Kia Sorento VS Toyota Highlander: Korean vs Japanese Midsize SUV Showdown

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 one of the best-selling vehicles in the US.

Japanese automaker Toyota have built up a reputation for excellent reliability and low maintenance costs. Korean automakers such as Kia have more recently become known for their great value for money.

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?

Size And Seating Capacity

Comparing body sizes, the Toyota Highlander is slightly larger than the Kia Sorento. It has a total length of 192.5 inches, a width of 75.8 inches, and an unloaded height of 68.1 inches whereas the 2019 Kia Sorento has a length of 189 inches, a width of 74.4 inches, and a height of 66.3 inches.

On the inside, however, the 2019 Kia Sorento offers a slightly roomier cabin with a total passenger volume of 154.2 cubic feet, which is 2 cubic feet more than that of the Highlander.

Kia SorentoToyota Highlander
Headroom (1st row)39.5 in40.7 in
Legroom (1st row)44.1 in44.2 in
Headroom (2nd row) 39.3 in39.9 in
Legroom (2nd row) 39.4 in38.4 in
Headroom (3rd row) 36.3 in35.9 in
Legroom (3rd row) 31.7 in27,7 in

The Kia Sorento offers more room for passengers in the back, especially on the third row.

However, the Toyota Highlander can accommodate up to 8 passengers with 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.

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 2019 Toyota Highlander adds an in-dash shelf that can hold keys, pens, or smartphones.

For cargo, the Sorento offers 11.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the 3rd-row seats and up to 73 cubic feet when both the 2nd and 3rd row seats are folded down flat. The Highlander, on the other hand, offers 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space when all the seats are up and up to 83.7 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

Kia Sorento interior (top) VS Toyota Highlander interior (bottom)

Power

Both the Kia Sorento and Toyota Highlander are offered with either a DOHC Inline-4 or DOHC V6 engine. However, the Toyota Highlander is slightly more powerful.

The L and LX models of the Kia Sorento are driven by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb.-ft. of torque. Its LX V6, S V6, EX V6, EX Sport, SX, and SX Limited models, however, feature a larger 3.3-liter V6 engine rated at 290 horsepower and 252 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine returns a fuel economy of 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway (FWD models).

The 2019 Toyota Highlander is also offered with two similar engine options. Its base LE model can be had with either a 2.7-liter 4-liter engine that makes 185 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque or a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 295 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. All other models of the 2019 Highlander all feature the larger V6 engine.

While both SUVs have a maximum towing capacity of 5000 pounds when purchased with AWD and the V6 engine, the more powerful Toyota engine makes it slightly more comfortable towing heavier loads.

Winner: Toyota Highlander

Fuel Economy

The Kia Sorento offers higher gas mileage when paired with an inline-4 engine, whereas the V6 Toyota Highlander offers better fuel efficiency than the V6 Kia Sorento.

The Kia Sorento’s 4-cylinder engine returns a fuel economy of 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway (FWD models). The FWD 4-cylinder Toyota Highlander delivers a fuel economy of 20 mpg (city) and 24 mpg (highway).

Comparing the V6 models, the FWD Sorento gets 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway, while the FWD Toyota Highlander gets 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway. AWD models will have a slightly lower fuel economy.

Toyota also offer a Hybrid version of the Highlander, which offers the best fuel efficiency of all (30mpg city).

Given that most consumers opt for the larger V6 engine, as well as the fact that Toyota offer a Hybrid version of the Highlander, the Toyota Highlander wins this category.

Winner: Toyota Highlander

back of the kia sorento

Price 

The Kia Sorento is significantly cheaper than Toyota Highlander, and for most buyers this will be its biggest selling-point.

Pricing for the 2019 Kia Sorento starts at $26,290 for the base model and goes all the way up to $46,490 for the top-of-the-line SX Limited model. (This does not include a destination charge of $1,045.)

The 2019 Toyota Highlander, on the other hand, starts with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $31,830 for the base LE model, and the pricing goes up to $47,510 for the range-topping Limited Platinum model. The Highlander’s prices also exclude a destination charge of $1,120.    

Winner: Kia Sorento

Standard Features

Mainly because of its higher base price, the Toyota Highlander offers more driver assists as standard. These include pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. With the Kia Sorento, these are optioned extras.

Winner: Toyota Highlander

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 more reliable SUV.

Winner: Toyota Highlander

Verdict

Overall, the Toyota Highlander is probably the SUV we’d pick out as the winner. When comparing the V6 models, it’s more powerful and still delivers better fuel efficiency. It also seats more passengers and holds more cargo. And let’s not forget that Toyota vehicles have an excellent record of holding their value, whereas Kias lose value faster.

However, if you’re looking to save money, the Kia Sorento is a good alternative. Its base model is significantly cheaper than the cheapest Toyota Highlander, and most drivers will not really benefit from a more powerful V6 engine anyway. The Kia also has some other strengths that we didn’t discuss in the comparison, such as a better warranty and superior infotainment.

If you have the chance, we’d highly recommend booking a test drive for both cars and seeing what you prefer.

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