Highlander vs. the 4Runner vs. the Sienna
When it comes to choosing the right type of vehicle for your family – one that truly fits your lifestyle and needs – there are many options to choose from and picking the right vehicle can prove a daunting task. Consider Toyota’s mid-sized SUV offerings – the Highlander, the Toyota 4Runner – and the Toyota Sienna minivan.
The vehicle you choose will depend on your unique needs and preferences. Should you go with the kid-friendly minivan or a standard family-friendly mid-size SUV? That is the question. While all three vehicles are typically family-oriented vehicles, the 4Runner stands out for its ruggedness and off-road capability.
We recommend the 4Runner for families who will be using their vehicle for outdoor, off-road trails and adventures as it performs optimally in mud and dirt. It also has a good ground clearance – up to 9.6” – which makes it great for off-road applications. The 5th Gen 4Runner also offers a ton of room for improvement through 4Runner mods and accessories.
The Sienna minivan and Highlander are more suited for daily errands, family outings and road trips. Check out our full road trip experience in the Sienna for a more detailed look into the Sienna. And, for an overview and review on the Highlander, take a look at the full 2014 Highlander Review for a better look inside.
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To help you make a well-informed decision before purchasing, let’s take a closer look at each vehicle’s unique characteristics and compare. We will be looking at the 2015 base models of these vehicles for easier comparison.
The interior of the Highlander is posh, sleek and family-friendly, with soft surfaces and simple controls. The Sienna’s interior is spacious, stylish and sleek, also designed to be family-friendly. On the other hand, the 4Runner’s interior features hard surfaces and looks similar to the inside cabin of a pickup truck. It has a more sturdy, rugged look.
The 4Runner, with its rugged construction, looks less refined and sleek than the Highlander and Sienna. It looks like a vehicle that can handle the demands of off-road terrains – strong and sturdy. There are many different models of the 4Runner, so there is something for every family out there. But, most of them have a similar design, look and feel. The Highlander and Sienna have clean simple lines, and while not as rugged as the 5th Gen 4Runner, they still pack a stunning look and feel.
The standard 5th Generation 4Runner comes with 2 rows of seating with the option for a 3rd row. Keep in mind that this optional 3rd row is designed to fit kids only. If you have babies, toddlers or even grown children, you want to check out the Third-Row 4Runner. This will give you the best options for seating and transporting your little ones’ about. Adults can and will fit but it sure is tight. The 2015 Highlander and 2015 Sienna both have three rows of seating. The Highlander can accommodate up to 8 passengers while the Sienna can accommodate up to 7 or 8 passengers, depending on the vehicle configuration you choose to go with.
In terms of the level of comfort offered by each vehicle, the 4Runner offers the least comfortable ride. This is due to its rugged, body-on-frame construction design. The uni-body frame of the Highlander provides a quieter, more comfortable ride than the 4Runner. The suspension system of the Highlander is designed for maximum shock absorption as you drive over bumps while the 4Runner tends to hit these bumps hard, making the ride less smooth.
The Sienna’s suspension is also designed for optimal shock absorption as you navigate bumps and uneven surfaces. The large sliding doors of the Sienna make it convenient for passengers – especially 3rd-row passengers – to enter and exit the vehicle easily.
With all of this being said, there a ton of options to increase the 4Runner’s ride and performance through aftermarket suspension systems. And, once you put an aftermarket suspension system on a 4Runner, you will have a smoother, more dependable on and off-road experience. If you are a camping family, the 4Runner is a solid choice.
Storage Capacity/Cargo Space
When the 2nd and 3rd rows of the Highlander are folded, you have 83.7 cubic feet of cargo storage space. With the 4Runner, folding the 3rd row accommodates 46.3 cubic feet of cargo while removing the 2nd row gives you 89.7 cubic feet of cargo space. The Sienna’s 3rd row folds to store 87.1 cubic feet of cargo while removing the 2nd row gives you 150 cubic feet of storage space. In terms of cargo space, the Sienna is the clear winner.
The 4Runner can tow up to 4700 pounds while the Sienna can tow up to 3500 pounds. For the average family, the Sienna’s towing capacity is more than enough for towing loads like a boat, for instance. The base model of the Highlander has a 1500-pound towing capacity while the V6 model can tow up to 5000 pounds.
The base model (3.5L V6) of the Sienna offers a maximum of 266 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque as opposed to the standard 2.7L 4-cylinder Highlander which cranks out only 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. However, you also have the option of a 3.5L V6 Highlander which offers 270 horsepower. The standard 4.0L V6 base engine of the 2015 4Runner produces a maximum of 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque.
The Highlander wins when it comes to fuel economy. Its 20/25 mpg city/hwy beats the Sienna (18/25 mpg city/hwy) and the 4Runner’s 17/22 mpg city/hwy.
In crash tests conducted by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 4Runner earned a mere 4-star rating. The 4Runner is the loser when it comes to safety features as they are quite limited when compared to the features in the other two vehicles. It has a standard backup camera as well as front and rear parking sensors.
Compare this with the Highlander which boasts a perfect 5-star rating. The Highlander is also rated highly by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning a Top Safety Pick+ rating. This is due to its many safety features including lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking with forward collision warning and rear cross traffic alert.
The Sienna features a Star Safety System and can be configured to include other safety-maximizing features including Pre-Collision System and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Other safety features include emergency trunk release, lane departure warning, and 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. The Sienna earns a Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and an overall 5-star rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Who Takes the Family Vehicle Cake?
As you can see, all three vehicles are great options. The vehicle you decide to go with will depend on your preferences. If you want a family vehicle for everyday use, without the stigma of driving an uncool minivan, the Highlander would be your best bet.
On the other hand, if you are more of the adventurous type that likes to explore trails and need a vehicle that can handle off-road terrains, consider going with the rugged and dependable 4Runner.
The Sienna is convenient for families with children as the sliding doors make it easy for them to enter and exit the vehicle seamlessly.
In my overall opinion, I would choose a Highlander or a 5th Gen 4Runner.
Brenan Greene of Trail4Runner.com
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