Upon its debut in 2019 for the 2020 model year, the Kia Telluride decisively captured the top spot in Edmunds’ three-row midsize SUV rankings and pushed aside more established rivals. One of those was the Toyota Highlander.
But now Toyota is countering with its fully redesigned 2020 Highlander, which starts the model’s fourth generation. The new Highlander has more cargo capacity, a nicer interior and new technology features. But is it enough to unseat the Kia Telluride?
COMFORT AND REFINEMENT
Both SUVs seat up to eight passengers or seven people if you opt for the available second-row captain’s chairs. Go this route and you get second-row seats that are almost as comfortable as the front seats.
The big difference in this category comes down to third-row seating. The Telluride’s third-row seat has more comfortable padding and a higher seat cushion height. In the Highlander, the rearmost passengers — particularly if they are adults — will feel cramped in comparison.
As for interior design, Edmunds experts find the Telluride’s dashboard more cohesive-looking than the Highlander’s. Both have easy-to-use controls; it’s just that the Telluride is a little more stylish going about it. The materials quality feels slightly better in the Telluride, with a higher-grade leather and more consistent craftsmanship.
The Telluride can hold up to 21 cubic feet behind its third row, while the Highlander is limited to 16 cubic feet. That’s enough of a difference to allow you to fit the equivalent of a couple extra carry-on suitcases in the Telluride. The advantage swaps if you fold those third-row seats down; the Toyota can hold 48.4 cubic feet to the Kia’s 46 cubic feet. The maximum cargo capacity with the second and third rows stowed leans back in favour of the Telluride’s 87 cubic feet to the Highlander’s 84.3 cubic feet.
THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE
The Kia Telluride and Toyota Highlander are essentially neck and neck in regard to performance specifications. Both have a standard V6 engine that provides about 290 horsepower, and both offer optional all-wheel drive. In Edmunds’ testing, these SUVs accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which is an average time for this class of vehicle. Around town, however, the Highlander feels a little quicker to respond from when you put your foot on the accelerator to when the vehicle begins to move.
Braking power is also similar, though the Telluride needed about 10 fewer feet to perform a maximum-braking stop from 60 mph. Both SUVs are surprisingly capable on a winding road and give you confidence in their handling abilities. Overall, the majority of drivers will find both SUVs equally easy and pleasurable to drive.
The 2020 Kia Telluride and Toyota Highlander are similarly equipped in their base trim levels, though the Kia’s $33,060 starting price (including destination) is $2,660 less than the Toyota’s $35,720. The Telluride’s price advantage increases as you progress through higher-trimmed models.
Comparable trim levels for the Telluride also typically comes with an extra feature or two that might not become available until a next-step-up Highlander. For example, the Telluride’s base LX trim starts you out with simulated leather upholstery. To get the same feature in the Highlander — instead of cloth — you have to move up to the midgrade XLE.
As for fuel economy, the EPA estimates the front-wheel-drive Telluride gets 23 mpg in combined city/highway driving; the front-drive Highlander gets 24 mpg. Toyota also produces a Highlander Hybrid estimated to get 36 mpg. Kia doesn’t currently offer a hybrid version of the Telluride.
Toyota’s reputation for reliability is often an enticement for car shoppers, though real-world longevity is affected by many external influences. Kia, for its part, offers a more generous warranty to potentially ease your mind. You get five years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage compared to Toyota’s more typical three years and 36,000 miles. Kia’s powertrain warranty is longer too. You do save a bit of money for maintenance on the Highlander, however. Toyota also includes the first two years of scheduled maintenance for free.
EDMUNDS SAYS: The 2020 redesign of the Toyota Highlander represents a marked improvement over its predecessor. Its greatest liability is its limited third-row seat space, but it’s otherwise a strong choice in its class. Overall, however, the Telluride is a comprehensively better SUV at a more accessible price.