Kia Sorento vs Toyota Highlander

Does the new Kia challenge Toyota's throne?

Kia Sorento vs Toyota Highlander: Does the new Kia challenge Toyota's throne?

The Lowdown

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.

2021 Kia Sorento LX

MSRP
$29,390
Body Type
SUV
Horsepower
191
Weight
3,794 lbs
Seating
7
MPG (City/Hwy)
24 / 29

2021 Toyota Highlander L

MSRP
$34,910
Body Type
SUV
Horsepower
295
Weight
4,145 lbs
Seating
8
MPG (City/Hwy)
21 / 29

Note: Images shown may not represent trims

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?

Design

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.

Kia Sorento rear view
Sorento
Photo: Kia
Toyota Highlander rear view
Highlander
Photo: Toyota

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

Kia Sorento interior
Sorento
Photo: Kia
Toyota Highlander interior
Highlander
Photo: 500

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

Kia Sorento back row seats
Sorento
Photo: Kia
Toyota Highlander back row seats
Highlander
Photo: Toyota

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

Power

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

Fuel Economy

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.

Tie

Price

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

Standard Features

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.

TIE

Safety

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.

TIE

Reliability

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

Verdict

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.

Full Comparison Table

2021 Kia Sorento LX2021 Toyota Highlander L
Performance
Engine2.5-liter Inline-4 Gas3.5-liter V6 Gas
Horsepower191 hp @ 6100 rpm295 hp @ 6600 rpm
Torque181 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm263 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Transmission8-Speed Automatic8-Speed Automatic
DrivetrainFront-Wheel DriveFront-Wheel Drive
Max. Towing Capacity (lbs.)20005000
Handling
Steering TypeRack-PinionRack-Pinion
Front SuspensionStrutStrut
Rear SuspensionMulti-LinkMulti-Link
Front Wheel Size17" x 7"18" x 8"
Rear Wheel Size17" x 7"18" x 8"
Front TireP235/65HR17P235/65VR18
Rear TireP235/65HR17P235/65VR18
Turning Diameter (ft.)-37.4
Fuel Economy
MPG - Combined2624
MPG - City2421
MPG - Hwy2929
Gas Tank Size (gallons)18.817.9
Cruising Range - City (miles)451.2375.9
Cruising Range - Hwy (miles)545.2519.1
CO2 Emissions, 15K mi/year (tons)6.87.5
Exterior Dimensions
Length (in.)188.9194.9
Height (in.)66.768.1
Max Width (in.)74.876
Wheelbase (in.)110.8112.2
Weight (lbs.)37944145
Front Width (in.)-65.3
Rear Width (in.)-65.4
Interior Dimensions
Passenger Capacity78
Legroom - front (in.)41.442
Headroom - front (in.)40.341.2
Hip Room - front (in.)55.657.2
Shoulder Room - front (in.)5959
Legroom - rear (in.)41.741
Headroom - rear (in.)39.139.4
Hip Room - rear (in.)55.157
Shoulder Room - rear (in.)58.158.7
Legroom - third row (in.)29.627.7
Headroom - third row (in.)36.836.1
Hip Room - third row (in.)42.545.6
Shoulder Room - third row (in.)5355
Infotainment
BluetoothStandardNot Available
Hard Disk DriveNot AvailableNot Available
HD RadioStandardNot Available
Satellite RadioNot AvailableStandard
MP 3 PlayerStandardNot Available
Premium Sound SystemNot AvailableNot Available
Wifi HotspotNot AvailableStandard
Aux Audio InStandardNot Available
Entertainment SystemNot AvailableNot Available
Comfort
Head Up DisplayNot AvailableNot Available
Navigation SystemNot AvailableNot Available
Steering Wheel Audio ControlsStandardStandard
Power LiftgateNot AvailableNot Available
Power Mirror SStandardStandard
A CStandardStandard
Adaptive Cruise ControlNot AvailableStandard
Automatic ParkingNot AvailableNot Available
Climate ControlNot AvailableStandard
Cooled Front Seat SNot AvailableNot Available
Cooled Rear Seat SNot AvailableNot Available
Cruise ControlStandardStandard
Hands Free LiftgateNot AvailableNot Available
Heated Front Seat SNot AvailableNot Available
Heated Rear Seat SNot AvailableNot Available
Heated Steering WheelNot AvailableNot Available
Keyless EntryStandardStandard
Multi Zone A CNot AvailableStandard
Power Driver SeatNot AvailableStandard
Power Passenger SeatNot AvailableNot Available
Remote Engine StartNot AvailableNot Available
Remote Trunk ReleaseNot AvailableNot Available
Seat MemoryNot AvailableNot Available
Universal Garage Door OpenerNot AvailableNot Available
Seat MassageNot AvailableNot Available
Rear A CNot AvailableStandard
Keyless StartNot AvailableStandard
Navigation From TelematicsNot AvailableNot Available
TelematicsNot AvailableStandard
Interior Trim
Bucket SeatsStandardStandard
Cloth SeatsStandardStandard
Leather SeatsNot AvailableStandard
Leather Steering WheelNot AvailableNot Available
Premium Synthetic SeatsNot AvailableStandard
Vinyl SeatsNot AvailableStandard
Woodgrain Interior TrimNot AvailableNot Available
Sun MoonroofNot AvailableNot Available
Safety
Back Up CameraStandardStandard
Cross Traffic AlertNot AvailableNot Available
Rear Parking AidNot AvailableNot Available
Blind Spot MonitorNot AvailableNot Available
Lane Departure WarningStandardStandard
Lane Keeping AssistStandardStandard
ABSStandardStandard
Night VisionNot AvailableNot Available
Tire Pressure MonitorStandardStandard
Brake AssistStandardStandard
Stability ControlStandardStandard
Traction ControlStandardStandard
Airbags
Driver Air BagStandardStandard
Front Head Air BagStandardStandard
Front Side Air BagStandardStandard
Knee Air BagStandardStandard
Passenger Air BagStandardStandard
Rear Head Air BagStandardStandard
Rear Side Air BagNot AvailableNot Available
Seatbelt Air BagNot AvailableNot Available
Warranty
Basic5 Years / 60,000 Miles3 Years / 36,000 Miles
Corrosion5 Years / 100,000 Miles5 Years / Unlimited Miles
Drivetrain10 Years / 100,000 Miles5 Years / 60,000 Miles
Roadside Assistance5 Years / 60,000 Miles2 Years / Unlimited Miles
Maintenance-2 Years / 25,000 Miles