Editor’s note: You may want to read more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as the 2016 Kia Sorento review, the 2016 Toyota Highlander review and Buying a Used Toyota Highlander: Everything You Need to Know.
If you’re interested in buying an excellent, new family-friendly midsize crossover, the 2016 Kia Sorento and the 2016 Toyota Highlander should be on your shopping list. Both offer reasonable pricing, lots of family-oriented equipment and recently updated designs.
But which one is better? And which one should you get? We’ve created a close comparison between the Sorento and the Highlander in order to find out, but first let’s see what’s new with both SUVs for the latest model year.
2016 Kia Sorento
The Sorento was completely redesigned for the 2016 model year. In addition to new styling and a revised powertrain lineup, the Sorento touts an improved interior, new gadgets, updated tech and a long list of new safety features compared to its predecessor. See all 2016 Kia Sorento models available near you
2016 Toyota Highlander
Following a recent redesign, the Highlander is unchanged for 2016, save for a towing package that now comes standard on all V6 models. See all 2016 Toyota Highlander models available near you
Because the Highlander and Sorento are so new, reliability experts at J.D. Power have not yet released data that specifically relates to either model. With that said, J.D. Power’s latest Vehicle Dependability Study, which rates overall manufacturers, places Toyota near the top of the list for reliability and Kia somewhere near the industry average.
When it comes to warranty coverage, however, the Sorento easily trumps the Highlander. The Kia offers 5 years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper protection, compared to 3 years or 36,000 miles for the Toyota. The Sorento also touts 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage, compared to 5 years or 60,000 miles for the Highlander.
Those warranty numbers are compelling, but so is Toyota’s higher rank in the Vehicle Dependability Study. Until J.D. Power releases specific scores for these models, this category is a draw.
The Sorento offers three engines. Base models use a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, which returns up to 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Drivers looking for more power can upgrade to a 240-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which offers up to 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy. Those who desire even more kick can opt for a 290-hp 3.3-liter V6, which returns up to 18 mpg city/26 mpg hwy.
Meanwhile, the Highlander also offers three engines. Base models use a 185-hp 2.7-liter 4-cylinder, which touts up to 20 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. Most drivers will pick the 270-hp 3.5-liter V6, which boasts up to 19 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. Drivers who especially prioritize fuel economy, however, can go for the pricey Highlander Hybrid, which makes an impressive 280 hp thanks to a hybrid version of the standard V6 that returns 27 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.
Our take: Gas-powered Highlander and Sorento models are fairly similar in terms of fuel economy, with the Sorento holding a very slight advantage over the Toyota. But for drivers who really want to increase their gas mileage, the Highlander Hybrid stands out above the Sorento — and virtually all other competitors, too.
In crash testing carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Highlander and Sorento each earned a perfect 5-star overall score. Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the Sorento a Top Safety Pick, while the Highlander edged out its competitor and earned the firm’s highest Top Safety Pick+ designation.
The reason for the Highlander’s better score is its automatic forward-collision braking system; the Sorento’s forward-collision system merely warns drivers of an impending accident. Otherwise, these two models offer virtually identical safety equipment, with each touting lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, side-curtain airbags and traction control with stability control.
However, between the Highlander’s advantage with the forward-collision braking system and the fact that it comes standard with a backup camera (which remains optional on the Sorento), it edges out the Kia in our safety category.
When it comes to technology, the Sorento and the Highlander are roughly on par, largely because both SUVs were redesigned so recently. Indeed, both tout virtually the same level of safety equipment, as described above, along with a wide range of other cutting-edge comfort and convenience amenities.
With that said, technology is another area where the Highlander once again has a slight advantage over the Sorento. Specifically, it offers a rear DVD player, automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers and a heated steering wheel, none of which you can get in the Kia. The Highlander also offers 14 optional stereo speakers compared to the Sorento’s 10. Although you have to opt for a high-end Highlander to experience the difference, the Toyota clearly has a leg up over the Kia in terms of tech.
If you’ve followed along, you’ve probably noticed that the Highlander has beaten out the Sorento in most of our categories so far. That remains true until possibly the most important category: pricing. The 2016 Sorento starts at $26,100 with shipping, while the Highlander starts at $31,500. That price gap only expands as you go through the trim levels, with high-end versions of the Highlander Hybrid starting over $50,000 — a difference of more than $8,000 compared to the top-end Sorento.
The result? If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want the Kia. Although it may not quite be better than the Highlander, it’s certainly a better deal.
Although the 2016 Toyota Highlander and the 2016 Kia Sorento are both popular midsize SUVs, what they offer is surprisingly different. The Sorento is all about value, touting a lot of popular equipment and a long warranty for the lowest possible price. By comparison, the Highlander is all about excellence, and it has the (much) higher price to prove it.
Our take: If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, you’ll want to go with the Sorento. The Highlander is for drivers who just want the best overall bang, regardless of buck.