2021 Toyota Highlander vs. Hyundai Palisade: The Student Conquers the Teacher

For today’s families, three-row midsize SUVs are a popular choice with good reason. They offer plenty of space to move family members and their stuff on the daily commute to work and school. Most have comfortable cabins, innovative safety features, and real value through fuel efficiency and great reliability ratings. With such a crowded market, it can be a challenge to pick the right SUV for your family. Two of the top contenders in the class are the 2021 Toyota Highlander and the 2021 Hyundai Palisade. Recently, the folks at Autotrader took a look at both of these impressive SUVs to see which does it better.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander

Now in its fourth generation, the Toyota Highlander is a top-seller. Autotrader likes the standard 3.5-liter V6 engine that’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. If fuel economy is an important consideration for you, the hybrid model is a must with an EPA-estimated combined rating of 36 mpg. The Highlander’s excellent reliability rating and impressive resale value might be of interest too.

You can get both models with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Handling is sharp, particularly in higher trims that feature torque vectoring across the rear axle. The Highlander can tow 5,000 pounds gas-powered and 3,500 pounds with the hybrid drivetrain. 

There’s a three-person bench in the middle row of the base and LE models. The rest of the lineup gets the captain’s chairs. You get a third row standard but there isn’t a lot of room back there for passengers. There’s a lot of storage cubbies in the cabin but cargo space is pretty much average for the class.

There’s a new sporty XSE trim in 2021 which offers aggressive styling cues and retuned steering and suspension. It doesn’t get its own powertrain though and takes a seat between the XLE and Limited models. The driver-assist suite got upgraded in 2021 though it was already really good.

Technology-wise, most of the lineup gets the 8.0-inch touchscreen with Platinum models getting a 12.3-inch screen. The Toyota Highlander has Amazon Alexa, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay along with a Wi-Fi hotspot. 

There’s an impressive list of standard safety features like automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert with pedestrian detection, and adaptive cruise control. You also get lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts available starting with the LE models.

The 2021 Hyundai Palisade

The latest Hyundai Palisade is a little less expensive than the Toyota Highlander and it has so much to offer. The Autotrader team pointed out that it had ample passenger space, including the third row where adults can sit, and room for cargo. It seats eight and is well-executed, offering enough luxury features to please most.

The Palisade offers a slew of safety and tech features standard. The base SE models have LED headlights with automatic high beams, LED daytime running lights, and heated outer mirrors. It features adaptive cruise control with stop/go, rear-seat alert, power-folding second-row seats, and selectable driving modes including hill descent control and snow mode. 

There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen to navigate the infotainment system plus Bluetooth connectivity, HD radio, and five USB ports. There’s also Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and an audio system with quiet mode for the passengers in the back.

The powertrain is a 3.8-liter V6 engine paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and gets 291 hp. It’s enough power, and it shifts smoothly enough. But, there are no other drivetrain options. 

It has front-wheel drive standard and all-wheel drive optional for SE, SEL, and Limited models. AWD is standard on the new Calligraphy trim level too.

It can tow 5,000 pounds when equipped with a dealer-installed trailer hitch and has a stout transmission cooler. You also get trailer pre-wiring and sway control.

Is the Toyota Highlander or Hyundai Palisade better?


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While these SUVs are comparable, the Autotrader team favored the 2021 Hyundai Palisade for its 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. And the warranty is good. Palisade also offers more room for cargo and passengers.

But the 2021 Toyota Highlander has a strong reliability rating which bodes well when you consider the cost of ownership. It also has an impressive hybrid model that offers families great value on fuel economy. The Highlander also offers an excellent resale value.

Which do you choose? It depends on your individual needs and tastes.