2020 Toyota Highlander vs. Kia Telluride: Compare Crossover SUVs

December 18, 2019
2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE

The 2020 Toyota Highlander and the 2020 Kia Telluride pony up the family-carrying virtues of a good old-fashioned station wagon, even if we pronounce it “crossover SUV.”

One’s built in Indiana, the other’s built in Georgia—but which one’s built for the win?

At a glance, it’s obvious. With fine ride and handling, a passel of high-tech features, and strong V-6 acceleration, the 2020 Highlander rings up a TCC Rating of 6.6, before any crash-test ratings have been published. The 2020 Telluride, with its raffish lines and an excellent warranty, ratchets up to a TCC Rating of 7.3.

But wait, there’s more.

First, the basics. The 2020 Highlander adopts a new style that takes the perfectly prosaic look of last year’s model and pumps it up at ground level. The side sills go steroidal, the grille gets hefty jowls and the rear end jacks up in an athletic stance, while the interior strikes a mild sci-fi note. It’s interesting and well-executed, if not as dashing and on-point tasteful as the Telluride’s mix of right angles and just-right textures. Kia’s struck gold in the Telluride’s quasi-GMC stance, especially in higher trims with bigger wheels. The Telluride cabin drapes wide-screen infotainment across a rectangular-themed dash that looks most luxurious in off-white synthetic leather but wears better in a chocolate brown. It has an assured, confident look that bests Kia’s own Stinger.

2020 Kia Telluride - Best Car To Buy 2020

2020 Kia Telluride - Best Car To Buy 2020

Neither V-6 in the Telluride or Highlander likes to dawdle. Toyota’s 295-horsepower engine barely outpoints the Kia’s 291-hp unit, and both snip off gearchanges in quick, blip-free measure. Fuel economy gives the Toyota a mild advantage at 23-24 mpg combined, versus Kia’s 21 mpg combined rating. On the road, both ride on strut and multi-link suspensions, but the Telluride leans toward an absorbent, fuss-free ride. The Highlander comports itself more like its smaller kin, the RAV4. Toyota’s made marked strides in ride and handling on its new vehicle platforms, and the Highlander’s crisp steering and well-damped ride deserve note.

For interior room and storage, both the Highlander and Telluride excel, though a Pilot or Pacifica sport better third-row seats. Toyota’s boosted the Highlander’s footprint and it pays off in excellent comfort in rows one and two, just as in the Telluride. Kia’s flatter front seats flatter us better than the cupped buckets in the Highlander, but both surround passengers with lots of small-item storage. Third-row seats in the Highlander and Telluride are less useful than in the biggest three-row vehicles, but each can manage adults for short stints. In cargo volume, they’re nearly identical, with about 46 cubic feet behind the second-row seats.

Both the Kia and the Toyota have standard automatic emergency braking, as well as blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. The Telluride has earned a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, and it hasn’t been tested by the NHTSA. The Highlander hasn’t been tested by either.

That’s where the Highlander might sneak ahead of the Telluride. With a perfect score in safety, the 2020 Highlander would tie the Telluride’s current TCC Rating of 7.3, though the Telluride can pick up another point from the NHTSA, too.

We’ve saved the best for last. If gas mileage is a strong concern, the Highlander can add a handful of points, and walk away with a clear victory. Toyota’s excellent Highlander Hybrid pairs an inline-4 with batteries and motors for an eye-popping 36 mpg combined in front-drive versions. It’s less power, for sure, but in our drive of the new Hybrid, the 2020 Highlander only gave up a little ground in acceleration, while it posts estimated fuel-economy numbers about 60 percent higher than any Telluride.

A $39,320 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE scores with its standard power features, touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, power driver seat, and power tailgate. Loaded, it’s more than $50,000. The $40,200 Telluride EX offers no hybrid drivetrain, but has all-wheel drive, a sunroof, and leather upholstery, while the power-move Telluride SX for about $45,000, gains wide-screen displays and soft nappa leather, a luxury SUV in all but name.

Powered by gas alone, the 2020 Telluride’s our clear winner. With electric thrown into the mix, the Highlander Hybrid has us convinced that fuel economy still matters.

Summary

7.3
Expert Rating
There’s substance to the 2020 Kia Telluride’s style.
6.8
Expert Rating
The 2020 Toyota Highlander puts practicality above all else, but handling and styling make worthwhile cameos.

Styling

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Kia Telluride has a boxy, modern look.
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6.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Highlander has roughed up its bland image a little.
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Performance

6.0
Expert Rating
The supple 2020 Kia Telluride takes bumps better than many competitors.
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7.0
Expert Rating
Highlander performance isn’t just sky-high fuel economy.
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Comfort & Quality

9.0
Expert Rating
The spacious 2020 Kia Telluride has room for everyone and their gear.
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9.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Highlander’s larger footprint translates to more space inside.
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Safety

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Kia Telluride is an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
Read More
No crash-test scores exist yet for the 2020 Highlander.
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Features

9.0
Expert Rating
Even with every option selected, the 2020 Kia Telluride is a good value.
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8.0
Expert Rating
Big touchscreens and family-friendly features highlight the 2020 Highlander.
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Fuel Economy

4.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Kia Telluride could use a hybrid option.
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4.0
Expert Rating
Pick the Highlander Hybrid for excellent gas mileage.
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MSRP

from $31,690
from N/A

Invoice

from $30,581
from N/A

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

23

Engine

Regular Unleaded V-6, 3.8 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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