Let’s get this out of the way: if you’re in the market for a three-row SUV, you need to look long and hard at the Kia Telluride. It is legitimately the best three-row SUV I’ve driven since… ever. No wonder it won the2020 World Car of the Year award.
When I first laid eyes on the Telluride at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show, my first reaction was “this doesn’t look like a Kia.” There are no quirky design aestheticslike the Kia Soul. Instead, the Korean automaker has gone for the classic SUV look, swapping out whimsy for gravitas. Instead of the cartoonishly large grille and tiny Kia badge of the Soul, the front of Kia’s new flagship SUV has a more restrained-looking grille with “Telluride” spelled out in large block letters à la Range Rover. The Telluride exterior is all clean lines and gentle curves, with the B and C pillars blending into the windows and metal trim around the windows going from front to back.
Designed with the US market in mind, the Telluride starts at $33,690 for the LX trim. Priced at $46,860, our review model was a top-end Telluride SX with the $2,000 Prestige Package (heads-up display, Nappa leather trim, and heated/ventilated back seats) included. Fully loaded, it’s an impressive beast of an SUV.
Under the hood, you’ll find a 3.8-liter V6 power plant capable of 291hp (214kW) at 6,000rpm and 262lb-ft (355Nm) of torque at 5,200rpm paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. That’s more than enough for a mid-size, three-row SUV with a curb weight of 4,211lb (1,911kg). Any time I needed some oomph on the interstate, the Telluride responded with a minimum of noise and fuss. And the Telluride offers a surprisingly quiet ride, in part because of the acoustic glass windshield and front door windows.
There are four drive modes: Smart, Eco, Sport, and Comfort (plus Snow and AWD Lock on the Tellurides equipped with the optional AWD).
Not surprisingly for a vehicle named after a Colorado mountain town, the Telluride is a very capable off-road vehicle. It has a 17.0° departure angle and 8 inches (20.3cm) of ground clearance, and while there’s no front or rear locking differentials, the Telluride can do a very passable imitation with the center clutch’s ability to lock into a 50-50 split—or send the torque directly to the wheel that needs it. At the most recentMAMArally, there was an off-road course set up on the infield of one of the tracks. In addition to the usual lineup of Jeeps and pickup trucks was a Telluride. I hopped inside and attacked the course, which consisted of a very muddy track that ran through a copse and directly up a small ridge. With all-wheel drive engaged and the center clutch doing its thing, the Kia handled the course with aplomb.
Kia includes its entire suite of driver-assistance and safety features standard on the Telluride, something we wish all OEMs would do. It’s largely standard stuff—collision avoidance, lane-keep assist, 360° camera—Kia put a really nice twist on it that I’d not encountered before. The instrument panel in the Telluride is the standard two analog dials with a small LED display in the middle. When you activate the turn signal, whatever is showing in the display changes to a camera view of that side of the car. Take that, blind spot!
With the $2,000 SX Prestige Package, the Telluride feels upscale, but what stands out the most about this big unit is Kia’s consistency in getting all of the little things right. Sure, the Nappa leather seats and simulated brushed metal and wood trim are nice to sit on and look at, but there’s an element of design harmony present in the Telluride that many other mainstream car makers miss the mark on. One example is the center console, topped by the 10.25 color touchscreen infotainment system. It reminds me—in a good way—of previous iterations of BMW’s iDrive. Its sole downside is that it’s touch only. While the screen is easily within the driver’s reach, I prefer also having a knob near the cupholders for most of my infotainment-related fiddling. And both CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
The rest of the controls, like media and climate, are smartly placed within easy reach of the driver. The driving position is outstanding as well, and there’s an easy intuitiveness about piloting the Telluride. While it’s not a must-have, the HUD is a really nice option at this price point, and Kia’s implementation is like everything else in the SUV: smart and well-thought out.
Unlike the three-row Kia Sorrento, the Telluride feels downright spacious inside. That even extends into the third row. It’s hard to call the third row in an SUV spacious or comfortable, but the Telluride is up there with the massiveBMW X7 when it comes to least-bad third rows.
Even with the third row up, there’s still 21cu ft (595L) of cargo space behind, which expands to 46cu ft (1,303L) with the third row down and 87cu ft (2,464L) with the second row folded down as well. That second row can either be a bench (with the LX and EX trims) or captain’s chairs (the S and SX).
The Telluride is also respectable when it comes to fuel economy, hitting 26mpg on the highway, 20mpg in the city, and 23mpg combined (9/11.8/10.2L/100km). In a week of mixed driving, we saw 23.9mpg (9.8l/100km).
With few exceptions, all of our press car loans are a week long. At the end of the week with a car, my feelings can vary between “good riddance” and “please let me keep this forever.” The Telluride is definitely in the second category. I’ve driven a lot of three-row luxury SUVs, both mid-size and full-size. And the Kia Telluride SX with Prestige Pack really holds up well against them. I’d have a hard time arguing for spending $75,000 plus on a loaded Volvo XC90 when you can get 95% of the experience for about $30,000 less.
And car buyers seem to agree. The Kia folks I’ve spoken with tell me that they’re seeing huge demand for the Telluride SX, and chatter on the Internet (including /r/askcarsales) seems to bear that out. It’s no wonder, given the Telluride’s build and ride quality, not to mention Kia’s excellent warranty coverage. At $33,690, the base Telluride LX is a nice deal. Fully loaded at $47,000, the Telluride SX is a no-brainer if you’re looking for a roomy three-row SUV with all the bells and whistles.
Listing image by BradleyWarren Photography