Three-row, mid-sized SUVs are everywhere today. The 2021 Toyota Highlander and 2021 Kia Telluride are two of the leading contenders, but which is better?
- The Toyota Highlander was redesigned in 2020.
- The 2021 Kia Telluride was an all-new vehicle for 2020. It remains unchanged for 2021.
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 Kia Telluride
Base Price: $31,990 / Read our 2021 Kia Telluride Review
What we like: Roomy and upscale cabin; available self-leveling suspension; standard safety and driver-assist systems are ample; 4-wheel lock on all-wheel drive.
What we would change: Add another engine choice.
Overview: The Telluride debuted just last year as one of the biggest and boldest SUVs to date from Kia. This 3-row family crossover wasted no time pitting itself against established rivals like the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Toyota Highlander. And by many counts, the Telluride comes out on top. The 2021 Kia Telluride has seating for eight passengers (or seven when fitted with second-row captain’s seats), is filled with technology, comes standard with a full suite of active safety and driver-assistance features, and does it all at a price below that of its rivals. Throw in a standard V6, brawny yet handsome looks, one of the most spacious cabins in its class, and an unbeatable warranty that covers 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain, and it’s little wonder Kia dealers have trouble keeping the Telluride in stock. The Kia Telluride also was named one of our Best New Cars for 2020. Whether it serves as a family SUV that offers a lot of great-looking metal for the money or as an amenity-laden road-tripper that could pass for a luxury SUV inside, the 2021 Kia Telluride is one of the most recommendable midsize crossovers around.
What’s new for 2021: For its second year on sale, the Kia Telluride is offering the Nightfall Edition on EX and SX trims that give this SUV a more aggressive look thanks to blacked-out exterior aesthetics. The Kia Telluride Nightfall Edition is available in several colors, including the exclusive Wolf Gray. The towing trailer harness has been upgraded from 4-pin to 7-pin, and a remote engine start button has been added to the key fob. LED headlights are now included in the EX Premium Package.
Features and technology: The 2021 Kia Telluride is available in four grades: LX, S, EX, and SX. AWD is a $2,000 option on all trim levels. Prices listed are before the $1,170 destination charge. Adding all-wheel drive (AWD) is $2,000, except for the topline SX model, in which it’s $1,900.
The 2021 Telluride LX comes with Sofino synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear-passenger air conditioning, keyless entry with push-button start, one-touch sliding and folding middle seats, sound-absorbing windshield glass, rear occupant alert, leather-wrapped tilt, and telescope steering wheel, 6-way manual adjust driver’s seat and seating for eight. The standard infotainment system bundles an 8-inch touchscreen, 6-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and five USB inputs. A bevy of safety features come standard (see Safety section below). Like all new Kia vehicles, the Telluride has a warranty that includes 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain. Beyond AWD, the LX has no factory options.
The 2021 Telluride S has all of the LX’s standard equipment plus 20-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, heated front seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, seating for seven with second-row captain’s chairs, and a leather-wrapped shift knob. Options for the S include seating for eight via a second-row bench and second-row armrest with cupholders.
The EX adds S standard features plus the second-row center armrest as standard, along with 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, an 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, ventilated front seats, seating for eight with a split-folding second-row bench seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic defog system, a 10.25-inch touchscreen, a navigation system, a wireless phone charger, six USB ports, a smart hands-free liftgate, LED taillights, power-folding outboard mirrors, acoustic front side windows, and auto-dimming rearview mirror. Factory options for the EX include a towing package with self-leveling rear suspension, LED headlights, 20-inch wheels, and a heated steering wheel. The new Nightfall Edition is also available beginning on this trim.
To the EX’s standard features, the 2021 Telluride SX adds 20-inch black alloy wheels, LED projector-style headlights, LED fog lights, reverse tilt-down outboard mirrors, a dual sunroof with power front tilt/slide, a 7-inch color gauge cluster, 64-color cabin mood lamp, stainless-steel pedals, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, memory for driver’s seat and outboard mirrors, an upgraded 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system, blind-spot monitoring, high-beam assist, front parking sensors, and a 360-degree surround-view monitor. SX factory options include EX’s options plus rain-sensing wipers, a premium cloth headliner, premium Nappa leather seating, second-row heated and ventilated seats, a 110-volt power outlet, and a head-up display. The SX can also get the new Nightfall treatment.
You get all this plus an impressive amount of active safety and driver-assistance features, including lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. On the EX and SX models, you get Highway Driving Assist which can recognize speed limits and adjust speed appropriately.
What does the future hold: The Telluride is only in its second year of production. We expect small trim changes over the next few years but nothing significant. See 2021 Kia Telluride models for sale near you.
Highlander vs. Telluride: Strengths comparison
Toyota Highlander Benefits: Reliability and resale.
Kia Telluride Benefits: Luxurious interior; ample safety and tech; great warranty.
2021 Toyota Highlander vs. 2021 Kia Telluride: Which is better?
If you’re looking for something with a bit more luxury touch, we think you should opt for the 2021 Kia Telluride. It not only comes packed with plenty of features and amenities, but it also gets Kia’s stellar 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Find a Toyota Highlander for sale or Find 2021 Kia Telluride models for sale
|Popular Powertrains||2021 Toyota Highlander||2021 Kia Telluride|
|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 @ 5,200|
|Transmission||8-spd automatic||8-spd automatic|
|Fuel Economy||24 mpg (21 city/29 hwy)||23 mpg (20 city/26 hwy)|
|Also Available||2.5-liter I4 Hybrid; AWD||AWD|
|Warranty||3 years/36,000 miles||5 years/60,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/60,000 miles||10 years/100,000 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||196.9 inches|
|Width||76.0 inches||78.3 inches|
|Height||68.1 inches||68.9 inches|
|Turning Diameter||36.1 feet||38.8 feet|
|Headroom, Front||39.9 inches||40.9 inches|
|Headroom, 2nd row||39.4 inches||40.2 inches|
|Headroom, 3rd row||36.1 inches||38.1 inches|
|Legroom, Front||40.4 inches||41.4 inches|
|Legroom, 2nd row||41.0inches||42.4 inches|
|Legroom, 3rd row||27.7 inches||31.4 inches|
|Shoulder Room, Front||59.0 inches||61.6 inches|
|Shoulder Room, 2nd row||57.8 inches||61.2 inches|
|Shoulder Room, 3rd row||55.0 inches||55.3 inches|
|EPA Passenger Volume||141.3 cubic feet||178.1 cubic feet|
|EPA Cargo Volume||84.3 cubic feet||87.0 cubic feet|