: 39.6–41.2 inches (moonroof/no moonroof)

Second-row headroom: 39.4 inches

Third-row headroom: 36.1 inches

Front-row legroom: 42.0 inches

Second-row legroom: 41.0 inches

Third-row legroom: 27.7 inches

Cargo space: 16.0/84.3 cubic feet (second and third row seats up/folded)

RAV4

Front-row headroom: 37.7 inches

Second-row headroom: 39.5 inches

Front-row legroom: 41.0 inches

Second-row legroom: 37.8 inches

Cargo space: 37.6/69.8 cubic feet (rear seats up/folded)

Fuel Economy (Pure Gas Models)

Smaller in size and equipped with a four-cylinder engine, the RAV4 is more fuel efficient than the V-6-powered Highlander. Depending on trim, RAV4 models with FWD return as much as 28/35 mpg city/highway, while at the low end the AWD-equipped TRD Off Road gets 25/32 mpg. Meanwhile, FWD Highlanders achieve 21/29 mpg, and most AWD models get 20/27 mpg.

RAV4

27–28/35 mpg (FWD)

25–27/33–34 mpg (AWD)

25/32 mpg (TRD Off Road AWD)

Highlander

20–21/28–29 mpg (FWD)

20/27 mpg (AWD)

Hybrid Options

But what about the hybrid variants, you ask? The RAV4 Hybrid has AWD as standard equipment, and it returns 41/38 mpg city/highway. Fuel economy improves further in the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid. Meanwhile, Toyota offers the Highlander Hybrid in FWD and AWD configurations, which return 36/35 mpg and 35/35 mpg, respectively.

RAV4 Hybrid

41/38 mpg

RAV4 Prime

38 mpg

94 mpg-e

Electric range: 42 miles

Highlander Hybrid

36/35 mpg (FWD)

35/35 mpg (AWD)

Features and Interior Design

The RAV4’s cabin design is simple and straightforward, with some rugged flair—check out the chunky HVAC knobs and big door handles. As standard, the RAV4 has features a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, manually adjustable cloth-covered seats, and one-touch windows. Higher-end models gain an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, heated power-adjustable leather seats, and a premium audio system.

Entry-level Highlander models are equipped similarly to the RAV4, with a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen being a key difference. Further up the trim walk, it takes on a more upscale feel by way of stitched leather seats, faux wood trim, and a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. The second row is also available with captain’s chairs instead of the standard three-across bench. In higher-end models, the overall design and atmosphere feel more premium than the RAV4.

Fun Models

Look, the RAV4 isn’t a Tacoma, and the Highlander is a near-perfect opposite to the Supra. Nevertheless, each SUV has trim levels that increase its appeal for enthusiasts. The RAV4 TRD doesn’t have enough suspension articulation to make it a rock crawler, but its all-terrain tires and clever AWD system improve its capability on rough terrain. At the other end of the spectrum, the Highlander XSE has performance-tuned suspension and exhaust hardware. Its engine is unchanged, but an aggressive body kit makes it at least look sporty.

Price

The RAV4 has a lower starting price than the Highlander. The entry-level RAV4 LE FWD comes in at $27,325, while the basic Highlander L FWD costs $35,985. With standard gasoline engines, the most expensive trim levels are the $37,055 RAV4 TRD Off Road and the $48,915 Highlander Platinum AWD.

It’s a similar story with the hybrid versions. The RAV4 Hybrid starts at $29,825 in LE trim. The least expensive Highlander Hybrid is the $39,585 LE FWD model. At the top of the ranges, the RAV4 Hybrid Limited runs for $39,585, and the Highlander Hybrid Platinum AWD is $51,490. Note that the RAV4 Prime is more expensive than the regular hybrid, starting at $39,275 in SE trim and $42,600 in XSE trim.

Which Is Better: RAV4 or Highlander?

The RAV4 has broad appeal, with its range spanning everyday runabouts, rugged(ish) off-roaders, and super-efficient hybrids. Regardless of configuration, it’s a versatile and practical compact SUV. The Highlander focuses on providing families with three rows of seats and more cargo capacity. It’s not as efficient or inexpensive, though its higher-end trims feel nicely upscale. We say choose the RAV4 if fuel economy and easy parking are priorities, but the Highlander is better for those who often drive with a few passengers. Just know that they both place about midpack in our vehicle rankings.

Toyota RAV4 Advantages Over the Highlander

  • Lower starting price
  • Better fuel economy
  • Available plug-in hybrid
  • Adventure-ready TRD Off Road model

Toyota Highlander Advantages Over the RAV4

  • More passenger and cargo capacity
  • Larger standard touchscreen
  • Available upscale interior trimmings

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