There’s no shortage of three-row SUVs on the market these days. Consumers have requested more SUVs that can hold seven to eight people and automakers have been more than happy to oblige. Whether that makes you mad or happy is inconsequential, because SUVs, at least for the moment, are the go-to vehicles that nearly every consumer wants. But out of all the available midsize, three-row SUVs on the market, there is one that truly shines as the best of the best: the 2020 Kia Telluride.
It’s funny. If you wanted an SUV that could seat your entire family in the past, you predominantly went with something American. Ford and General Motors practically own the full-size segment, but it’s a different story when it comes to midsize offerings. It seems like American automakers simply can’t compete with Japanese, German, and, now, South Korean brands in a segment they practically helped create.
Still, if America doesn’t have an actual good response for the Telluride, there’s a hint of what American SUVs used to be in Kia’s largest offering. Luxurious, utterly smooth, spacious, and practical. In fact, the Telluride gets so much right, one, over late-night drinks, could argue that it’s the closest thing to a perfect vehicle. Sticking to what it knows best and not venturing out into areas where it has no business going. The Telluride certainly makes a case for vehicles that refuse to dip their hands in too many pots.
Kia loaned us a fully-loaded Telluride SX V6 AWD to drive around for a week. While the Telluride starts at a reasonable $33,060, the fully loaded SUV we tested had a price tag of $46,860. A far cry from the somewhat affordable starting price, but still well worth the money.
The Telluride is gorgeous. Unabashedly an SUV, the Telluride doesn’t bend sheet metal in an exotic way to give out a false sense of sportiness or try to do too much by blending the traditional SUV body with that of a sports car. Instead, what you get is a boxy, large SUV body with excellent design elements. Some of those elements happen to be both rugged and luxurious, but they’re done in a way where both are kept in check.
The SX trim has the perfect amount of chrome – enough to where it draws attention and accents certain areas (grille, window surround, and rear badges), but not enough to where it looks like it’s trying too hard. For a midsize SUV, this is a good place to be. Then, there are the rugged bits. The large skid plate at the back, nifty LED fog lights placed near the bottom of the front fascia, black body cladding, and square design help the Telluride stand out against curvier options.
I’m a sucker for daytime running lights, because it’s such a simple element of a vehicle that a lot of brands decide to phone things in. At first glance, the Telluride’s square daytime running lights may look overly simplified. And that’s to some extent because they are. But they’re orange, which is different, and shaped in a way that contours the headlights. Against the beautiful shade of Dark Moss that our Telluride tester was finished in, they look great.
Lastly, the other design elements I’m a huge fan of on the outside are the “TELLURIDE” badges. Usually, a model name is simply placed on the back like a placeholder. The main thing people need to know is what automaker makes the vehicle, not the model. In this case, it’s almost like it’s the other way around. There are two massive “TELLURIDE” badges on the SUV, while the round and medium-sized “KIA” badges play second fiddle.
As far as features go, the SX trim we tested came with 20-inch black wheels (a little over the top, but nice), a sunroof, a power liftgate, power-folding and heated exterior mirrors, as well as LED headlights.
This is where the Telluride absolutely shines. Press cars can blend in with one another at times, especially if the month has been busy with reviews, but the Telluride’s cabin sticks out for being one of the highest-quality cabins in the class. Every material in the interior is upscale, while the SUV’s design is stunning, too. Reviewers usually rant and rave on how non-luxury brands can feel and looks just as good as luxury options, but this is a true case of that happening.
Faux-wood and metal trim pieces are elegantly placed, while all the buttons and dials have that upscale feel to them. The Nappa leather seats are spacious and comfortable, while being both heated and ventilated in the front two rows. If you own a car that has heated and ventilated seats in the back, you know you’ve made it in life. The faux-suede covered headliner also provides that same sense of, “man, I’ve finally made it.”
Find yourself sitting in one of the four seats that make up the front two rows, and you’ll be treated to all-day comfort. Passengers in the third row aren’t as lucky, though, but overall space is a lot better than the majority of other three-row SUVs in the midsize class. Getting into the third row is easy enough, there are two buttons on each seat, one at the top and another at the bottom, that slide the seat forward, making access to the third row easier. The second-row captain’s chairs have a little adjustability, which makes things a little better in the back, but even with the seats slid up a little bit, headroom for tall passengers remains an issue.
The Telluride gets the obvious things right, like having a spacious cargo hold, having modern amenities, boasting a great audio system, being equipped with a well-sized 10-inch touchscreen that’s easy to use, and whatever else you may think is necessary. But the SUV goes beyond that to focus on the little things. Like not only giving every seat its own USB port, but putting the ports in accessible areas – for the second row, the USB ports are located on the seatbacks for the front seats. Or making sure that you have some place to put a purse, also located on the backs of the front seats. I also love that the center console has built-in handles that also serve as housings for the heated and ventilated seat switches. Brilliant.
As one would expect, the Telluride is packed with all sorts of safety features. One of the more interesting features is blind spot monitoring that, in a similar page from Honda, goes above and beyond from just giving you an audible and visual warning of what’s in an adjacent lane. Instead, a live video of what’s next to you projects in the instrument cluster. It’s a much better system than Honda’s, which takes control of the whole central screen.
The Telluride SX with the SX Prestige Package comes with everything you could ever ask for. A head-up display, tri-zone climate control, a wireless phone charger, an intercom system, a heated steering wheel, all of the latest safety features, and a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system are all included. The only thing you won’t find is Wi-Fi hot spot.
One negative word on the interior: don’t get a light color. Our tester came with the lightest shade of gray interior. After 15,208 hard miles, the interior has not held up well. The seats have stains, some places are heavily marked, and scuffs are easy to spot from a few feet away. Unless you have OCD and want to clean the leather every day, we recommend going with a darker interior color. “Espresso” or “Dune Brown” would be our choices.
If there’s one area where the Telluride is just on par for the course, it’s in the powertrain department. There’s nothing wrong with the Telluride’s 3.8-liter V6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, but it’s just that it doesn’t stand out in the class. While competitors have gone down the turbocharged route, Kia sticks with an old-school, brawny engine that gets no help from forced induction.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this decision. For one, you don’t get the same rush down low as with other competitors, as peak torque happens high up near the vehicle’s redline. Instead of having a massive glob of power somewhere, you get a nice, linear power curve with little drama. The eight-speed automatic transmission is a fine pairing. Usually, it does a good job of finding the right gear, but can struggle at times to shift down quickly enough.
There are multiple drive modes that include things like Normal, Eco, Sport, and Smart. In a vehicle like this, Sport mode is kind of a joke. The throttle pedal becomes touchier than a boomer’s ego and the steering wheel becomes heavier. Other than that, there’s little to like about that. Usually, I stay away from “intelligent” drive modes because they’re usually stupid. But I enjoyed the Telluride’s. It would engage Sport mode when I needed to pass someone with a jab of the throttle and keep the SUV in Eco for long jaunts on the highway. It was surprisingly smart.
For an SUV of this size, the suspension is firmer than I would’ve imagined. Small imperfections can be felt in the road, while larger bumps can unsettle the vehicle in a wayward way that affects all large vehicles. On smooth tarmac and the highway, the ride smooths out considerably and results in a serene ride. Pair the smooth ride with the hushed cabin and the Telluride stands out as an immensely capable cruiser.
If you’re curious as to what kind of fuel economy to expect, we managed to get 21 mpg after a week of driving. That included a good mix of city and highway driving.
Every so often, automakers manage to make a vehicle that does its intended job so well that it’s hard to criticize. That’s what Kia has done with the Telluride. And the fact that it came out of left field makes it even more remarkable. For a long time, Kia has still had to deal with people being amazed when it comes out with a decent car. The Stinger, fantastic as it is, was still met with, “well it’s still a Kia” mentality. The Telluride is so darn good, I think it’s the vehicle that actually propels Kia past all of that malarkey.
My wife’s been going on about how she wants an SUV recently, with her choices including the Audi Q5, Jeep Wrangler, Jaguar F-Pace, and Toyota 4Runner. After driving the Telluride for a week, I’ve been trying to sway her to go with the Kia. Her only complaint about the SUV is its size, and us currently calling Baltimore home, I have to agree. It’s a difficult city SUV, but one hell of a suburban machine.
If we were in the market for a midsize SUV with seating for seven, I’d buy the Telluride. I think that’s the case for 90 percent of the other individuals that drive cars for a living, which says a lot.