2021 Kia Telluride vs 2021 Toyota Highlander

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  • 2021 Kia Telluride

    A green 2021 Kia Telluride is angled left.

    Starting at

    $31,990

    2021 Toyota Highlander

    A dark grey 2021 Toyota Highlander is angled right.

    Starting at

    $34,810

    213rd Row Cargo Space (cu.ft.)16
    12-Way PowerDriver Seat10-Way Power
    Heated and VentedSecond Row SeatsHeated Only

    When it comes to hauling around up to eight people, drivers have more choices than ever before. In fact, today's eight-passenger SUV is no longer considered a "behemoth land yacht," but instead, can be casually referenced as a "midsize SUV." With all of the options, however, it may be a little more difficult for drivers in this segment to decide which of these vehicles should receive the place of honor in their garage or parking space. Two of the best options are from Kia and Toyota, and the competition between the 2021 Kia Telluride vs 2021 Toyota Highlander is a fierce one. Kia and Toyota are both highly respected brands, which makes the decision a little less obvious.

    By laying out all of the details regarding these two vehicles in an "apples-to-apples" comparison, you'll have a better chance of understanding which option best fits your lifestyle, driving style, and budget. From the engine and accommodations to the trims, options, and - perhaps most importantly for your family - safety and driver assistance features, we'll review the 2021 Kia Telluride vs 2021 Toyota Highlander to help make this decision as easy as possible.

  • Performance

    A dark green 2021 Kia Telluride is driving on a desert road after winning the 2021 Kia Telluride vs 2021 Toyota Highlander comparison.

    While drivers in the midsize SUV segment are aware that they're not going to get racecar-level responsiveness or heavy-duty pickup towing capacity, they still want a vehicle that's enjoyable to drive and can do a few odd jobs between here and there. Both the 2021 Kia Telluride and 2021 Toyota Highlander have three rows of seats with the ability to seat up to 8 passengers, depending on trim and seating configuration. Both have a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 lbs. But that's just getting started.

    Telluride Powertrain

    Under the hood of the 2021 Kia Telluride is a 3.8L Lambda DOHC 24 valve V6 engine. Providing 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, this engine is ideal for day trips, weekend adventures, going to work, taking the team to practice, or completing that cross-country road trip you've been dreaming about. It's a go-anywhere type of drive with enough pep to make carpooling a treat.

    The 2021 Telluride comes standard as front-wheel drive, but Active On-Demand All-Wheel Drive is available on all trims. Front-wheel drive models have an EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 MPG city and 26 MPG highway, while all-wheel drive models receive 19 MPG city and 24 MPG highway. A three-row SUV will never be particularly fuel-efficient, but the Telluride is rather good for its segment.

    The front-wheel drive Telluride includes four selectable drive modes to adapt to driving conditions: Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Smart. The all-wheel drive version also provides an automatic lock all-wheel drive mode that responds to the road with the right level of traction, as well as Snow Mode. When equipped with all-wheel drive, the 2021 Telluride becomes a capable off-road cruiser for the rockier roads you might encounter.

    Highlander Powertrain

    The 2021 Toyota Highlander comes equipped with a 3.5L V6 engine, which provides 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. The Highlander also includes front-wheel drive as the standard offering, and all-wheel drive is optional on all trims. All-wheel drive models include Multi-Terrain Select, which includes modes that help the Highlander respond with appropriate traction to reduce slippage and wheelspin on a variety of surfaces, including Mud & Sand, Rock & Dirt, Snow, and Normal, dry roads.

    Drivers of the 2021 Toyota Highlander can anticipate a fuel economy of 21 MPG city and 29 MPG highway on front-wheel drive versions. The all-wheel drive models lose just a bit of economy, rating at 20 MPG city and 27 MPG highway. Equal parts zip and function, some drivers may find a little more acceleration than they expect out of a vehicle of the Highlander's size.

  • Trims

    A silver 2021 Kia Telluride is parked off-road with a view of rock formations.

    To make a good midsize SUV, the cabin has to be comfortable and accommodating with all of the right features to keep eight passengers entertained for the duration of the trip. The 2021 Kia Telluride is offered in four trims: LX, S, EX, and SX. All Telluride models include a touchscreen display with Kia's UVO Link app interface, as well as compatibility with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The touchscreens for base LX and next up S model measure 8 inches, while the upper EX and SX trims include a 10.25-inch display. The entertainment system for all trims includes Bluetooth connectivity, along with USB input.

    The LX trim and S trim both offer a total of five USB charging ports, while the EX and SX offer six. LX and S also come equipped with a soft Sofino synthetic leather seat upholstery, while the EX and SX trims bump that up to leather upholstery. Rear passengers in all trims will have their own independent air conditioning controls, but those riding in the EX and SX trims enjoy their own automatic climate control settings.

    Telluride Utility

    Those looking for eight-passenger seating with two rear bench seats should opt for the LX or EX trims. The S and SX are both equipped with second-row captain's chairs, which results in cozy, reclinable seats, but means one fewer passenger. The second-row bench in the LX and EX features a 60/40 split-fold, and all second-row seats are easily repositioned with Kia's One Touch slide and fold function. With all seats occupied, the 2021 Telluride provides 21 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold down the third row, and that increases to 46 cubic feet, and with the second and third rows stowed, that space maxes out at an impressive 87 cubic feet.

    Highlander Trims

    The 2021 Toyota Highlander is offered in six trims: L, LE, XLE, XSE, Limited, and Platinum. All trims include the Toyota Smart Key System with push-button start, LED headlamps, tri-zone automatic climate control, and an audio system that supports Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa. Power adjustable driver's seats are standard across the lineup, along with 5 USB charging ports. The LE trim includes an 8-inch touchscreen, which upgrades to a 12.3-inch version in the Platinum trim.

    The LE model adds leather touches to the steering wheel and shift knob, along with an upgraded six-speaker audio system. The XLE includes a power moonroof and wireless smartphone charging. Seats in the XLE and XSE models are SofTex trimmed, while those in the Limited and Platinum models are leather-trimmed. The XLE and Limited trims come equipped with second-row captain's chairs but can be optioned for 8-passenger capacity. The Platinum trim adds heated second-row seats, but unlike the Telluride SX, the Highlander is not available with vented second-row seats.

    Highlander Utility

    The eight-passenger configuration includes a second-row bench seat with 60/40 split and fold-flat capabilities, while the seven-passenger versions feature fold-down captain's chairs. The third row in all Highlanders is a 60/40 split fold-flat bench seat that can recline and includes sliding headrests for long-distance comfort. However, with all seats occupied, the 2021 Toyota Highlander provides just 16 cubic feet of cargo room. This increases to 48 cubic feet with the third row folded, and folding both rear rows boosts that to 84 cubic feet of total cargo space, but the Highlander never quite catches up to the Telluride when it comes to cargo space.

  • Safety

    The black and white interior of a 2021 Kia Telluride is shown.

    The most important part of any drive is getting everyone to their destination safe and sound. The 2021 Kia Telluride includes a robust safety and driver assistance package for all trims. This package includes everything from forward collision mitigation technology and adaptive cruise control to rear parking sensors and driver attention warning. Best of all, every one of the Telluride's advanced safety features other than forward parking assist is standard on even the base trim.

    Highlander Safety

    All 2021 Toyota Highlander models are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+, a comprehensive package of safety and driver assistance technology to aid drivers in getting everyone home safely. This package includes many of the major technologies found in the Telluride, including automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, but it does have some limitations. Most notably, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and parking assist are all optional rather than standard. Further, Toyota's Lane Tracing Assist only prevents you from accidentally leaving your lane, while Kia's more advanced Lane Following Assist keeps you centered in your lane.

    Kia Semi-Autonomous Driving

    Perhaps the coolest tech feature that is unique to the Telluride is Highway Driving Assist, which is standard on the EX and SX trims. When on mapped highways, this feature allows adaptive cruise control to adjust speed to match changing speed limits as well as surrounding traffic. Combine this with Kia's excellent Lane Following Assist, and the Telluride can nearly drive itself during long highway cruises.

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