2021 Highlander vs. Telluride Comparison

With aggressive exterior styling, an optimal balance of performance and efficiency, and options for every lifestyle, the Toyota Highlander is set to take on the Kia Telluride.

These mid-size SUVs are visually imposing, and they put up big performance numbers, too. The Highlander delivers 295 horsepower, and the Telluride produces 291 horsepower.

The Highlander proves that you don't have to sacrifice fuel efficiency for performance. When you choose the Highlander Hybrid with FWD, you'll have an EPA-estimated 36/35/36 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating.

Let's see what else we can find in safety, performance, and interior in this head-to-head comparison of two SUV front runners.

Published Date: 10/08/2021

2021 Highlander driving past the city at sunset

Safety

  • The Highlander and Telluride come standard with long lists of active safety features.
  • They also have separate safety systems specially designed for better traction and braking.
  • When you choose the Highlander, you'll be driving an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick+ — the highest award in this category.

Get driver-assistance technology standard in the Highlander with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+).

Standard Safety Features

This suite of active safety features includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), Automatic High Beams, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), and Road Sign Assist (RSA).

Kia Drive Wise Driver Assist Technology is the comparable safety suite for the Kia Telluride. Drivers get features like Auto Emergency Braking w/ Pedestrian Detection (Forward Collision Avoidance - FCA), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Following Assist (LFA), and Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop and Go (SCC), plus more.

Highlander takes safety even further with its Star Safety System™. This standard suite provides drivers with Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), an Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop Technology® (SST). With the Telluride, you get Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), and Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), 4-Wheel Disc Brakes.

Even though the Highlander and Telluride have similar safety offerings, the Highlander outperformed the Telluride when they were put to the test. The 2021 Highlander received a Top Safety Pick+ designation, which is the highest possible ranking given by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 2021 Telluride only received a Top Safety Pick when equipped with specific headlights.

White 2021 Highlander towing a boat down a scenic road

Performance

  • The gas model Highlander has more horsepower than the Telluride.
  • The Highlander's Hybrid engine option which has an EPA-estimated 36/35/36 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating.
  • Both the Telluride and Highlander have FWD and AWD drivetrain options.

Hit the road in the Highlander, which has the typical performance features you expect from an SUV with the addition of an available hybrid engine.

Fuel Economy and Power

Starting with the gas model performance features, both the Highlander and Telluride have powerful V6 engines. The Highlander produces 295 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. torque. The Telluride delivers 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. torque.

The Highlander puts up big numbers when it comes to fuel economy ratings. With four hybrid models to choose from in both FWD and AWD, you can go farther. The Highlander Hybrid LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum FWD have an EPA-estimated 36/35/36 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating. Even the gas model Highlander L FWD has an EPA-estimated 21/29/24 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating. You won't see an available hybrid engine in the Telluride lineup. If you choose the Telluride, it has an EPA-estimated 20/26/23 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating across the board.

While there is the option of FWD or AWD on both the Highlander and Telluride, the Highlander XSE, Limited, and Platinum grades have standard Dynamic Torque Vectoring (DTV) when the driver opts for AWD. DTV independently distributes torque to the left and right rear wheels, according to driving conditions. It’s also designed to improve fuel efficiency and handling. The Telluride has available Active On-Demand All-Wheel Drive (AWD) w/ AWD Lock and Snow Mode. This system is designed to mostly use front-wheel drive unless slippage is detected in the back wheels. The difference is the Highlander's Dynamic Torque Vectoring sends force to the back wheels independently depending on where it is needed most.

Man interacting with the Highlander's interior infotainment touchscreen

Interior

  • Listen to your favorite music with Android Auto™, Apple CarPlay®, and Amazon Alexa compatibility in the Highlander.
  • Take advantage of the stellar JBL® sound system that is available in the Highlander XSE, Limited, and Platinum.
  • The Highlander Platinum also has a Head-Up Display that shows navigation, current speed, and certain upcoming road signs so you can focus on the road ahead.

Keep everyone entertained with loads of connectivity and tech features to make your ride more enjoyable.

In-Car Technology

You'll find Android Auto™, Apple CarPlay®, and Amazon Alexa compatibility standard with the 2021 Toyota Highlander. While the Telluride has Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay®, it does not include Amazon Alexa integration on any trim.

Both the Highlander and Telluride have standard 8.0-in. touchscreen displays and six speakers. If you're looking to upgrade your ride, the Highlander Limited has the option for a 12.3-in. touchscreen and 11 JBL® speakers. These features are standard on the Highlander Platinum. Comparatively, the Telluride only has an upgraded 10.25-in. Touch-Screen Display in the EX and SX. For the Harman Kardon® 10-Speaker Premium Audio upgrade, you'd need to get the Telluride SX.

To help you keep your eyes on the road, the Highlander Platinum has a standard 10-in. color Head-Up Display (HUD) with speedometer and Road Sign Assist (RSA), plus navigation. A Heads-Up Display is only available on the Telluride SX with the SX Prestige Package, which is an additional $2,300.

2021 Highlander driving down a residential street

Conclusion: Highlander vs. Telluride

  • If you're looking for an SUV with hybrid fuel savings, the Highlander is the way to go.
  • Whether you want to listen to more music sources or have a big screen display, the Telluride just doesn't compare to the Highlander.
  • When evaluated by the IIHS, the Highlander received a higher safety rating than the Telluride.

The Toyota Highlander and Kia Telluride both have a solid foundation, but only one of these SUVs was built to deliver a more competitive ride.

One of the biggest advantages for the Highlander is the available hybrid engine that provides customers with better fuel efficiency and less trips to the gas station.

You'll also get more standard connectivity features and a larger available touchscreen display with the Highlander.

While both vehicles have loads of intuitive safety technology to help you during your travels, the 2021 Highlander received the Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS, while the Telluride got a Top Safety Pick when equipped with specific headlights.

Get the 2021 Toyota Highlander for an SUV that takes your ride to the next level.