- What’s Good: Anchors for up to three child seats; Talk Mode
- What’s Bad: It has a boxy look, but unless something is really ugly, who cares?
LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Kia Canada calls the new three-row 2020 Telluride a family-friendly SUV, so why not invite the family to go for a drive?
Which is how it came to be two weeks ago that a group of automotive journalists from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia — plus assorted wives, girlfriends and mothers — gathered in the Alberta Rockies for three days of driving, sightseeing, eating, drinking and sleeping in two of the finest resorts in Canada.
(Overheard — one blood relative to another: “You call this work?” Reply: “It’s not always like this.” First blood relative: “R-i-g-h-t…”)
Now, I’ve been fortunate in my life to have been to the Banff-Lake Louise part of Alberta previously. I graduated from university in the spring of 1969, and drove west with my friends, Ron and Robbie Riter, who were leaving Toronto and the Globe and Mail behind to return to Vancouver, where an old job on the Sun was waiting.
They dropped me off in Calgary, where I met up with my old pal, Steve Orchin, who drove me to Banff and then north on the Icefields Parkway toward Jasper. The scenery was jaw-droppingly spectacular, with mountain after mountain beckoning. That Gordie Lightfoot always seemed to be on the radio singing The Mountains and Marianne didn’t hurt. I’ve thought of that highway ever since, determined to one day go back there, and so it took me about a second after receiving an invitation to test the Telluride on that road to say, “Yes.”
Unfortunately, literally at the last second, my 22-year-old son, Duncan, fell ill and was unable to make the trip. I travelled solo on the test day, which was a good thing in one way and not-so-good in another (I’ll explain later), but on the first day I drove from Edmonton, where we’d all gathered on arrival, to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge with Jason Tchir of Globe Drive and his mother, Rose.
It was during this drive that Rose and I exchanged opinions on what she thought was the best thing about the Telluride and what I thought. She was mightily impressed by the Rear Occupant Alert, in which an ultrasonic sensor detects movement in the rear seats when the car is stopped and turned off. If a child or a pet is back there, and the driver forgets, the first alert sounds when the driver turns off the car and opens a door. A second alert sounds when the driver gets out and the child or pet is still inside.
“I think that’s wonderful,” she said. “How often do you hear about a child dying because somebody forgets they’re in the car on a swelteringly hot day? I believe this feature will be a lifesaver.”
I agree with that assessment, 100 per cent. It’s brilliant.
I, on the other hand, really liked what’s called the Rear Seat Driver Talk Mode. This is when the driver can speak to the passengers in the second and third row of seats without having to raise his or her voice. By using the microphone and the speakers, the driver can say to a couple of squabbling children, for instance, “If you two don’t cut it out back there, I will stop this car right now and make you walk home.” (Don’t frown. We’ve all done it…)
This will save wear and tear on vocal chords because, at present, in most cars you have to yell at your kids, “IF YOU TWO DON’T CUT IT OUT BACK THERE, I WILL STOP THIS CAR AND…” It strikes me that Driver Talk Mode is a wonderful advance in civil discourse and will likely be quickly copied by all other automakers manufacturing family vehicles — once they get the bugs worked out.
I say “bugs” because, while the Talk Mode is a wonderful concept, it didn’t sound quite right when we tried it out. Rose, who was sitting in the second row of seats, reported that the sound of my voice was “tinny,” as if it was coming from an echo chamber. I’m sure that Kia engineers and technicians are already aware of this and working on a fix, but I had to point it out because it is one of the few things on this car I could find fault with.
So, let’s take a tour of the Telluride — named after a ski-resort town in southwest Colorado, by the way (I had to be a smart guy and say, “Why didn’t you — Kia — call it a ‘Jasper’ for the Canadian market? I mean, what’s a Telluride?”).
The eight-seater SUV looks great on the outside, with an attractive front grille, 18-inch wheels (shod with Michelins, by the way) and full LED headlights and LED fog lights. You can get vertical LED tail lights, but they will cost you more. (I’m detailing the Kia EX AWD model here, which has a MSRP of $44,995; I’ll get to the more expensive models in a moment).
Yes, like most SUVs the Telluride’s a bit boxy, but take your pick: do you want something people will look at when you drive it down the street, all going, “Oooohh, aaahhh?” Or do you want an exterior that’s attractive but is really just the outside of a car inside which you spend all of your time? In short, who cares about the outside? It’s the inside that really counts.
And what’s inside? First, it’s roomy. I’m a big guy, and I want to ride in cars where I can move my elbows. There’s good headroom, hip-room and legroom, too — and that’s in all three rows. An aside here: because of my size and age, I don’t like crawling into anything beyond the row of seats behind the driver, and that’s because you can usually only tilt the second-row seatback forward to make room. Kia has a button on the side of the second-row seating that you touch that slides those seats forward and folds the backs down, making getting in and out of the third row so much easier.
The front-row seats are heated, as is the leather steering wheel. Speaking of leather, the seats have synthetic leather covering. The trim is a wood grain, which is really attractive. There is a single sunroof. A Smart Key gets you into the vehicle and you push a button to start it.
The technology is amazing. There is a 10.25-inch (26-centimetre) touchscreen (AM, FM and Sirius Satellite Radio; navigation; Driver Talk Mode; Quiet Mode (in which sound to the second and third rows can be turned off so people aren’t bothered by what the driver has on the radio), rear-view monitor with parking guidance; and so-on. There are six USB charging ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging (if your phone has the necessary wireless charging capability) and just about all the other bells and whistles you can think of, including multi-Bluetooth wireless connectivity that allows two phones to connect simultaneously.
The safety features are equally impressive. There’s Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Following Assist, High Beam Assist, Driver Attention Warning (that’s when your car tells you to take a coffee break), Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, Rear Parking Sensors and Advanced Smart Cruise Control.
Now, what’s really interesting about the Telluride is that most of the good stuff is standard. You can add some options, but you have to decide whether it’s worth it to spend the extra money. For instance:
The SX AWD model, which will cost you $49,995 — $5,000 more than the EX — adds front parking sensors, a Blind View Monitor, 20-inch wheels, satin chrome trim, a dual sunroof, leather seating, ventilated front row seats, Driver Memory System and sun blinds for people riding in the second row. Nice, I suppose, but necessary?
And the top-of-the-line SX Limited AWD, which would set you back $53,995 — another four grand — would get you Self-Leveling Rear Suspension, LED tail lights, rain-sensing wipers and heated and ventilated second-row seats. Oh, and captain chairs for seven passengers. To each his or her own, I guess.
I’m not alone in my assessment of Kia’s brilliance in making so much of its product standard instead of optional. Marc Keller is a product planning specialist for Kia Canada. A graduate of York University, he’s admittedly biased but proud all the same of the Telluride and what it offers.
“We offer Canadian families a lot of value,” he said in an interview. “The whole interior aspect of being connected, of being convenient, is very important. And I think our whole advance safety system, in which we have everything, is the best on offer because it is standard. Within the segment, our competitors have everything but at varying trim levels. We have the whole suite in one trim level — the baselevel EX. That’s got to be seen as impressive.”
As well, the front seat captain chairs are ventilated (as well as heated, as mentioned above) and there are anchors for up to three child seats, two in the second-row and one in the third.
The length of the Telluride is 5,000 millimetres. It’s 12,990 mm wide and 1,750 mm high. The wheelbase is 2,900 mm and it has a ground clearance of 203 mm. It has 601 litres of cargo space behind the third-row of seats (the liftgate is hands-free-powered) and the second- and third-row seating can be folded flat, increasing the cargo space to about 2,460 litres.
OK, so how does it drive? Nicely-nicely, as the character in the Damon Runyon play Guys and Dolls would say. The 3.8L-V6 Atkinson-Cycle GDI engine has 291 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm), 262 lb.-ft. of torque and is married to an eight-speed automatic transmission. There are seven drive/terrain modes — four drive (Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart) and three for inclement weather/bad roads (Snow, Mud and Sand).
Now, at a briefing before Jason, Rose and I left Edmonton, we were all warned that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who patrol the highways and byways of Alberta, were strict when it came to speed enforcement. So, we behaved ourselves (the speed limit is always projected on the touchscreen) en route to Jasper and our overnight stay at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. (An aside: it’s neat to walk out of the front door of your cabin at seven in the morning to find a deer nibbling on the grass you have to walk over to get to the street. Shoo, deer.)
However, for the run between Jasper and Lake Louise, with a stop for lunch and a tour at the Columbia Icefield, I was on my own and able to do a bit of real testing. (It would have been preferable to have Duncan along to trade ideas, but whatcha gonna do?) Although the altitude (nearly 1,600 metres above sea level) might have had a negative effect on power output, I didn’t notice anything particularly negative, and the Telluride made it up to 160 km/h without difficulty (shhhhh!).
While the Trans-Canada between Jasper and Lake Louise was pretty straight, there were a few sections where you go up and down a mountain, and the SUV handled the climb up and the drop down with ease. Several times, the switchbacks (where the road meanders around on the ascent/descent) were a little on the tight side, but the Telluride’s handling made the drive a pleasure. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not talking about a speed trial here. This is a family SUV, more suited to going to the cottage than competing in a hill climb. What I am saying, though, is that the car handled well when put to the test, and that’s all you ever want out of a vehicle.
One thing I particularly liked about the drive experience was the Blind-Spot View Monitor. If you are — as I was on this test — passing another car or a lumber truck, and unsure whether you are far enough past to safely pull in because the sun is shining on the outside mirror, or it’s dirty for one reason or another, then this safety system makes things easier. The monitor, which is located in the middle of your instrument cluster (speed, tach, temperature gauge and so on) is activated when you use your ticker signal to pull out from behind whatever-it-is you’re passing. You can then see the location of the car or truck you’re passing clearly and know when it’s safe to pull back into the driving lane, at which point your ticker stops working and the monitor clicks off. You don’t have to turn your head to look at an outside mirror; all you move is your eyes from the road ahead, down to the monitor, and back again. Genius, I say.
Now, the drive from Jasper to Lake Louise is only about 240 kilometres, so there wasn’t really enough time or distance to accurately measure fuel mileage. But Kia says 12.5 city (L/100 kms), 9.6 highway and 11.2 combined pretty much tells the tale.
I’m really sorry Duncan couldn’t make the trip with me. The car was great, the scenery was breathtaking and the accommodations spectacular. Maybe another time.