2020 Kia Sportage vs. 2019 Toyota Highlander

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

Compared to metal, the Sportage’s plastic fuel tank can withstand harder, more intrusive impacts without leaking; this decreases the possibility of fire. The Toyota Highlander has a metal gas tank.

Both the Sportage and the Highlander have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front wheel drive, height adjustable front shoulder belts, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, crash mitigating brakes, daytime running lights, lane departure warning systems, rearview cameras, driver alert monitors, available all wheel drive, blind spot warning systems, front and rear parking sensors and rear cross-path warning.

Warranty

The Sportage comes with a full 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, which covers the entire truck and includes 24-hour roadside assistance. The Highlander’s 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty expires 2 years and 24,000 miles sooner.

Kia’s powertrain warranty covers the Sportage 5 years and 40,000 miles longer than Toyota covers the Highlander. Any repair needed on the engine, transmission, axles, joints or driveshafts is fully covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles. Coverage on the Highlander ends after only 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Reliability

J.D. Power and Associates rated the Sportage first among small SUVs in their 2019 Initial Quality Study. The Highlander isn’t in the top three in its category.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that Kia vehicles are better in initial quality than Toyota vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Kia second in initial quality, above the industry average. With 20 more problems per 100 vehicles, Toyota is ranked 8th.

Fuel Economy and Range

On the EPA test cycle the Sportage gets better fuel mileage than the Highlander:

MPG

Sportage

FWD

2.4 DOHC 4-cyl.

23 city/30 hwy

SX 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

20 city/28 hwy

Highlander

FWD

2.7 DOHC 4-cyl.

20 city/24 hwy

3.5 DOHC V6 w/Start/Stop

21 city/27 hwy

3.5 DOHC V6

20 city/27 hwy

Environmental Friendliness

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifies the Kia Sportage as a “Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle” (SULEV). The Toyota Highlander is only certified to “Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle” (ULEV) standards.

Brakes and Stopping

The Sportage stops much shorter than the Highlander:

Sportage

Highlander

70 to 0 MPH

174 feet

186 feet

Car and Driver

60 to 0 MPH

118 feet

131 feet

Motor Trend

60 to 0 MPH (Wet)

131 feet

146 feet

Consumer Reports

Tires and Wheels

The Sportage SX Turbo’s tires provide better handling because they have a lower 45 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the Highlander SE/Limited/Platinum’s 55 series tires.

Suspension and Handling

The Sportage has standard front and rear gas-charged shocks for better control over choppy roads. The Highlander’s suspension doesn’t offer gas-charged shocks.

The Sportage SX Turbo AWD handles at .83 G’s, while the Highlander AWD pulls only .80 G’s of cornering force in a Car and Driver skidpad test.

The Sportage SX Turbo AWD executes Motor Trend’s “Figure Eight” maneuver 1.5 seconds quicker than the Highlander LE (26.8 seconds @ .65 average G’s vs. 28.3 seconds @ .64 average G’s).

For better maneuverability, the Sportage’s turning circle is 3.9 feet tighter than the Highlander’s (34.8 feet vs. 38.7 feet).

Chassis

The Kia Sportage may be more efficient, handle and accelerate better because it weighs about 850 to 900 pounds less than the Toyota Highlander.

The Sportage is 1 foot, 4.1 inches shorter than the Highlander, making the Sportage easier to handle, maneuver and park in tight spaces.

The design of the Kia Sportage amounts to more than styling. The Sportage has an aerodynamic coefficient of drag of .33 Cd. That is lower than the Highlander (.33 to .34) and many sports cars. A more efficient exterior helps keep the interior quieter and helps the Sportage get better fuel mileage.

Cargo Capacity

To make loading groceries and cargo easier when your hands are full, just waiting momentarily behind the back bumper can open the Sportage’s liftgate, leaving your hands completely free. The Highlander doesn’t offer a hands-free gesture to open its liftgate, forcing you to put cargo down if your hands are full.

Towing

The Sportage’s standard towing capacity is much higher than the Highlander’s (2000 vs. 1500 pounds).

Servicing Ease

The Sportage has a maintenance free battery for long life without checking the battery’s water level. The Highlander doesn’t have a maintenance free battery, so the water level in the battery’s cells must be checked often to prevent damage.

Ergonomics

The Sportage offers a remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The climate system will also automatically heat or cool the interior. The Highlander doesn’t offer a remote starting system.

The power windows standard on both the Sportage and the Highlander have locks to prevent small children from operating them. When the lock on the Sportage is engaged the driver can still operate all of the windows, for instance to close one opened by a child. The Highlander prevents the driver from operating the other windows just as it does the other passengers.

Heated windshield washer nozzles are optional on the Sportage to prevent washer fluid and nozzles from freezing and help continue to keep the windshield clear in sub-freezing temperatures. The Highlander doesn’t offer heated windshield washer nozzles.

Economic Advantages

According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the Sportage is less expensive to operate than the Highlander because typical repairs cost much less on the Sportage than the Highlander, including $285 less for a starter, $217 less for fuel injection, $255 less for a fuel pump and $1242 less for a timing belt/chain.

IntelliChoice estimates that five-year ownership costs (depreciation, financing, insurance, fuel, fees, repairs and maintenance) for the Kia Sportage will be $2926 to $3359 less than for the Toyota Highlander.

Recommendations

Consumer Reports® recommends both the Kia Sportage and the Toyota Highlander, based on reliability, safety and performance.

J.D. Power and Associates rated the Sportage third among small SUVs in owner reported satisfaction. This includes how well the vehicle performs and satisfies its owner’s expectations. The Highlander isn’t in the top three in its category.

© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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