Review: 2020 Kia Telluride
Love the wheels, and the paint, to me, just screams “rooooaaaad trip!”
THE PROS & CONS
- Whats Good: Gorgeous, Luxurious interior, usable third row
- Whats Bad: A little more power wouldn't go amiss, tame exterior styling
You may not realize it – I had to remind myself at first – but Kia has actually had a three-row SUV for quite some time, now, and no, we’re not talking about the short-lived V8-powered Borrego. I’m talking about one of the South Korean brand’s bread-and-butter models, the Sorento. It has a third row, but it’s not the most usable in the biz and a look at the line-ups of pretty much every one of Kia’s competitors shows that they almost all have proper three-row options.
The reasons for this are manyfold, but one in particular is crystal-clear: the three-row SUV has replaced the minivan when it comes to people moving, and Kia needed to step up to the plate.
Which they have done, and it quite spectacular fashion, for the all-new Telluride is far from your garden-variety three-rower; it’s got that, but with a tinge of luxury in a manifestation of a trend started at Kia by the Stinger sports sedan.
You can’t really tell from looking at it, though, as the exterior doesn’t move the needle all that much in the styling department; that’s probably why they gussied up so many of these with all manner of customization and overlanding gear on the auto show circuit this year. Love the wheels, though, and the paint, to me, just screams “rooooaaaad trip!”
Inside, though, the Telluride is a spectacular place in which to sit. All the materials are top notch, the aluminum accents found on details like the engine start/stop button, the media controls and on the steering wheel are perfectly appointed and my tester’s Espresso Brown leather interior just oozes class. Even the text and lighting ‘round the drive mode controller appears laser cut into the base; they’ve really hit the detailing on the head, here.
Being the second-tier SX V6 model, my tester had pretty much everything Kia offers on the Telluride except for Nappa leather, self-levelling suspension, 50/50 split folding third row seats, heads-up display and heated/cooled second row captain’s chairs. Instead, the second row is a three-person bench but the way each side can slide fore and aft on its own means you get kind of a quasi-captain’s chair feel.
Content-wise, since my tester’s only option was its Dark Moss paint, it had it all: heated front seats, heated steering wheel, real wood grain trim, USB ports in all three rows, Harman Kardon audio, tri-zone climate control, dual-panel sunroof, 20” wheels; it goes on, and on and on and other than heated second-row seats, I really don’t think I’d be missing all that much as an owner.
Kia’s UVO infotainment system, meanwhile, is a good one. There’s a 10.25” screen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. It’s a big, crisp, clean affair with a tiled display that (thankfully) doesn’t force you to use it for mundane stuff like adjusting your climate control; there are a set of buttons below it for that.
The gauge cluster is also more traditional in that it’s analogue as opposed to digital, though it does get a 7” display at its centre. And what a functional piece it is, becoming a blind-spot camera for both your right- and left-hand side blind spots once the turn indicator is flipped. A backup cam wouldn’t really work there because the amount of steering lock required would obstruct it, which isn’t really an issue with a blind spot camera. I’m also a fan of the drive select system, which operates in two parts: on the right of the system’s controller, you’ll find the various terrain modes – snow, mud and sand. On the left, you’ll find the powertrain modes – comfort, eco, sport and smart. You toggle between which settings you’re adjusting by pressing on the wheel, thereby eliminating the need for a second set of controls.
The power front seats adjust eight ways for the driver and six for the passenger, and they are well-padded without pushing the occupants out. It also feels like a big space – the 5,040 L of passenger volume it provides is no joke – and this is perhaps best manifested in the third row. In addition to being easy to access, it’s not a bad place to sit at all if the second-row occupants are willing to slide their seats forward a bit. To make it even more accessible back there, there are cupholders and USB ports. The Telluride also gets something called “Driver Talk” that actually uses microphones to broadcast what you’re saying to the people behind you. It sounds a little echoey, but it works and is a great way to keep the family in-check, and your eyes on the road as you don’t have to turn around for the back seat occupants to better hear you.
Losing the second-row captain’s chairs means you also lose the ability to step between them to access the third row. It’s not as serious an offence here, though, as the way the second row tilts and slides with a single button press means a pretty easy passage rearwards. The third row, meanwhile, folds into the floor with a press of a button mounted in the cargo wall, providing 1,303 L of storage space, down a little on what offered by the Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder. That shrinks to 595 with the third row up, but there’s nice underfloor storage to give you just that much more room to breathe back there and more room than there is in either the Nissan or Honda. The tailgate, meanwhile, opens as soon as you stand near it with a keyfob in your pocket; no need to perform a Russian-style dance under the rear bumper to activate it.
Power is provided by a naturally-aspirated V6 (to the tune of 291 hp and 262 lb-ft), which will be more than enough for most. It’s smooth and works well in concert with the standard 8-speed automatic to move you confidently forward.
The torque and power build to their respective peaks in smooth fashion, if not one that I’d describe as “sprightly”. I do like how there’s almost always power on-tap, however, making for easy freeway passing. I find it hard not to imagine what the Telluride would feel like if Kia managed to find a way to mount the twin-turbo V6 from the Stinger, though. It makes more power and torque, and it’d be interesting to see how that translates to hauling.
The Telluride’s ride and handling are a standout in the category. The interior styling suggests that it should ride quite smoothly and that it does, rarely getting unsettled by your everyday road imperfections. There will be a little bit of body roll as the weight – that’s nearly two tonnes of Korean pig iron – begins to transfer, though. The self-levelling suspension found on the Limited trim could help, but it wasn’t so bad on my tester that I took real issue with it. Instead, I just laid back and let the responsive steering and chassis waft me to my destination. The family will love it.
We talked about the blind spot monitoring system, but that’s just the start of it when it comes to the Telluride. Adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist, blind spot collision avoidance, forward-collision assist and rear-traffic assist all come as standard. The only safety options are said blind spot monitoring system and forward parking sensors. The only reason why you’re not seeing a ten here is that there’s no auto-parking system to speak of and in a vehicle this new, there ought to be one. The VW Atlas gets it, as will the all-new 2020 Explorer as we start to see more and more that systems like this are no longer just for top-spec luxury models.
For most of our time in the city, we kept it in “eco” mode, while “sport” was the preferred choice while on the highway as it sharpens the throttle response, directs more power to the rear axle and adds weight to the steering; combined, we saw 12.4 L/100 km, which is about what Kia’s claiming for the Telluride.
Put simply, what you have here is one of the best values in the three-row SUV market. Our trim – the second-best SX V6 with all that stuff we talked about – starts at below 50 grand, while the Atlas, the Pilot, the Highlander and so on will run you over 50 grand and into the 55-grand level without breaking a sweat when similarly equipped. I love how no-nonsense the Telluride buying experience is, too; there are basically no option packages – just pick your trim, pick your colour, and go. There’s something to be said for that.
The Telluride may not be the most torquey three-rower out there, may not be the most exciting looking but that’s easily overlooked as it does what it’s meant to do so well. Skip it, and risk skipping one of the more tantalizing options in the three-row segment.
2020 Kia Telluride
Body style: 7-seat SUV
Drive method: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.8L V6, 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm; Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Cargo capacity: 595/1,303/2,464 behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
Fuel Economy: 12.4/9.8/11.2 L/100 km city/highway/combined
Observed fuel economy: 12.4L/100 km
Price: $49,995 (base), as tested 50,195
Website: Kia Telluride