Japanese automaker Toyota have built up a reputation for excellent reliability and low maintenance costs. Meanwhile, Korean automakers like Kia have become known for offering great value for money.
If you’ve been looking to buy a 3-row, midsize SUV, you’ve probably considered the Kia Sorento and the Toyota Highlander at some point.
Though both SUVs have been around since the turn of the century, the Highlander is the more popular choice, consistently ranking as the best-selling midsize SUV in the US.
The Sorento and Highlander both feature modern styling, roomy cabins, the latest safety features and good performance. So which of the two is currently a better buy?
Paying extra for the Highlander gets you more power and an extra seat. But with its redesign, the Kia Sorento is an equally compelling SUV that boasts a stunning exterior and interior for the price. Its only let down is an unremarkable driving experience.
Kia’s design studio in Irvine, California, has done a remarkable job of turning around the drab image that stuck in people’s minds. Their latest range flaunts style, and the new Sorento is a perfect example.
A mix of a Cadillac Escalade’s sharp lines and the rugged features you’d see on a Toyota RAV4 make for a stunning SUV. The interior is equally impressive, with the overall look and feel you’d expect from a luxury SUV that costs twice as much when you opt for the higher trims.
The Toyota Highlander doesn’t match the flair of the Sorento, but it’s a good looking SUV nonetheless. It looks best from the side, with a long and sleek form which contrasts with the boxier offerings that typically come out of Toyota’s factories.
Moving inside, the Toyota Highlander’s interior design doesn’t feel quite as inspired as the Sorento’s. But on higher trims especially the quality noticeably surpasses the Sorento, with luxury soft-touch materials that stretch from front to back.
Winner: Kia Sorento
Size And Seating Capacity
Comparing body sizes, the Toyota Highlander is slightly larger than the Kia Sorento. It has a total length of 194.9 inches, a width of 76 inches, and an unloaded height of 68.1 inches whereas the Kia Sorento has a length of 189 inches, a width of 74.8 inches, and a height of 66.7 inches.
The Toyota Highlander, on average, offers marginally more room per passenger. The difference is too small to make it a deciding factor, though, and both SUVs are miles away from feeling cramped.
But a big selling point the Toyota has over the Kia is its maximum seating capacity of 8, thanks to its 2nd and 3rd row 60/40 split seats.The Kia Sorento, with its 50/50 split seats on the third row, can only carry up to 7 passengers.
Winner: Toyota Highlander
Storage and Cargo Space
Both SUVs offer generously large glove compartments, overhead consoles with sunglasses storage, center console storage compartments and several cup/bottle holders that are distributed across all three rows.
However, the Toyota Highlander adds an in-dash shelf that can hold keys, pens, or smartphones.
For cargo, the Sorento offers 12.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the 3rd-row seats and up to 75.6 cubic feet when both the 2nd and 3rd row seats are folded down flat. The Highlander, on the other hand, offers 16 cubic feet of cargo space when all the seats are up and up to 84.3 cubic feet when the 2nd-and 3rd-row seats are folded down, so you can load more cargo and luggage with the Highlander.
Winner: Toyota Highlander
Underneath the Sorento’s bonnet lies a 2.5-liter I-4 engine capable of producing 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque.
This is dwarfed by the Toyota Highlander’s 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine which can produce 295 horsepower and 263lb-ft of torque. All that extra power means the Highlander can tow more than twice as heavy a payload than the Sorento.
Truth be told this comparison is inherently unfair as the Kia Telluride is the Highlander’s direct competitor, not the Sorento. However, even in that comparison the Highlander feels more responsive than the Telluride, so it goes without saying the Highlander has the Sorento easily beat when it comes to overall drive experience.
Winner: Toyota Highlander
The Toyota Highlander’s bigger V6 comes with a cost, fuel efficiency.
While the difference is smaller than you might expect, the Sorento will be cheaper to run and leave a smaller carbon footprint.
In the city, the Sorento gets an EPA gas mileage of 24 miles to the gallon, compared to the Highlander’s 21. However, on the highway, both score a reasonable 29 mpg. Opting for an AWD configuration on either model will reduce fuel economy slightly.
Of course, if fuel economy is your biggest priority, Toyota offers the hybrid Highlander which gets a much more impressive 36 miles to the gallon in the city. There is no hybrid Sorento available today, though one is on the horizon.
While the Sorento is has superior fuel efficiency when comparing the petrol models, the availability of a hybrid model makes this a tie.
The Kia Sorento is significantly cheaper than Toyota Highlander, and for most buyers this is its biggest selling-point.
Pricing for the 2021 Kia Sorento starts at $29,390 for the base model LX which goes all the way up to $40,590 for the top-of-the-line SX Prestige model. (This does not include a destination charge of $1,045.)
The 2021 Toyota Highlander, on the other hand, starts with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $34,910 for the base L model, and the pricing goes up to $47,065 for the range-topping Limited Platinum model. The Highlander’s prices also exclude a destination charge of $1,120.
Winner: Kia Sorento
Before Kia released the all-new Sorento, the Highlander packed in more standard features such as pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control and driver assists.
However, now these are standard features on the Kia, so there’s not much that separates the two.
Both cars performed well in crash testing, earning the highest possible 5 star overall rating in NHTSA crash testing. They also fared well in IIHS tests, with both SUVs earning Top Safety Pick awards. While very little separates the two in terms of safety, the Kia Sorento has a tighter turning radius which slightly reduces the risk of rollover.
Comparing the reliability of two new vehicles can be difficult because problems typically take years to develop. The best available method is typically to compare consumer reports by verified owners. JD Power is the most well-known source for US consumers.
JD Power gave the Toyota Highlander a perfect 10 for mechanical quality, whereas the Kia Sorento was given 9 points.
Looking at the bigger picture, Toyota vehicles are generally more reliable than Kia vehicles. In the 2019 J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study, owners of three-year-old Toyota vehicles reported an average of 108 problems per 100 vehicles while owners of three-year-old Kia vehicles reported an average of 126 problems per 100 vehicles.
Given these figures, along with Toyota’s reputation for mechanical excellence, it’s safe to say the Toyota Highlander is the more dependable reliable SUV.
Winner: Toyota Highlander
Kia really hit it out of the park with the new Sorento. This is the cheaper SUV of the two and you don’t miss out on much other than raw power and an eighth seat.
If quicker acceleration and towing capacity matters, you might want to consider the revamped Kia Telluride instead. It’s the Toyota Highlander’s true match, with a slightly higher starting price.
As for the Toyota Highlander, there’s not much that needs to be said. It’s a Toyota. It’s a reliable beast that holds its value better than almost every other car on the road. It’s the less exciting choice of the two, but no one would question your decision.
|2021 Kia Sorento||2021 Toyota Highlander|
|Engine||2.5L Inline-4 Gas||3.5L V6 Gas|
|Horsepower||191 hp @ 6100 rpm||295 hp @ 6600 rpm|
|Torque||181 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm||263 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm|
|Transmission||8-Speed Automatic||8-Speed Automatic|
|Drivetrain||Front-Wheel Drive||Front-Wheel Drive|
|Rear Wheel Size||P235/65HR17||P235/65VR18|
|Front Wheel Size||P235/65HR17||P235/65VR18|
|Turning Diameter (ft.)||-||37.4|
|MPG/MPGe - Hwy||29||29|
|MPG/MPGe - City||24||21|
|MPG/MPGe - Combined||26||24|
|Gas Tank Size (gallons)||18.8||17.9|
|Cruising Range - Hwy (miles)||545.2||519.1|
|Size and Weight|
|Max Width (in.)||74.8||76.0|
|Front Seat Leg Room (in.)||41.4||42.0|
|Front Seat Head Room (in.)||40.3||41.2|
|Front Seat Hip Room (in.)||55.6||57.2|
|Front Seat Shoulder Room (in.)||59.0||59.0|
|Rear Seat Leg room (in.)||41.7||41.0|
|Rear Seat Head Room (in.)||39.1||39.4|
|Rear Seat Hip Room (in.)||55.1||57.0|
|Rear Seat Shoulder Room (in.)||58.1||58.7|
|Third Row Leg Room (in.)||29.6||27.7|
|Third Row Head Room (in.)||36.8||36.1|
|Third Row Hip Room (in.)||42.5||45.6|
|Third Row Shoulder Room (in.)||53.0||55.0|
|HD Radio||Standard||Not Available|
|MP3 Player||Standard||Not Available|
|WiFi Hotspot||Not Available||Standard|
|Satellite Radio||Not Available||Standard|
|Bluetooth Connection||Standard||Not Available|
|Entertainment System||Not Available||Not Available|
|Premium Sound System||Not Available||Not Available|
|Auxiliary Audio Input||Standard||Not Available|
|Smart Device Integration||Standard||Standard|
|Hard Disk Drive Media Storage||Not Available||Not Available|
|Vinyl Seats||Not Available||Standard|
|Leather Seats||Not Available||Standard|
|Premium Synthetic Seats||Not Available||Standard|
|Sun/Moonroof||Not Available||Not Available|
|Leather Steering Wheel||Not Available||Not Available|
|Woodgrain Interior Trim||Not Available||Not Available|
|Rear A/C||Not Available||Standard|
|Seat Memory||Not Available||Not Available|
|Seat-Massage||Not Available||Not Available|
|Keyless Start||Not Available||Standard|
|Multi-Zone A/C||Not Available||Standard|
|Power Liftgate||Not Available||Not Available|
|Climate Control||Not Available||Standard|
|Head-Up Display||Not Available||Not Available|
|Automatic Parking||Not Available||Not Available|
|Navigation System||Not Available||Not Available|
|Power Driver Seat||Not Available||Standard|
|Cooled Rear Seat(s)||Not Available||Not Available|
|Hands-Free Liftgate||Not Available||Not Available|
|Heated Rear Seat(s)||Not Available||Not Available|
|Remote Engine Start||Not Available||Not Available|
|Cooled Front Seat(s)||Not Available||Not Available|
|Heated Front Seat(s)||Not Available||Not Available|
|Power Passenger Seat||Not Available||Not Available|
|Remote Trunk Release||Not Available||Not Available|
|Heated Steering Wheel||Not Available||Not Available|
|Adaptive Cruise Control||Not Available||Standard|
|Navigation from Telematics||Not Available||Not Available|
|Universal Garage Door Opener||Not Available||Not Available|
|Steering Wheel Audio Controls||Standard||Standard|
|Night Vision||Not Available||Not Available|
|Rear Parking Aid||Not Available||Not Available|
|Blind Spot Monitor||Not Available||Not Available|
|Cross-Traffic Alert||Not Available||Not Available|
|Lane Keeping Assist||Standard||Standard|
|Tire Pressure Monitor||Standard||Standard|
|Lane Departure Warning||Standard||Standard|
|Knee Air Bag||Standard||Standard|
|Driver Air Bag||Standard||Standard|
|Seatbelt Air Bag||Not Available||Not Available|
|Passenger Air Bag||Standard||Standard|
|Rear Head Air Bag||Standard||Standard|
|Rear Side Air Bag||Not Available||Not Available|
|Front Head Air Bag||Standard||Standard|
|Front Side Air Bag||Standard||Standard|
|Basic||5 Years / 60,000 Miles||3 Years / 36,000 Miles|
|Corrosion||5 Years / 100,000 Miles||5 Years / Unlimited Miles|
|Drivetrain||10 Years / 100,000 Miles||5 Years / 60,000 Miles|
|Maintenance||-||2 Years / 25,000 Miles|
|Roadside Assistance||5 Years / 60,000 Miles||2 Years / Unlimited Miles|