These are the kind of vehicles that fit the lifestyles we envision for ourselves. We want something that can haul lots of stuff even if we rarely stuff it full, something that can accommodate many friends even if we spend more time commuting alone, something that can carry lots of kids’ gear even if we only have one kid, something that can tow a boat even if we only do so at the beginning and end of the season, and something that can go off-road even if we camp as often as we get a physical. It’s not about what we do most often but what we can do if we want or need to.
How These SUVs Perform
OK, so maybe “do it all” isn’t quite accurate—for example, virtually no one expects a big, all-wheel-drive family SUV to excel at drag racing. Our competitors here didn’t, as all have about the same power and hit 60 mph in the low seven-second range. So, not quick but not particularly slow, either.
Yet there were illuminating differences in the driving experience. The Grand Cherokee’s engine felt like it worked the hardest, as it moved a vehicle 300 pounds heavier than the other two. Combine that with more aggressive gearing needed to make it as quick as the Kia and Toyota, and you get worst-in-test fuel economy. The Jeep’s bigger issue, though, was its lazy throttle response. Likely intentional to improve real-world fuel economy, it’s an annoyance when moving from a stop. Step on the gas normally, and nothing happens until you’re a few inches into the pedal’s travel, at which point the powertrain suddenly roars to life.
It was the opposite for the Toyota, which showed excellent accelerator response and still managed the best fuel economy of this group by a good margin. As a result, the Highlander felt punchier than the Telluride and Grand Cherokee L even if it actually wasn’t, a quality we appreciate as it increases driver confidence. The Telluride was nearly as good in this regard, and its transmission programming is excellent. The Kia’s fuel economy falls neatly in the middle of this group.
It’s much the same story in the handling department: deeply similar skidpad and figure-eight numbers—the Kia eked out wins in both—but noticeably divergent personalities. The Jeep handled the sportiest but rode the worst. In normal driving, it showed the least body control and caused the most head toss and gut jiggle. Put it into a corner, though, and the chassis proved more willing and the steering more responsive than those of the other two. It’s also worth noting that although all three are equipped with all-wheel drive, the Grand Cherokee has by far the greatest off-road capability, if that’s a must-have trait.
In contrast, the Toyota’s ride quality is very good, but its steering and handling are anodyne, acceptable but unexceptional; both get the job done, but neither feels engaging. That tracks with its luxury-car-quiet interior. The other two are also hushed but not as much as the Highlander, the top highway cruiser of the bunch.
Riding even better than the Toyota and handling nearly as well as the Jeep, the Telluride put on a master class in balancing comfort with performance. It was simply the best all-around SUV to drive in this test.
There was a particular testing discipline where one of our trio stood out: braking. Needing just 118 feet to come to a halt from 60 mph, the Telluride stopped 9 feet shorter than the Grand Cherokee or Highlander, a good half-car length—this despite its brake pedal being initially soft, like the Toyota’s, and not firm and biting like the Jeep’s.
Take a Look at Me Now
If you’re the car person in your family or circle of friends, you know the frustration of giving car-buying advice that’s immediately dismissed because of the way a car looks. Fact is, design sells cars, and it always has.
Here, the Jeep comes out swinging. The new exterior is bold and brash but also cosmopolitan. It’s still a big, blocky thing, yet Jeep presents the big block in a very modern way. Inside, the Grand Cherokee not only looks a generation newer than the other two but also feels much more upscale and expensive thanks to higher-quality materials and modern graphics.
Not that you have to be entirely of the moment to look good. The Kia is three years old, but it still looks fresh. (Kia updated our 2020 SUV of the Year for 2023 anyway.) All the little flourishes that break up its boxy shape still work, and the lighting signatures are hip and sophisticated. The interior is less daring and more traditional than the Jeep’s, but here again little details like the seat heater/ventilation switches in the center console’s grab handles set the Telluride apart from the average SUV.
The Toyota is the wallflower in this group, being the most conventionally styled of the three. The angry face tries to look aggressive but doesn’t break any new ground. Although the interior takes even fewer chances, we do have to recognize Toyota’s brilliance in finding so much storage space in the dashboard for all the things people carry with them.
Form or Function or Both?
A good design only goes so far if the result is difficult to use, and the Grand Cherokee doesn’t make it easy. Sliding behind the wheel, we love that Jeep included redundant hard buttons for climate control, audio, and vehicle functions rather than forcing you to use the touchscreen, but the buttons are set at different angles that make them needlessly difficult to read. Combined with a thin
white font over shiny black plastic and the glare and reflections they pick up, it’s too difficult to find the button you want without a focused peek.
We had similar issues with the Jeep’s cruise control. Like many new vehicles, it allows you to switch between traditional and adaptive functions, but the process confused even our experienced team. It also offers lane keep assist, but its imprecise performance feels five years out of date, and it doesn’t even try to keep you centered in the lane.
We’re more enamored with the screens, which feature the only graphics in this test that look contemporary. If you’re one of the legions of shoppers wishing their car’s screens worked like their phone’s, you’ll be happy here. This latest update to the Uconnect software not only looks up to date but also remains highly intuitive.
By comparison, the Telluride’s dashboard is traditional, but it’s done right. It’s not as sleek as the Jeep’s, but it’s still polished. We especially appreciate how much more space Kia found for stuff in the center console than Jeep and how much less bulky the console is, which helps the cabin feel more airy. We’d like to relocate the buttons by the driver’s knee to somewhere easier to see and use; otherwise, the ergonomics are excellent.
Kia’s on-screen graphics don’t look as cool as they used to next to the Grand Cherokee’s, but the touchscreen system remains easy to use. Likewise, the analog gauges are simple but effective, and the center screen that doubles as a video feed for blind-spot cameras when the turn signals are activated is an excellent use of technology. The same can be said of the head-up display, the only one in this group. The Telluride also boasts the best lane keeping and centering system of this trio. It’s easy to use and does a pretty good job of centering the vehicle even in gentle curves.
Toyota has leaned into jazzing up the traditional dashboard but without abandoning practicality. Cutting some shelves into the dash for phones, keys, and what have you was shrewd, and it makes you wonder why, with all that space, Toyota fit the center armrest with a goofy roll-up door and a hinged wireless phone charger instead of putting the charger in the dash where you can easily reach it, like Kia did. Then again, the Jeep doesn’t even have a wireless charger unless you order the $2,295 Luxury Tech package, so at least the Highlander has one at this price point. (Toyota moved its charging pad to the dash for 2023 models. )
It’s far less effort than has gone into the Highlander’s infotainment system. Toyota’s setup has always been clunky, and its graphics looked outdated back when this system was new. Running improvements in various vehicles over the years have made it easier to use, but it’s positively ancient compared to those in the Telluride and Grand Cherokee. Thankfully, the Highlander’s lane keeping and centering system works more like the Kia’s than the Jeep’s, and Toyota replaced the infotainment system for 2023, too.
Cargo and Passenger Space Stations
The entire purpose of these high-riding minivan replacements is to haul people and cargo, and it’s here the Toyota struggles the most. The Highlander’s second and third rows are the tightest in this test by a wide margin, and its cargo space behind the third row is the smallest.
The second-row seats are comfortable but feel the least spacious, and that’s before you find out they don’t slide, only recline. They do tumble out of the way to make a good-sized opening for accessing the third row, but no adult should bother climbing back there. There’s just enough hip, shoulder, and headroom for an average grown-up in each seat, but there’s very little legroom, and, worse, the seats are basically on the floor, so your knees are in your chest. The sloping D-pillars and small windows only add to the sense of tightness, and Toyota couldn’t be bothered to include third-row USB charging ports as found in the Jeep and Kia.
Jeep does it better, at least until you stop to consider how big this vehicle is on the outside compared to how spacious it is inside. This is the only one of the group that doesn’t offer three third-row seats. Although there’s considerably better legroom in the way back than in the Toyota, it’s still not as good as in the Kia. At least your knees are lower. Even farther back, the Grand Cherokee has a large cargo area (though not quite as big as the Telluride’s) and the deepest bin under the floor, but only by a hair.
Moving up to the middle row, the Jeep’s seats both recline and slide, and they’re better for it. There’s still not as much space as you might expect in the longest vehicle in this test, but being able to reposition the seat helps. When folded and slid out of the way, it leaves plenty of room for those climbing into the last row.
The Telluride, meanwhile, is a triumph of packaging. The third row is far and away the largest and most comfortable, and it still retains more cargo space behind the third row than the Jeep.
If you can help it, though, you really want to grab a spot in the second row. Each vehicle here has heated second-row seats, but only the Kia’s middle passengers get seat ventilation, too. As with the third row, the Telluride’s middle seats are the most spacious and comfortable of the trio. They recline, they slide, and they tumble out of the way for easy third-row access.
The Value Equation
With these three SUVs measuring up so closely in most regards, you might be tempted to turn to the price tags for guidance, but they’re not a decision maker, either. The Kia ce
rtainly looks attractive with the lowest starting price by a good margin at $46,185, but as tested, it’s only cheaper by $100 to $200, with our trio averaging just shy of $52,000. It does, however, have the best warranty.
The Jeep is the odd one out here. The Kia and Toyota are both fully loaded top trim levels, but the Jeep is only a midlevel model, and to get various features it was missing, it’ll cost you thousands to move up the ladder. The price of entry for a top-shelf Grand Cherokee L exceeds $68,000 and only goes up with options.
The Bottom Line: Which Is Best?
Yet even with things this close, the Kia Telluride was the unanimous winner among our judging panel. It is unquestionably the best all-around vehicle in this group. It isn’t the best at everything, but it comes out on top in enough and excels at so much of the rest, it was the pick. That’s saying something, because each one of these SUVs is very accomplished.
It was a far harder decision sorting the Jeep Grand Cherokee L and Toyota Highlander. The Jeep has a better third row, slightly more cargo space, better handling, and a nicer interior, but it doesn’t ride as nicely, its throttle response is frustrating, its fuel economy isn’t great, and the value just isn’t there. The Toyota is smaller inside and not as fancy, but it offers a lot for the money and gets by far the best fuel economy. On the whole, we’re more willing to accept the Highlander’s compromises than the Grand Cherokee’s, giving it the very slightest of edges on second place. If you really do want a do-it-all vehicle, this hard-fought comparison test shows that any one of these three SUVs would make a fine choice.
3rd Place: 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Pros: Stylish interior, sporty handling, off-road chops.
Cons: Bad ergonomics, tight third row, mediocre fuel economy.
Verdict: A deeply appealing SUV frustratingly held back by some unforced errors.
2nd Place: 2022 Toyota Highlander
Pros: Best fuel economy, good ergonomics, quiet interior.
Cons: Smallest third row, outdated tech, dull driving experience.
Verdict: An all-around excellent crossover just a few steps shy of greatness.
1st Place: 2022 Kia Telluride
Pros: Most features at the lowest price, stylish inside and out, best use of space.
Cons: Mediocre fuel economy, some buttons hard to find, a few safe design choices.
Verdict: A previous SUV of the Year winner remains the three-row crossover leader.
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L 4×4 Limited Specifications||2022 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD Specifications||2022 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Platinum Specifications|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Port-injected DOHC 24-valve 60-degree V-6, alum block/heads||Direct-injected DOHC 24-valve 60-degree V-6, alum block/heads||Port- and direct-injected Atkinson-cycle DOHC 24-valve 60-degree V-6, alum block/heads|
|DISPLACEMENT||3,604 cc/219.9 cu in||3,778 cc/230.6 cu in||3,456 cc/210.9 cu in|
|POWER (SAE NET)||293 hp @ 6,400 rpm||291 hp @ 6,000 rpm||295 hp @ 6,600 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||260 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm||262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm||263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,400 rpm||6,500 rpm||6,750 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||16.5 lb/hp||15.5 lb/hp||15.1 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.9-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc||13.4-in vented disc; 12.0-in disc||13.3-in vented disc; 13.3-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.5 x 18-in cast aluminum||7.5 x 20-in, cast aluminum||8.0 x 20-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||265/60R18 110H Michelin Primacy XC (M+S)||245/50R20 102V Michelin Primacy Tour A/S (M+S)||235/55R20 102V Goodyear Eagle Touring (M+S)|
|WHEELBASE||121.7 in||114.2 in||112.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||65.4/65.4 in||67.2/67.6 in||65.3/65.4 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||204.9 x 77.5 x 71.5 in||196.9 x 78.3 x 68.9 in||194.9 x 76.0 x 68.1 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.5 in||8.0 in||8.0 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||20.6/21.5 deg||17.0/20.9 deg||17.9/23.0 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.6 ft||38.8 ft||37.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT (DIST F/R)||4,823 lb (51/49%)||4,510 lb (55/45%)||4,462 lb (55/45%)|
|HEADROOM, F/M/R||39.8/39.9/37.3 in||39.5/38.8/37.8 in||38.4/39.4/36.1 in|
|LEGROOM, F/M/R||41.3/39.4/30.3 in||41.4/42.4/31.4 in||40.4/41.0/27.7 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R||59.2/58.0/51.9 in||61.6/59.9/55.3 in||59.0/58.4/55.0 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/M/R||84.6/46.9/17.2 cu ft||87.0/46.0/21.0 cu ft||84.3/48.4/16.0 cu ft|
|TOWING CAPACITY||6,200 lb||5,000 lb||5,000 lb|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.4 sec||2.5 sec||2.6 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.9||3.7||3.9|
|QUARTER MILE||15.5 sec @ 89.9 mph||15.4 sec @ 92.9 mph||15.7 sec @ 90.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||127 ft||118 ft||127 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)||0.80 g (avg)||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.9 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)||27.3 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)||27.7 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,600 rpm||1,600 rpm||1,300 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$52,480||$51,380||$51,468|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain, front knee||6: Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain||8: Dual front, front side, driver knee, front-pass thigh, f/m/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||2 yrs/25,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||23.0 gal||18.8 gal||17.9 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||18/25/21 mpg||19/24/21 mpg||20/27/23 mpg|
|EPA RANGE, COMB||483 miles||395 miles||412 miles|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular|