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2021 Toyota Highlander vs. 2021 Hyundai Palisade: Which Is Better?

Three-row, mid-sized SUVs are today’s family cars of choice. The 2021 Toyota Highlander and  2021 Hyundai Palisade are two of the leading contenders. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The Toyota Highlander was redesigned in 2020.
  • The Hyundai Palisade is a midsize 3-row SUV that replaced the Santa Fe XL in 2020.

2021 Toyota Highlander

2021 Toyota Highlander

Base Price: $35,985 / Read our 2021 Toyota Highlander Review

What we like: Standard V6 engine, Hybrid model’s stellar fuel economy, class-leading resale value, impressive reliability.

What we would change: More space in the third-row seat would be welcome.

Overview: The latest, fourth-generation Toyota Highlander offers more of the same qualities that have made the model a best-seller. A 3.5-liter V6 is again standard and pairs with an 8-speed automatic. It makes 295 horsepower, and yet fuel economy rivals that of competitors’ turbo fours. However, the real efficiency champ is the hybrid, which boasts EPA combined ratings as high as 36 mpg. Both versions can be had with FWD or AWD — the system in higher-spec trims gets torque vectoring across the rear axle for sharper handling. Max towing is 5,000 pounds for the V6 and 3,500 for the Hybrid. The base L and LE get a 3-person bench in the middle row, while the captain’s chairs are offered elsewhere. A third row is standard, and its cramped accommodations are one of the few knocks against the Highlander. Cargo space is mid-pack, while interior stowage cubbies are plentiful.

What’s new for 2021: The big news for 2021 is the arrival of a sporty-themed XSE trim level, which brings more aggressive styling along with a retuned suspension and steering but no powertrain changes. It slots between the XLE and Limited models. Additionally, the Highlander’s already robust suite of driver assists gets an upgrade.

Features and technology: Most models get an 8.0-inch touchscreen with a 12.3-inch unit reserved for the Platinum. Either way, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, and a Wi-Fi hotspot are included. Limited and Platinum come with navigation, and they also get leather. Even the base trim includes a full slate of active safety features that includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert arrive with the one-step-up LE.

What does the future hold: The Highlander was just redesigned for 2020, so we’re not likely to see any significant changes in the near term. See 2021 Toyota Highlander models for sale near you

2021 Hyundai Palisade

2021 Hyundai Palisade

Base Price: $33,675/ Read our 2021 Hyundai Palisade Review

What we like: Tons of safety and technology features; adult-usable third-row seat; usable luggage area

What we would change: Added engine options for more power

Overview: The 2021 Hyundai Palisade is a midsize 3-row SUV, and even at its least expensive, it comes packed with great content and plenty of space for people and their luggage. It’s very well thought out and offers plenty of luxury style amenities in a good-looking package.

What’s new for 2021: A new trim level comes in at the top of the 2021 Palisade range, Calligraphy. All versions gain LED headlights as standard, along with HD radio and wireless smartphone integration. SEL trim now comes with a sunroof and LED cabin lighting. The previously 4-pin pre-wiring setup for trailers is upgraded to a 7-pin arrangement.

Features and technology: The 2021 Hyundai Palisade comes in four versions. They include the standard SE, SEL, Limited and new for 2021, Calligraphy lines.

At the base, the SE comes with 18-in alloy wheels, LED headlights with automatic high beams, LED daytime running lights, heated outside mirrors, 8-occupant seating, cloth upholstery, power-folding second-row seats, selectable driving modes (all-wheel drive also includes a Snow mode and hill descent control), adaptive cruise control with stop/go, rear occupant alert, rear parking sensors, 8-in infotainment touchscreen, Bluetooth phone/audio streaming, HD radio, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, five USB ports, and an audio system with a quiet mode for the rear seats.

The SEL seats seven, swapping a pair of captain’s chairs into the second row, though you can opt for the bench seat in this trim to seat eight. It comes with remote engine start, keyless entry/ignition, roof rails, powered sunroof, 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, safe exit assistance, LED cabin lighting, and a self-dimming rearview mirror with a remote garage door opener.

The Limited adds onto these features and includes rain-sensing wipers, a dual-pane sunroof, ventilated front seats, heated/ventilated second-row captain’s chairs (no bench option), Nappa leather seating surfaces, head-up display, 360-degree camera system, 12.3-in digital driver information display, 64-color ambient cabin lighting, 630-watt/12-speaker Harmon Kardon surround-sound system.

The new Calligraphy line adds with things like trim-specific 20-in alloy wheels, dedicated front and rear-end treatments, standard all-wheel drive, puddle lamps, quilted leather door panels, and a perforated leather-covered steering wheel. It retails for $48,890.

What does the future hold: The Palisade will continue to get trim updates going forward. See 2021 Hyundai Palisade models for sale near you

Highlander vs. Palisade: Strengths comparison

Toyota Highlander Benefits: Reliability and resale.

Hyundai Palisade Benefits: Stellar warranty and luxury interior with lots of tech and safety.

2021 Toyota Highlander vs. 2021 Hyundai Palisade: Which is better?

For our money, we’d lean more towards the Palisade. You won’t see it coming and going everywhere, and the 10-year/100,000-mile warranty can’t be beaten. Find a Toyota Highlander for sale or Find a Hyundai Palisade for sale


Popular Powertrains 2021 Toyota Highlander 2021 Hyundai Palisade
Engine 3.5-liter V6 3.8-liter V6
Horsepower 295 hp @ 6,600 rpm 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm 262 lb-ft. @ 2,500 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy 24 mpg (21 city/29 highway) 22 mpg(19 city/26 highway)
Also Available 2.5L I-4 Hybrid; AWD n/a
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 10 years/100,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 5 years/ 60,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 8 8
Wheelbase 112.2 inches 114.2 inches
Overall Length 194.9 inches 196.1 inches
Width 76.0 inches 77.8 inches
Height 68.1 inches 68.9 inches
Turning Diameter 36.1 feet 38.7 feet
Headroom, Front 39.9 inches 40.7 inches
Headroom, 2nd row 39.4 inches 40.1 inches
Headroom, 3rd row 36.1 inches 37.8 inches
Legroom, Front 40.4 inches 44.1 inches
Legroom, 2nd row 41.0inches 42.4 inches
Legroom, 3rd row 27.7 inches 31.3 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 59.0 inches 61.2 inches
Shoulder Room, 2nd row 57.8 inches 60.8 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd row 55.0 inches 55.2 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 141.3 cubic feet 155.3 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 84.3 cubic feet 45.8 cubic feet




Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist based in L.A. and she's covered automotive topics for a variety of well-known outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CNN and Motor Trend. She's also a television and video host and regularly covers breaking news, social justice, technology, health and wellness, and science in addition to her car coverage. When she's not working on her next project she's... Read More about Abigail Bassett

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