Car Comparisons

2023 Toyota Highlander vs Kia Telluride Comparison Test and Video

Comparison Data

2023 Kia Telluride X-Line
2023 Toyota Highlander XSE
Engine Displacement
Engine Cylinders
Turbo I4
Peak Horsepower
291 hp @ 6,000 rpm
265 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque
262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
310 lb-ft @ 1,700–3,600 rpm
Fuel Economy
12.8 / 9.8 / 11.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
11.0 / 8.4 / 9.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space
601 / 1,304 / 2,455 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
453 / 1,371 / 2,387 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
Base Price
A/C Tax
Destination Fee
Price as Tested
Optional Equipment
$250 – Wolf Grey paint, $250

While we always do our best to apply an objective set of criteria to our reviews and comparisons, there’s a certain degree of subjectivity involved in our work here at AutoTrader.

That doesn’t mean we’re biased, but rather that our tastes may differ from time to time. So while efficiency, ease of use, and interior space are all fairly black-and-white subjects, stuff like comfort and ride quality can occasionally come down to preference. Just as jeans come in a handful of cuts in order to appeal to us all, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to automotive design and engineering.

Such is the case with the 2023 Toyota Highlander and Kia Telluride, two family haulers that take very different approaches to the same job – and earn different fans as a result. And in spite of our best efforts to come to an agreement, the divide between us – and these SUVs – remains very real.


To be totally fair and forthright, it’s not as if AutoTrader Editor-in-Chief Jodi Lai and I disagree entirely about the Highlander and Telluride. In fact, there are many ways in which we’re fully aligned, starting with the space they offer. And the reality is that they look and feel largely the same in both the front- and second-row seats. However, it’s their third rows that differ most, with the one in the Highlander cramped by comparison.

The Highlander also boasts less cargo space with all seats upright, or at least that’s what it says on paper. In practice, it doesn’t seem like there’s much less in spite of the 450 L listed compared to the Telluride’s 601 L. There is, however, a large underfloor storage compartment behind this Kia’s tailgate, whereas the Toyota’s is much more shallow. But then the latter also includes a spot to stash its cargo privacy cover – a handy feature not found in the Telluride. The Highlander also has more cargo room with its third row folded (1,371 L versus 1,304), but then it loses its lead with the second row stowed, too (2,387 L versus 2,455).

Both are rated to pull the same 2,268 kg (5,000 lb), and while this head-to-head didn’t involve any towing – neither of these testers came fitted with hitches – it’s important to note that smaller engines need to work harder to maintain momentum with extra weight hooked up to the back. So while the Telluride and its V6 shouldn’t have much trouble when trailering, the Highlander’s new turbocharged four-cylinder might be strained under the same circumstances.

Toyota Highlander: 7/10; Kia Telluride: 8/10


Have no fear that this Toyota’s new turbo motor will struggle to move its mass, with the 2.4L more than capable. And while horsepower is down compared to the V6 that used to sit between its front fenders, with 265 versus 295, torque is up to 310 lb-ft – a 17 per cent jump. Better still, it provides a newfound sense of urgency, working well with the eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive system to get the Highlander moving and keep it that way.

Of course, the Telluride’s 3.8L V6 is perfectly fine, delivering a bit more refinement to go with its 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Like its rival, it also uses an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive across the lineup, although the Highlander’s mechanicals work with just a little more harmony. The transmission in particular is quicker to react when passing on the highway, for example, with the Telluride getting caught napping on occasion during this test.

Toyota Highlander: 8/10; Kia Telluride: 7.5/10

Fuel Economy

The big reason for this Toyota’s switch from a V6 to something smaller is reducing emissions rather than fuel consumption, although the 2.4L does better in both regards (albeit barely when it comes to the latter). More importantly in the context of this comparison, it’s significantly better than the Telluride in real-world driving conditions. (For even more efficiency, there’s the gas-electric Highlander Hybrid, although we kept it out of the discussion here since there’s no equivalent Kia.)

A full week of testing saw the Highlander consume 10.5 L/100 km combined, which is admittedly worse than its official rating of 9.9; that was over the course of a little more than 820 km. But then it was doing even better earlier in the week, and was down to 9.1 L/100 km across its first 300 km or so. Meanwhile, the Telluride’s consumption was fairly constant, and it burned through 12.5 L/100 km across a total of approximately 580 km. Now compare that to its official rating of 11.4.

Toyota Highlander: 7/10; Kia Telluride: 6/10

User Friendliness

The approachability of both of these SUVs is on par, although each has its pros and cons. For instance, the Highlander has more small-item storage up front, including a couple different shelves and cubbies on the console and dashboard, but then the back half of the cabin offers very few places to stash everyday items. Inside the Telluride, there’s a larger 12.3-inch touchscreen (compared to this Highlander’s eight-inch unit), and that’s standard across the lineup. But then there aren’t as many places to stash wallets, phones, and keys.

The Telluride’s back doors open a little wider than the Highlander’s, which makes climbing aboard or getting littles ones strapped in that much easier, but ingress and egress up front is virtually identical. Likewise, outward visibility is excellent when sitting in either driver’s seat, with lots of adjustability to suit occupants of all shapes and sizes.

Toyota Highlander: 8/10; Kia Telluride: 9/10


While the two trims tested here – the XSE in the case of the Highlander, and the Telluride X-Line – don’t quite align, it’s their entire lineups that we evaluate. And in that way, it’s an easy win for Kia. Top to bottom, there’s just more stuff offered in the Telluride, with even the cheapest trim coming equipped with features like that big touchscreen with built-in navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections, a wireless phone charger up front, and USB ports in all three rows (although they’re USB-A rather than the more modern USB-C).

Even the entry-level Telluride also comes with a hands-free and height-programmable power tailgate, heated front seats, and a heated steering wheel, as well as a conventional sunroof over the front seats. And, of course, pricier trims come with better stuff, with the second-from-bottom SX adding ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, and an upgraded stereo, among others, while the rest of the lineup gets heated and ventilated second-row seats, and a camera-based rearview mirror that provides a view of what’s behind the vehicle even if it’s loaded with people and stuff.

It’s not as if the Highlander is entirely absent of creature comforts, but they certainly aren’t spread across all its trims the way they are in the Telluride. So while the front seats are heated even in the base LE, a heated steering wheel doesn’t enter the mix until the next trim up, and ventilated front seats are reserved for the top two versions, as is a 12.3-inch touchscreen (the rest of the lineup uses this tester’s eight-inch display). Meanwhile, heated second-row seats only come in the most expensive Highlander.

The Highlander also only offers four USB ports in its entire cabin – two up front and two more in the second row. They are, however, both A and C types. (Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections are also wireless here compared to the wired connections in the Kia.) And while there’s a power tailgate from the second trim and up, only the top two have hands-free operation; and even then, it has to be the slowest in the segment to open and close.

Toyota Highlander: 6/10; Kia Telluride: 10/10


There’s a bit more parity when it comes to advanced safety and driver-assist systems, although these also favour the Telluride. Because while both come fitted with important features like forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, as well as automatic emergency braking, junction turn assist that can warn of oncoming traffic when making a left, lane departure warning and keeping assistance, automatic high-beam control, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, the cheapest Highlander skips stuff like blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and low-speed reverse automatic braking.

Both of those features are standard across the Telluride lineup, while all but the cheapest trim add stuff like camera-based blind-spot monitoring that projects a live look of what’s beside the vehicle in the instrument display when the corresponding signal is activated, as well as the brand’s advanced highway driving assist that can execute automatic lane changes (with both hands on the wheel, and absolutely no input from the driver), and the top three trims get extras like a head-up display and rain-sensing wipers.

Toyota Highlander: 8.5/10; Kia Telluride: 9.5/10


Styling might well be the ultimate exercise in objectivity, and yet we both (mostly) agree about what makes this pair pleasing to the eye. This Kia is big, bold, and rugged, projecting all kinds of presence. And while I don’t exactly agree with Jodi’s assessment of the Telluride as some sort of discount Range Rover, I understand where she’s coming from all the same. Looking at this tester in particular, the tan leather upholstery has a nice look – although feel is another topic altogether, and we’ll get to that shortly. Something that bothers me a bit more is the cheap look and feel of the infotainment and climate controls in the Telluride. Particularly in a pricey trim like this X-Line, they don’t do much to elevate the experience.

The Highlander wears its proportions well, but it does so much differently than its rival here. It’s a little sleeker overall, while the XSE trim tested here has some sport-inspired styling elements including a gaping lower grille and contoured bumper treatment around back. But it’s the interior that offers the most character, at least to my eye, with the choice of red or striped black upholstery on the seats that really pops. And while Jodi isn’t as fond of the red as I am, we both agree that Toyota missed the mark by sticking with plain black upholstery for the third row that doesn’t at all match the rest of the cabin.

Toyota Highlander: 9/10; Kia Telluride: 9/10

Driving Feel

Here’s where we really go our separate ways – and despite explaining to each other exactly what it is that we like about the ways our preferred SUVs drive, we were never able to get on the same page. For me, the Highlander is smooth and precise (although it isn’t without its faults), with superior steering feel and a refinement the Telluride lacks. As both a driver and passenger, I found the Telluride to feel flatter, with more road imperfections being channelled through its body rather than stopping at the suspension. On the other hand, Jodi preferred the bigger feel of the Telluride from behind the wheel, describing the Highlander’s drive as “older.” (For what it’s worth, both the Telluride and this fourth-generation Highlander were introduced for the 2020 model year and ride on their brands' latest platforms.)

Where the Highlander needs improvement is its braking, with no pedal feel whatsoever. It leads to some disconcerting moments when trying to stop in a hurry – say, slowing in time for a yellow light – as there’s no sense of how much pressure is being applied to the brakes themselves. There’s also more body roll than the Telluride, which is especially surprising given this trim’s apparent “sport-tuned” suspension. But then the Telluride’s steering can be unnerving in its own way, with a massive dead spot on-centre and almost no resistance when changing directions.

Toyota Highlander: 6/10; Kia Telluride: 6/10


Though it may feel a little top-heavy when cornering, the Highlander offers a smoother ride in almost every way. The suspension’s rebound strokes are short, but it absorbs road imperfections rather nicely. Pressure cracks and broken pavement can still be felt, but mostly through the steering wheel, and it’s never enough to upset the serenity of the cabin. And while it’s not as if the Telluride is uncomfortable out on the open road, more of what’s happening underneath makes its presence known to occupants thanks to a more rigid suspension setup.

The Toyota’s seats both front and back are plusher and more supportive, with the Telluride’s feeling flat and offering no contouring whatsoever. In fact, I felt like I was sitting on a fresh stack of folded cardboard inside this Kia, with the cushions offering no give at all. Our body types being as different as they are, however, Jodi liked the firmness of the Kia’s chairs – although the same type of soreness set in for her during longer drives.

Toyota Highlander: 7/10; Kia Telluride: 6/10


As I’ve mentioned in the past, value can take on different meanings for different people, and that’s very much the case for us when it comes to these two SUVs. Because while the 2023 Highlander is the outright value pick in terms of asking price – it starts at $47,580 compared to $52,744, both including their non-negotiable freight charges – there are those niceties the Telluride comes with that help to justify its price premium at least a little bit.

This Toyota maintains its lead in terms of traditional value when considering that there are two more trims, the XLE and this XSE, that have lower starting prices than the cheapest Telluride ($50,280 and $52,580, respectively). Then there are the $55,820 Limited and $57,690 Platinum trims.

By comparison, the Telluride SX starts at $57,744, which means it’s more expensive than the priciest gas-powered Highlander, with the SX Limited pushing up to $61,744, and this X-Line tester ringing in at $63,744 before tax. Finally, there’s the range-topping X-Pro version that’s a $65,344 proposition. That makes this Kia one of the most expensive mainstream models on the three-row market.

Toyota Highlander: 7/10; Kia Telluride: 6/10

The Verdict

It’s higher in their lineups that the price divide gets harder to justify, with the Highlander Platinum feeling just as luxurious as a Telluride X-Line or X-Pro (and arguably even more so) in spite of a few missing features. That makes the Telluride’s price premium of more than $7,500 for its top trim versus this Toyota's that much harder to justify.

That’s where we’re both in agreement. Ditto their third-row seats, with the 2023 Kia Telluride offering more usable space. As Jodi says, the Telluride is a three-time winner of its category in the AutoTrader Awards for good reason, including that extra space and a list of features families will love.

It’s not as if I dislike the Telluride entirely, but it just doesn’t hit the marks that I think matter more than an impressive feature set. So while the 2023 Toyota Highlander might not offer the same amount of room as its rival, it’s smooth, comfortable, and livable – plus, it’s hard to go wrong with Toyota’s reputation for safety and reliability. Now factor in its relative affordability, and it’s the one I’d park in my driveway.