We own a Toyota Tundra and Toyota Highlander. One is a pickup and one is an SUV.
I can answer this question in detail having used both extensively.
Like anyone giving an opinion, you should know my background situation because it impacts my answer. Here are some important facts:
- Married with two young boys.
- Live in the suburbs
- Job is in an office (not in the trades or construction where a pickup is a must-have vehicle)
- We don’t have an RV. We have a boat but it’s moored year-round.
You probably know where I’m going with this by now given my set of circumstances. Yup, for me, if I had one vehicle, it would be the SUV. Don’t get me wrong, the Tundra kicks ass. I love it. It’s super roomy. It’s come in handy more times than I can count.
My SUV vs Pickup Analysis:
Amount of stuff we can haul: Winner pickup (full size)
We’ve gone on road trips with both vehicles and we can get way more stuff in the bed of the pickup than the Highlander. And that’s with the Highlander’s rear bench folded down. It’s not close actually.
That said, if we want the pickup’s tonneau cover down and locked, my guess is it’s about the same; the Highlander might be able to haul more. In other words, we pile the pickup to big mound of stuff almost spilling out and then secure it with a Web-style bungee cord.
Gas mileage: Winner SUV
You know mileage is bad when an SUV wins. The Tundra mileage is horrendous. I knew that buying it. They weren’t kidding. It’s just my luck that gas prices have exploded upwards in the last year. Regardless, we get way more miles with the Highlander SUV per dollar than the Tundra (pickup).
Towing capacity: Winner pickup
This is a no-brainer. My Tundra is rated to haul up to 9,500 lbs. The Highlander can tow up to 5,000 lbs. (I’d be reluctant to tow something this heavy with the Highlander).
If you need to tow an RV or boat, get a pickup.
Interior space: Winner pickup
My pickup is a full-size cab. It’s huge and spacious for five people. I’m talking lots of head room and leg room for everyone, front and back. It feels luxurious.
The Highlander doesn’t skimp on space but you don’t get that expansive feel inside like you do in my Tundra.
Acceleration and handling: Winner SUV
The Highlander is a bit zippy. It’s not a sports car but it has a bit of punch from stopped. The Tundra is torque monster so acceleration isn’t great. It feels like it’s lagging when I gun it. It gets up to speed eventually but it’s not punchy. This is by design so that it has more towing and hauling power.
Seating Capacity: Winner SUV
Our SUV seats 7 people. That’s why we bought it. If no SUV offered seating for seven people, we’d have bought a minivan. My pickup truck seats five people. As a second vehicle, that’s great but with younger kids with friends, having a seven-seater is super handy.
Comfort: It’s a Tie
The pickup truck offers more space. The seats are pretty comfortable. The Highlander SUV we have has two captain’s chairs in the second row that are fantastic rear seats for kids and adults. I’d have
Getting in and out: Winner SUV
Part of the problem here is I have larger wheels that are raised on my pickup. Most people need to step on the running board to get in and out. It’s a bit of a hassle for most people, my kids included. The SUV is lower and far more easy to get in and out of.
Had I opted for a lower pickup truck, I’m sure this category would be a tie.
Better resale value: Winner pickup
I base this anecdotally at the time this was published. There’s a massive shortage of pickup trucks, especially Tundras (and Tacomas). I’ve heard people paying top dollar for used pickups. While I’m sure the used SUV market is also healthy, it’s not quite like the used pickup market.
Cool factor: Winner: pickup (maybe)
I never wanted a pickup. I still am not totally wild about having it other than it’s very useful. Before my Tundra I had Audi A7. Now that was a vehicle I loved driving. I will soon get another sports car just because I love driving them. Problem is I hardly drive as it is so it really would be a big waste of money.
My opinion aside, people seem to love and appreciate pickups. They’re a big deal where I live. I suspect they’re a bigger deal in other areas.
Parking ease: Winner SUV
My Tundra is a monster. Our Highlander 7-seater SUV isn’t small (most SUVs aren’t) but the Highlander is way easier to park in parking lots than the Tundra.
That said, there are SUVs much larger than the Highlander such as a Chevy Suburban which I suspect is just as hard to park in parking lots as my full-size pickup truck.
Off-road / Snow conditions: Winner Pickup
My Tundra with 4WD is amazing in snow and offroad. We put snow tires on the Highlander and it does just fine but it doesn’t power through snow like the Tundra with 4WD turned on. In fact, I love driving in snow with the pickup truck (and I drive in snow often where we live and all the skiing we do).
Carrying bikes: Winner Pickup
We have a four-bike capacity bike rack on the Highlander. It’s a Thule, which is great but it’s not as convenient as chucking bikes over the tailgate of my pickup with Dakine pickup truck pad.
That said, you need to be pretty tall and strong to get bikes over the tailgate. For smaller people, a traditional bike rack is better (and it’s still not easy).
Overall Winner: SUV
Okay, pickup won more categories but SUV won on categories more important to us for now. That’s how it goes. It really boils down seating capacity and ease-of-driving for now. In the future, pickup truck will probably win but I doubt it’ll ever beat a luxury sports car for me. I miss my Audi A7 days.
Can a pickup truck serve adequately as a family vehicle?
Yes, absolutely it can. The cabs these days are super spacious. Many families don’t get seven-seater vehicles so if it comes down to a five-seater SUV vs a five-seater pickup truck, I’d probably go for the pickup truck because of the additional utility.
If we had to choose the pickup OR SUV, what would we choose?
We’d keep the SUV (Highlander) and give up the pickup. It’s a better fit with young kids. We specifically bought the 7-seater Highlander so we could haul kids around. The extra seating comes in handy all the time.