RAV4 vs 4Runner Compared: Which One is Right for You?

The RAV4 and 4Runner are two popular SUVs by Toyota, offering different features that appeal to different buyers. Both of these vehicles are 4×4 models but one is more suited for extreme offroad situations and the other performs better on tarmacked roads. 

I’ve been a fan of both vehicles for a while and spent some time researching their main differences to put together this RAV4 vs 4Runner piece.

In this article, you’ll find out which of these two SUVs is right for you and whether you should go ahead and buy one or consider one of their alternatives. Keep reading to learn all you need to know.

Bottom Line Up Front

For everyday drivers, the RAV4 is a perfect car that offers comfort, fuel efficiency, and great handling. I would recommend the Toyota RAV4 to anyone looking for a city car with light offroading capabilities.

However, the 4Runner lags behind its competitors and isn’t a clear-cut choice for those in the market for a mid-sized SUV.

Main Differences Between RAV4 and 4Runner

  • The RAV4 is a compact crossover SUV, whereas the 4Runner is a mid-sized SUV.
  • The first generation of the RAV4 was launched in 1996, whereas the 4Runner’s first generation was launched in 1984.
  • Toyota 4Runners have engines of at least 4.0 liters, whereas RAV4s have 2.5-liter engines.
  • The 4Runner comes with a V6 or V8 engine, whereas the RAV4 only gets a 4-cylinder engine.
  • You can get hybrid versions of the RAV4, whereas 4Runners don’t have hybrid models.
  • RAV4s are fuel-efficient, whereas 4Runners have a high gas mileage.
  • The 4Runner has a spacious cargo capacity, whereas the RAV4’s cargo capacity is smaller.
  • The 4Runner can tow at least 5000 lbs whereas the RAV4 can tow up to 3500 lbs.
  • The RAV4 has a comfortable ride quality, whereas the 4Runner’s ride quality is rather stiff.

Key Features of the Toyota RAV4

Generations

Toyota Rav4 Features

The RAV4 was first launched in 1996, with the first generation running until the year 2000. This model introduced the compact SUV niche that brought off-road capabilities and on-road comfort.

It started its life with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine but, as you’ll see later, it went ahead to get a larger engine in subsequent generations.

The second generation entered the scene in 2002, with a larger body in both length and width. Capitalizing on the success of the first-gen RAV4, this new iteration got a more powerful 2.4-liter engine with 160 horsepower. It was curvier but retained the ruggedness of its older sibling. 

In 2007, Toyota redesigned the RAV4 once again, giving it smoother angles and more length. This time around, alongside the standard 2.4-liter engine, there was an option of a punchier V6 with 268 horsepower.

But just like the previous generations, this new generation had front-wheel drive as standard and an all-wheel-drive version.

The fourth generation was launched in 2013. This time, the RAV4 got a new look that I think was a deviation from the pedigree of its previous generations.

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This was less rugged and geared more towards city driving rather than offroad adventures. A testament to this was the elimination of the V6 version of the third generation; Toyota only offered a standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

The latest generation – the fifth-gen RAV4 – was first launched in 2019. It has a more rugged look than the previous two generations yet it looks modern and sophisticated. This generation boasts a hybrid version that offers outstanding fuel economy of up to 40 mpg. 

Exterior

Toyota Rav4 Exterior

The RAV 4 has always been smaller than the 4Runner since it’s a compact SUV. The latest iteration of the RAV4 has a total length of 181.5 inches, and a width of 73.4 inches. Its wheelbase is 105.9 inches with a ground clearance of 8.6 inches.

RAV4s also get either 17-inch or 19-inch alloy wheels, depending on the trim level. Plus, the new generation comes with LED headlights as standard.

Interior

rav4 interior

Inside, the current RAV4 offers slightly more headroom than the 4Runner at 39.5 inches. The legroom for the front passenger is 41 inches while the rear seats get 37.8 inches. 

From 2005 to 2012, Toyota released 7-seater models of the RAV4, but post-2012 models don’t get the third row of seats. This is fine since the rear legroom in the 7-seaters was only ideal for kids over short distances.

Presently, you can only get 5-seater RAV4s and you get 37.6 cubic feet of cargo space. 

Engine and Performance

Other than the first-generation RAV4, which had a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, all other generations came with a 2.4/2.5-liter four-cylinder motor under the hood. 

In the third generation, Toyota added an optional V6 engine to the mix but this didn’t go past the 2012 model. 

Currently, you can choose the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 206 hp or a hybrid version with spectacular fuel economy and 219 hp. 

There’s also a plug-in hybrid model in the current generation that Toyota calls the RAV4 Prime. The standard RAV4 offers a combined gas mileage of 28 mpg, the hybrid manages a staggering 40 mpg, and the RAV4 Prime gives 38 mpg. The Prime can also run for 42 miles on its electric motor. 

Transmission

The first three generations had a five-speed manual transmission as standard with the option of choosing a four-speed automatic transmission. RAV4’s fourth generation introduced a CVT transmission as standard. 

In the current generation, you still get a CVT transmission, but it’s been designed to work as a regular automatic with eight speeds. 

Drivetrain

RAV4s come with front-wheel-drive as standard but you can opt for the all-wheel-drive models. This AWD system has improved over the years and the current generation offers road-surface selection. Because of this nifty feature, the current RAV4 performs better offroad than the previous generations.

rav4 offroad

Towing Capacity

The RAV4 can tow up to 3500 lbs but this figure applies to the AWD model. 2WD RAV4s can manage about 1500 lbs.

Rav4 Pros

  • It’s fuel-efficient.
  • The AWD RAV4 performs well off-road.
  • It has a large cargo capacity in its class.
  • It does a decent job at towing.
  • You can get a hybrid option.
  • It is comfortable.

Rav4 Cons

  • It offers few engine options.
  • There aren’t many luxury features.
  • Its engine is loud when accelerating.

Key Features of the Toyota 4Runner

Generations

Toyota 4Runner

The 4Runner has had a longer life than the RAV4, having started its run in 1984. We wrote a piece on the Toyota 4Runner models and years that you should check out to find out more.

The current 4Runner model shows how much this SUV has grown up over the years. It has become a stylish-looking modern 4×4 vehicle rather than just a rugged offroader. 

However, this iteration hasn’t lost the family’s body-on-frame pedigree, which has been a characteristic of the 4Runner since the very first model.

Here are some of the models from different 4Runner generations we have completely covered:

Exterior

The current 4Runner has a wheelbase of 109.8 inches, about 4 inches longer than the RAV4. It also stands taller than the RAV4, with a height of 72 inches. Ground clearance is also more; the 4Runner boasts 9.6 inches as opposed to the RAV4’s 8.6 inches.

Interior

Toyota 4Runner Interior

Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot more space in the 4Runner than in the RAV4. The 4Runner’s front passenger gets 41.7 inches of legroom; just 0.7 inches more than the RAV4. Rear legroom is also considerably less – the 4Runner has just 32.9 inches as opposed to the RAV4’s 37.8 inches.

Higher trim levels offer the choice of a third row of seats, but this row is uncomfortable for adults and even taller kids. 

The 4Runner’s headroom is slightly less than in the RAV4, offering 39.3 inches in front and 38.6 inches in the middle seats.

The 4Runner shines over the RAV4 in cargo space, with the former offering 46.3 cubic feet – 9 cubic feet more than the RAV4.

Engines and Performance

The 4Runner has had a variety of engine options across its different generations, from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder to a 4.7-liter V8. Presently, you’ll only get a 4-liter V6 engine with 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. 

This engine gives the vehicle a fuel economy of 16 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, which is a significantly higher gas mileage than the RAV4. Granted, the 4Runner is more powerful than the RAV4.

Transmission

Mated to the V6 is a five-speed automatic transmission. The 4Runner ditched the manual transmission option after the third generation, opting for just the automatic post-2003.

Offroad Package

toyota 4runner offroading

The 4Runner has always been a hardy offroader thanks to its body-on-frame design, solid rear axle, and elevated ride height. This is bolstered by its part-time 4WD system and locking rear differential. 

Higher specced models get a crawl control system, hill-start assist, and terrain control. It goes without saying that the 4Runner’s offroading package is superior to the RAV4’s. 

Towing Capacity

Thanks to its 278 lb-ft of torque, the 4Runner is able to tow up to 5000 lbs. The previous generation has a 4.7-liter V8 model that can pull a whopping 7300 lbs. 

4Runner Pros

  • It has a powerful 4-liter V6 engine.
  • The body-on-frame design and locking rear differential make it ideal for extreme offroading.
  • It has excellent ground clearance.
  • The 4Runner can tow up to 5000 lbs (2300 kgs).
  • Its cargo capacity is more than the RAV4.

4Runner Cons

  • The 4Runner’s gas consumption is high.
  • The rear passenger legroom is less than the RAV4.
  • The ride quality is below average.

Here’s how the 4Runner compares to other 4×4’s:

RAV4 vs 4Runner: Which One is Right for You?

These two SUVs target different market segments. So, to find out which one is right for you, ask yourself the following questions;

  • What is Your Driving Habit?If you’re an avid offroader then the 4Runner is your ideal choice. It can handle extreme off-road terrains thanks to its 4WD system and high ground clearance. Conversely, if you do most of your driving on the tarmac with the occasional foray offroad, consider the RAV4. The RAV4 is comfortable on paved roads and its on-road handling is better than that of the 4Runner.
  • Do You have a Trailer?: The 4Runner has a superior towing capacity to the RAV4 and it should be your first choice if you have a trailer. You can still tow using the RAV4; its AWD model can handle up to 3500 lbs. However, if you’re planning to do a lot of towing, opt for the 4Runner.
  • Do You Care about Fuel Consumption?The RAV4 is more fuel-efficient and is a better choice for those who prioritize gas consumption. With a mileage of 33 mpg, 25 mpg, and 28 mpg for highway, city, and combined driving respectively, the RAV4 beats the 4Runner’s 19, 16, and 17 mpg for highway, city, and combined driving.
  • Do You Care about Power?You’ll get 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque in the 4Runner as opposed to the RAV4’s 205 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. If you’re looking for a powerful SUV, the 4Runner is the better choice.
  • How much do You have to Spend?The starting price for the latest 4Runner is close to $50,000 while that of the RAV4 is $33,000. 

Alternative SUVs to Consider

Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler

A quintessential offroader, the Jeep Wrangler has been a revered 4-by-4 since the early 40s, when it had its iconic two-door design and a canvas tent as its top. 

This vehicle has certainly grown up over the years and is presently in its 4th generation. Its power comes from a 3.6-liter V6 engine or a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6.

In the 2022 model, Jeep introduced a plug-in hybrid 4xe model that can churn out 375 horsepower. There’s also a muscular 6.4-liter V8 if you prefer the grunt of a big engine.

If you’re looking for more engine and spec options plus a bit more luxurious features than the Toyota 4Runner, consider the Jeep Wrangler.

Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V has been a global hit since it was first launched in 1997. Since then, it has gone through five generations and several facelifts. 

This compact SUV has been one of the RAV4’s stiffest rivals as it offers excellent fuel economy, a comfortable ride, and great handling, all of which the RAV4 boasts.

Its current model has a standard four-cylinder 2.4-liter engine but you can opt for a 1.5-liter turbo engine. There’s also a hybrid model available for the US market.

Ford Bronco

Ford Bronco

Considered a legend in Ford-fan circles, the Bronco’s life started way back in 1966 and it had a good run for 30 years until it was discontinued in 1996. 

But, after a 24-year hiatus, the Bronco reprised its role on the roads with the 2020 models. Ford released both four-door and two-door models, with the latter harkening back to its 60s design.

This time, the Bronco came with fuel efficiency in mind; ford gave all models an EcoBoost engine. You can choose a 1.5L or 2.0L engine in the Bronco Sport; a 2.3 or 2.7-liter V6 engine in the Bronco 4-door or 2-door; and a 3.0-liter V6 in the Bronco Raptor.

The Ford Bronco is a fuel-efficient alternative to the Toyota 4Runner.

Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage

The Kia Sportage sits in the same class as the RAV4 with a number of similarities. For starters, both models offer AWD and front-wheel-drive models and both also come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

Kia also offers a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine as standard in the latest generations but previous generations had a 2.4-liter as standard and an optional  2.0-liter turbocharged engine. 

Where the Sportage wins over the RAV4 is in space; you get more cargo capacity and legroom in the Sportage. However, the RAV4 offers better gas mileage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How much Bigger is the 4Runner than the RAV4?

Answer: The 4Runner is 10 inches longer, 6 inches taller, and 2 inches wider than the RAV4. It also has a wheelbase that’s 4 inches longer and an inch more ground clearance.

Question: Is 4Runner the Same as Land Cruiser?

Answer: No, the 4Runner and Land Cruiser are different. The Land Cruiser is a full-size SUV while the 4Runner is considered a mid-sized SUV, so the Landcruiser is bigger and more spacious.

Question: What Car is Similar to the RAV4?

Answer: The Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Ford Escape, and Subaru Forester are among the vehicles that are in the same class as the RAV4.

Bottom Line

The RAV4 and 4Runner are SUVs that target different segments of the market. While the 4Runner is a mid-sized SUV with excellent offroading capabilities, the RAV4 is a compact crossover SUV that performs well on road but can handle light offroading. 

If you’re looking for a city car that can handle the occasional trip to the cabin, the RAV4 is a good choice and you should go ahead and get it. 

However, the 4Runner faces stiff competition in the current mid-sized SUV market with more comfortable, spacious, and fuel-efficient options that also perform better on the road. Before you settle on the 4Runner, consider its alternatives.

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