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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

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A close up is shown of the headlight on a black 2021 Kia Telluride Nightfall.

The Battle of the SUVs: 2021 Kia Telluride vs 2021 Toyota Highlander

Full-size SUVs are few and far between in today’s world, where the compact crossover dominates the streets. However, there are a couple of models that stand tall amongst a sea of petite vehicles. Today, we will kickstart a battle of two of the finest full-size SUVs on the market – the 2021 Kia Telluride vs 2021 Toyota Highlander. The Highlander has been on the market for twenty years now, while the Telluride was only released last year, but the Kia hit the ground running and is rapidly becoming a favorite with drivers across America.

Size and Space

Large families need plenty of room to grow and travel comfortably. That’s why the full-size SUV is such a popular class with this demographic. Offering seating for eight people, the 2021 Kia Telluride still provides 21 cubic feet of space behind the back row so you can stash backpacks and groceries easily. When you don’t need the third row of seating, simply fold it down to reveal 46 cubic feet of storage room. If you need even more space than that, you can also for the second row flat to gain access to 87 cubic feet.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander can also seat up to eight people. However, its cargo area is lacking. It only offers 16 cubic feet of room behind the third row, which may leave you unable to fit everyone and their stuff. Even when you fold down all the seats, the Highlander remains a bit behind the Telluride, with its maximum cargo area measuring in at 84.3 cubic feet. While both SUVs offer the same number of seats, the 2021 Kia Telluride has a lot more cargo space.

Power and Performance

Popping the hoods of these SUVs will reveal some powerful engines. The 2021 Kia Telluride is fitted with a robust 3.8-liter V6 motor that makes 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with an 8-speed automatic transmission and FWD (AWD is optional), this powertrain can pull up to 5,000 lbs. It also has a pretty good fuel economy rated at an average of 23 MPG combined (20 city/26 highway).

Meanwhile, the 2021 Toyota Highlander is powered by a similar 3.5-liter V6 engine that pumps out 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. Also including an 8-speed automatic transmission and FWD with optional AWD, this powertrain is rated to pull the same 5,000 lbs as the Kia’s. The estimated fuel economy is about 24 MPG combined (21 city/29 highway), which may seem better than the Kia Telluride. However, when you keep in mind that the Telluride is larger, it’s not surprising that it has a marginally lower fuel economy.

A close up is shown of the engine on a 2021 Kia Telluride after winning the 2021 Kia Telluride vs 2021 Toyota Highlander battle.

Standard Safety

Now, let’s switch gears for a moment and talk about safety. One of the key factors in deciding which full-size SUV is right for your family is safety systems. Luckily, the Kia Telluride comes with an impressive list of standard technologies. Every Telluride is equipped with adaptive cruise control, which is a fan-favorite. This system allows you to set your desired speed and maintain an appropriate distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. In other words, it will adjust the speed according to the flow of traffic.

Blindspot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are both standard features as well. These will alert you to any other vehicles traveling beside you and cross from behind. Lane-keeping assist is another safety feature that families love. If your vehicle begins to drift outside the designated lane, the system will gently guide the Telluride back to the appropriate lane. Finally, forward collision warning completes the 2021 Kia Telluride’s safety package. It will alert you if any obstacles are detected to be in your path.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander also comes with some great safety features. Every trim includes the Toyota Safety Sense suite that comes with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and lane-tracing assist. Automatic high beams and a traffic sign reader function are also included. While this standard safety package is good, it’s not as good as Kia’s suite – it’s missing blindspot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems. Even with all its optional features, the Highland has nothing that can compare to Kia’s Highway Driving Assist, which will keep you centered in your lane and automatically adjust your speed to match changing speed limits.

Standard Infotainment

The 2021 Kia Telluride is available in four trims, and the 2021 Toyota Highlander is offered in six. While each trim level is unique, there are certain features that most families look for before making a final decision. One of those features has to do with entertainment.

Looking at the base model, the Telluride comes standard with an advanced infotainment system displayed on a large 8-inch touchscreen. Operating with Bluetooth, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay, you can enjoy music streaming via the 6-speaker sound system. The Telluride also offers up to six USB charging ports, three 12V power outlets, and a 110V power inverter located throughout the cabin, allowing everyone to keep their devices charged.

As for the 2021 Toyota Highlander, it offers similar features with a standard 8-inch touchscreen interface, a 6-speaker stereo, and compatibility with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. However, Toyota only provides four USB charging ports to share between its eight passengers, so you may have trouble keeping all your phones, tablets, and computers charged up on long trips.

Premium Infotainment

When you step up to higher trims, you will get better features. For the Telluride, these can include a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, wireless charging pad, navigation system, and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. You’ll find most of these features on the EX and SX trims. Meanwhile, you can expect to find a wireless charging pad on the Toyota Highlander XLE. A navigation system has been added to XSE trim, and an 11-speaker JBL stereo is equipped on the Limited model. The touchscreen doesn’t get enlarged until you reach the Platinum trim.

A dark red 2021 Toyota Highlander is shown from the side with a man getting in the vehicle.

Interior Options

As for comfort and convenience, these features also change depending on the trim. The Telluride LX base model comes with faux leather upholstery and rear heating and air conditioning vents. There is comfortable seating for eight people, and this particular model is quite affordable for families on a budget. The second trim is the S model, which comes with a sunroof, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and heated front seats. Next, the EX mid-level trim adds power-adjustable settings to the front passenger seat and leather upholstery for a more sophisticated look. Ventilated seats keep you cool in the summer, and dual-zone automatic climate control allows you to set temperature bubbles for comfort. Back-seat sunshades are also included. Finally, the top-tier SX model gets dual sunroofs and driver-seat memory settings.

On the other hand, the 2021 Toyota Highlander L base model gets a power-adjustable driver’s seat and tri-zone climate control. The second trim is the LE, and it includes leather wrapping on the shift knob and steering wheel. The XLE adds a sunroof, faux leather upholstery, and heated seats. Next, the XSE installs ambient lighting. Then, the Limited gets leather upholstery and ventilated front seats. Finally, the Platinum adds heated seats to the second row. As you can see, the Kia Telluride gives you more bang for your buck while the Toyota Highlander spreads these features out to make you pay more money.

Find a Full-Size SUV

In the battle between the 2021 Kia Telluride vs 2021 Toyota Highlander, we think it’s clear who the winner is. As the larger SUV with better safety and comfort features, we prefer the Kia Telluride. If you would like to take one out for a test drive and see if this popular new SUV will work for your lifestyle, get in touch with your local Kia dealership today!

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