Most three-row crossover SUVs are anonymous. There's nothing flashy about a Honda Pilot or a Volkswagen Atlas. But each brings its own unique set of strengths, nearly all of which emphasize comfort, space, and fuel efficiency above all else. But the Kia Telluride takes a different path.
Yeah, it still excels in crucial consumer areas like comfort, space, and fuel efficiency. But rather than building another risk-averse, three-row crossover, Kia injected some much-needed life into the segment. The Telluride is exceptionally handsome, (think a rugged George Clooney), comfortable beyond its segment, and carries the latest tech. Kia has a standout on its hands.
Scores updated in February 2021. A vehicle's ratings are relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how Motor1.com rates its cars, click here.
The Kia Telluride's butch, boxy look separates it from anything else in the class. Its enlarged
“tiger nose” grille and upright, rectangular headlights give the Telluride a strong gaze, and the slim hook-shaped LED taillights and silver faux running boards continue the tough theme at the rear. On the hood and tailgate, a “TELLURIDE” wordmark nearly extends the width of the vehicle; a design feature typically reserved for trucks and classier crossovers.
The quality components continue inside. The exceptionally styled cabin mimics that of a luxury crossover with high-quality Nappa leather (a $2,000 option as part of the Prestige package), smooth wood-grain finishes, and aluminum knobs and buttons. There's some hard plastic, but most of it's below the knee. And while we typically aren't fans of iPad-esque infotainment system tacked onto the dash, the 10.3-inch touchscreen looks attractive here. A silvery-black housing that sinks into the centrally located wood trim keeps it from looking too tacked on.
Every one of the Kia Telluride's seats is comfortable: front, second, and third-row included. Unlike other three-row crossovers, the Telluride's rear-most seats are adult-friendly. Its 31.4 inches of legroom isn't best in class – the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Subaru Ascent are a bit better – but the back row is still comfortable enough for shorter bouts.
With the SX Prestige package, the Telluride gets Nappa leather on all three rows (and the steering wheel), a premium suede-like headliner, as well as heated and ventilated front- and second-row seats. The third row doesn't get heating or ventilation functions, but at least it reclines.
From the driver's seat, the Telluride proves its worth as a comfortable, competent cruiser. Visibility is good and things are whisper quiet. Little outside noise pierces the cabin, even at highway speed. Only the occasional rumble of the V6 penetrates from the outside when pushed. The big, upright windshield, panoramic sunroof, and rear fixed-glass roof (standard on the SX model) allow a lot of light in the cabin, too, making it feel less cave-like than some of its classmates.
Even the base Telluride LX doesn't skimp on equipment. An 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Kia's baked-in UVO Link system (which includes the likes of smartphone-based remote start, remote lock and unlock, and find my car) comes standard. But our Telluride SX tester, loaded with the sleek 10.3-inch touchscreen display, offers much more.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto carry over, of course. And they're both extremely easy to use thanks to the touchscreen's crystal-clear graphics and iPhone-like responsiveness. But now Kia's UVO Link with navigation comes along for the ride, as do lower-trim options like Cabin Talk (an in-cabin speaker that sends sound from the front row to the rear row), Quiet Mode (which turns sound from the speakers off entirely behind the front seats), and a 10-speaker Harmon-Kardon surround sound system.
The optional head-up display (part of the $2,000 Prestige package) is nice, but not totally necessary. The 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster, located between two analog gauges, displays all the info you need.
While the Telluride is exceptional in most categories, there's nothing impressive about the way it drives. The 3.8-liter V6’s 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque feel like barely enough to get by. We find little issue with the eight-speed automatic. It shifts smoothly and decisively, but it's nothing to write home about, either.
The Telluride's truck-like exterior must have inspired engineers to inject some body-on-frame qualities into its dynamics, too. This Kia shows its size at every turn. The body roll is dramatic for a segment of vehicles that prides itself on car-like dynamics, and the steering is light and mostly lifeless (in Comfort and Eco modes). Sport mode injects some necessary life into the equation, improving throttle tip-in and providing some necessary heft and feel to the steering. But the suspension remains too spongy. Compared to its Palisade sibling, the Hyundai is the better driving of the two.
All-wheel drive (as tested) helps alleviate some of our driving woes. The big three-row never lacks for grip. But it's a $2,000 option on all trim levels.
The only thing that keeps the Kia Telluride from a high score in safety is that it hasn't been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Otherwise, the amount of available safety equipment (much of it standard on the SX trim) makes the Telluride one of the most well-equipped options in its class.
Blind-spot monitoring, forward and reverse automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane centering, lane-departure warning, and much more come standard on the Telluride SX. And all of it works seamlessly on the road; we especially love the Telluride's adaptive cruise control in traffic situations. There it keeps the vehicle centered in the lane cleanly and at a steady pace to the vehicle in front of it.
But even the base LX model is well equipped. It offers standard equipment such as forward automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, parking sensors, and additional equipment.
Even with all-wheel drive, the Kia Telluride gets an impressive 19 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined, per the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s among the most-efficient V6-powered, all-wheel-drive crossovers in the class, besting the Chevrolet Traverse (17/25/20) and Volkswagen Atlas (17/24/20); only the Honda Pilot is better (19/26/22). Otherwise, it’s still a step behind turbocharged, four-cylinder alternatives like the Mazda CX-9 (20/26/23) and Subaru Ascent (21/27/23). If it’s efficiency you’re after, the front-wheel-drive Telluride gets 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined.
At $43,490 to start, the Kia Telluride SX feels well worth the price of admission. It’s a comparative bargain versus equally posh crossovers like the Mazda CX-9 Signature ($45,365), and a similarly equipped, V6-powered Chevrolet Traverse Premier ($46,695).
With its options included, our tester costs $48,100. The most expensive add-on is the $2,000 SX Prestige package (head-up display, Nappa leather, premium headliner, heated and ventilated second row). Dealer-installed options like interior lighting ($450), a tow hitch ($395), carpeted floor mats ($210), and a carpeted cargo mat ($115) hike the overall price (if you really want them). But even with virtually every option tacked on, the Telluride feels like a steal at less than $50,000.
Gallery: 2020 Kia Telluride: Review
2020 Kia Telluride SX