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2018 Toyota Highlander vs. 2018 Nissan Pathfinder: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Eric Brandt September 2018

If you're looking for a minivan alternative with three rows of seats, then two crossovers that are likely on your shopping list are the Toyota Highlander and the Nissan Pathfinder. They both have SUV versatility, carlike driving dynamics and enough family-friendly features available to make them desirable family transportation.

The Highlander and the Pathfinder have a lot in common on the surface, but when you dig into what each vehicle has to offer, the differences start to reveal themselves. Let's take a look at what's different, what's similar and which midsize SUV is better for you and your family.

Exterior

Despite being in the same class, the proportions of these two SUVs are a little different. The Nissan Pathfinder is six inches longer, one inch wider and two inches taller than the Toyota Highlander. Six inches might not sound like a lot, but that extra length is enough to make the Pathfinder a little less maneuverable, especially in parking lots. The slightly bigger size, however, gives it some advantages that we'll get into shortly.

The Nissan Pathfinder has some heritage as a rugged off-roader, but it doesn't carry much of that heritage in the exterior design of the current model. It might not look like an old Pathfinder, but it does look like a modern crossover that's boxy enough to be practical and curvy enough to be stylish.

The Toyota Highlander, like many Toyotas, is not exactly a head-turner. It isn't an ugly SUV, it just doesn't stand out very much. That said, the Highlander has a nice, clean design with a bit of a premium look that might make your neighbors think you spent a little more than you really did on your Toyota.

Styling is different for these two SUVs, and we don't think one is clearly better looking than the other. The size difference does change the visual impression of each vehicle, and which one is better looking is entirely up to you.

Interior

The interiors of both of these SUVs are spacious and comfortable. For interior design, we think the Highlander is a lot more modern than the Pathfinder, which is starting to look rather dated on the inside. The inside of the Pathfinder doesn't look bad, and it functions perfectly well, it just looks like it's from an older vehicle than the fresher interior in the Highlander.

As for interior space, the bigger size of the Pathfinder affords it a bit more space on the inside than the Highlander. The second- and third-row passengers of the Pathfinder will find themselves with a little more legroom than they would in a Highlander. The Highlander has three seats in the third row, and the Pathfinder only has two, but the seats are more cramped in the way back of the Toyota than they are in the Nissan.

The Pathfinder can also carry a little more cargo than the Highlander can when all of the seats are folded up. In both SUVs, all of the seats behind the first row can fold flat to maximize cargo space, and when all of the seats are folded down, the Toyota actually has a little more room than the Nissan.

If a lot of interior space is a priority for you, you might like the slightly bigger Pathfinder more than the Highlander. If you want a really nice looking modern interior, however, you'll probably appreciate the Toyota's interior design.

Mechanicals

The Toyota Highlander has more variety under the hood than the Nissan Pathfinder. The only engine available in the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 284 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque. That's enough grunt to give the Pathfinder a maximum towing capacity of 6,000 pounds. Fuel economy is pretty good at 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway.

The 2018 Toyota Highlander is available with an inline four engine, which the Pathfinder can't. The base engine for the Highlander is a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder with middling performance and fuel economy. It makes 185 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque and only returns 20 mpg city/24 mpg hwy. The better engine in the Highlander is a 3.5-liter V6 similar to the one in the Pathfinder. The difference is that the Highlander's V6 beats the Pathfinder's on paper by making 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque while getting slightly better fuel economy at 21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy. You also have the option of upgrading to a hybrid variant of the V6 which gets 30 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.

One mechanical plus of the Pathfinder over the Highlander is slightly better towing capacity. The Nissan has a maximum towing capacity of 6,000 pounds, which beats the Toyota's of 5,000 pounds. That's not a huge difference, but that higher rating can make towing a little easier and more comfortable with the Pathfinder than the same load would be for the Highlander.

The Pathfinder and the Highlander both come standard with front-wheel drive, but the Highlander is available with all-wheel drive, and the Pathfinder is available with a more rugged and traditional 4-wheel drive setup with a lock mode. That makes the Pathfinder a bit more capable off-road than the Highlander when it's equipped with 4WD.

Features and Technology

The Pathfinder and the Highlander can both be similarly equipped with nice features like leather seats, a sunroof, a backseat entertainment system, navigation and premium audio. They have a few differences, however, when it comes to safety technology.

Every Toyota Highlander comes equipped with the Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) safety tech suite, which comes with dynamic radar cruise control, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert and automatic high beams. Safety features like these are available on the Pathfinder, but the fact that they all come standard on every 2018 Highlander can provide a nice peace of mind.

Pricing

These two SUVs have very similar starting prices. The Pathfinder has a starting MSRP of $31,040, and the Highlander starts at $31,230. Pricing continues to be similar as you work your way up the model range with the high-end models getting into the low $40,000 range. It's worth noting that every Pathfinder comes with a V6 at no extra cost since that's the only available engine, but it will cost you extra to upgrade to the similar V6 in the Highlander.

Conclusion

These SUVs are so similar, so which one is better is up to your personal preferences. If you want an SUV that's a little bigger with a little more off-road capability, then the Nissan Pathfinder is probably up your alley. If you're more concerned about fuel economy and safety, then the Toyota Highlander probably has more of what you're looking for. Either way, both of these crossovers are a strong value for their own reasons.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Toyota Highlander vs. 2018 Nissan Pathfinder: Which Is Better? - Autotrader