Toyota Grand Highlander vs. Toyota Sienna: Which Hybrid is Best for Families?

We had the chance to compare the Toyota Grand Highlander and the Toyota Sienna to see which best suited our family. WIth lots of space to loads gear and hold people, the winner is evident.

Both The Toyota Grand Highlander And The Toyota Sienna Are Great Family Cars.
The Toyota Grand Highlander and the Toyota Sienna are great family cars. Photo: Erica Mueller

Where is the Tipping Point between the Toyota Grand Highlander and the Sienna?

“Seats seven,” the TV ad says. You look at your partner and ask if they mean the seven dwarves from Snow White or if they’ve got the crazy contraption from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on board cause it sure doesn’t look like that SUV you just saw on your screen could hold seven adults. But that was before the words “grand” and “long” were added to SUV titles.

So, can an extra-long mid-size SUV really compete with a minivan? I had the opportunity to compare the Toyota Grand Highlander to the Toyota Sienna and see for myself which of these 7-passenger Toyotas won the prize.

Both vehicles we drove were hybrids, and both came with AWD but are available as FWD only. Both the Grand Highlander Hybrid, which starts at $45,020, and the Sienna Hybrid, with a starting price of $37,865, had USB ports in every row, hands-free lift gate opening, and all of the Toyota safety features we love.

Now, onto some of the major differences between the two vehicles.

Related: Toyota Grand Highlander: Roomy, Luxe, Easy on the Gas

Both The Toyota Grand Highlander And The Toyota Sienna Are Great Family Cars.

The Toyota Grand Highlander and the Toyota Sienna are great family cars. Photo: Erica Mueller

Hybrid Engines and Fuel Economy: Grand Highlander vs. Sienna 

Before we get started, we should note that the Grand Highlander we drove for this comparison had the 2.5L 4-cylinder hybrid engine, making it both fuel efficient and comparable in power to the Toyota Sienna minivan with the same engine. The Grand Highlander is also available with a less efficient all-gas engine, which would give you the same size vehicle, but not the same efficiency. The all-gas Grand Highlander does have a larger towing capacity, which could make it a smarter choice for those wishing to haul a small camper or boat. Now that that is out of the way…

Related: A Mom’s Take on Why the Toyota Sienna is so Popular

Interior Space Considerations In The Toyota Grand Highlander And Toyota Sienna.

Interior space considerations in the Toyota Grand Highlander and Toyota Sienna. Photo: Erica Mueller

This Hybrid or That: Toyota Grand Highlander vs. Toyota Sienna

Trying both of these vehicles in the same week for a road trip gave us a really good look at how child seats would fit in each and how teens and adults would fit in the third row. For reference, I have a 16-year-old who is 6’ 2”, and for this trip, he and his 12-year-old brother would need to sit in the third row with their 3-year-old sister, who is in a front-facing booster seat. This would allow for the grandparents to sit in the second row. Whichever vehicle we didn’t choose would be driven by my husband’s brother with his wife and their two kids as passengers.

So, we tried putting all three of our kids across the 3rd row of the Grand Highlander Hybrid and the 3rd row of the Sienna Hybrid. In the Grand Highlander, the boys’ shoulders couldn’t relax, and they had zero spare room. So, while all three kids fit, they weren’t comfortable enough for a long ride. The Sienna’s back seat is obviously wider because the boys had hip and shoulder room, and both of them were able to use their laptops for homework on the trip.

I feel like either vehicle would be great for multiple child seats and easy to install and access in the second row. But if you need to have child seats in the third row, consider how many of them and if a kid will need to sit between two seats back there. In the Grand Highlander, that could be a tight squeeze.

For rear-facing seats, I would prefer the Sienna because the hands-free sliding doors are great when your arms are full of baby, seat, diaper bag, and more.

Related: No Minivan Shame: 6 Reasons Why Minivans Are the Best Thing Ever

Cargo Space Considerations In The Toyota Grand Highlander And The Toyota Sienna.

Cargo space considerations in the Toyota Grand Highlander and the Toyota Sienna. Photo: Erica Mueller

More Significant Findings

Our second test was getting the grandparents in and out of the vehicles. We found ease of entry into the Sienna Hybrid won, hands down, thanks to the low ground clearance and the sliding doors. It’s just harder to get mobility-challenged people into an SUV with swinging doors.

The final test was luggage space. While the Grand Highlander’s luggage space is larger than the original Highlander, it still does not compare to the Sienna, thanks to the minivan’s deep space in the floor vs the Grand Highlander’s flat cargo space.

The rear seats in the Grand Highlander Hybrid fold completely flat for a nice big cargo space, and the second row also folds, but you’ll end up with a little void where the space between the captains chairs would be. The Sienna’s 3rd row folds down, then flips back into the deep cargo well, creating a nice flat loading area for cargo too. Then, depending on whether you have a bench or bucket seats, you may end up with a void when the 2nd-row seats are laid down.

The Toyota Grand Highlander Has An Exterior With Presence.

The Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid has an exterior with presence. Photo: Erica Mueller

Grand Highlander Hybrid Specs

  • MPG: Up to an EPA-estimated 34 MPG Combined Rating (37 Highway, 34 City)
  • Towing capacity: 3500 lbs.
  • Cargo space behind the 3rd row: 20.6 cu. ft.
  • Audio multimedia: 12.3-in. multimedia touchscreen
  • Ground clearance: 8”
  • Starting MSRP: $45,020
Toyota Sienna Minivan

This Toyota Sienna Hybrid minivan looks pretty comfy on the beach. Photo: Erica Mueller

Toyota Sienna Hybrid Specs

  • MPG: Up to an EPA-estimated 36 MPG Combined Rating (36 Highway, 36 City)
  • Towing capacity: 3,500 lbs.
  • Cargo space behind the 3rd row: 33.5 cu. Ft.
  • Audio multimedia: 9-in. multimedia touchscreen display
  • Ground Clearance: 6.37”
  • Starting MSRP: $37,685
The Toyota Grand Highlander And The Sienna

The Toyota Grand Highlander and the Sienna have lots of great features. Photo: Erica Mueller

Toyota Sienna or Grand Highlander – Which Hybrid Wins at Home?

There is a difference between road-tripping and daily life, and when I’m thinking about something to buy, I want something that serves me daily, something I enjoy driving, and something I feel safe in.

For daily use, I think we could live with the Grand Highlander Hybrid. It wouldn’t be often that the grandparents would be with us, and for short drives to town and back, the boys could handle being a little close. Plus, we wouldn’t need luggage space for seven around town. The Grand Highlander won me over with its handling, updated multimedia system, and bolder exterior design. I felt like I could get everyone where they needed to go without settling for the mom van, and I really liked the way it looked.

But if travel were something we did often or if I had babies in rear-facing seats, we’d have to choose the Sienna Hybrid for its ease of loading, added cargo space behind the 3rd row, and comfort for the 3rd-row passengers. And when it comes to minivans, the Sienna really does have some pep on the road. This is one I never mind driving because there is nothing sluggish about it!

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A web developer, digital marketing consultant, auto journalist, truck expert, photographer and lover of gadgets, Erica is a textbook... More about Erica Mueller