There's nothing like the holiday roadtrip to put a big family hauler to the test. Loading up with luggage, people, and dogs, then heading out for more than a thousand kilometres of winter-dreary roadway in conditions ranging from snow-covered to rain to ice-covered. This year's saw me behind the wheel of Kia's largest model, the refreshed for 2023 Telluride three-row SUV.
Kia didn't make many changes to the Telluride with the 2023 refresh, but the copy I'm testing had nearly all of them. To start, it was the new X-Line trim which brings 10 mm of extra ground clearance and raised roof rails. While those changes make it a tiny bit more capable off-road and better able to take cargo boxes, skis, and kayaks along with you, neither one of them is likely to make the vehicle more highway friendly.
It also has Kia's new dual 12.3-inch panoramic display screens. The two big displays - one for the digital dash and one for infotainment - share a bezel-free panel. It's clean and bright, and even without a cover was easy to see in all of the horrendous lighting conditions that winter has to offer. Only the EX-spec Telluride gets an analogue dash this year, all of the rest get this big new double display.
Kia has changed up the styling, too, giving it new headlights and taillamps. If you can tell the difference without looking at the two back to back, you probably work for Kia. Still, despite the subtle changes, the Telluride wasn't exactly broken to begin with. It's a rugged and handsome-looking large crossover that manages to avoid blending in with so many similar vehicles on the market.
The rugged exterior carries over into the cabin, especially when equipped with teracotta brown leather like this example. The saddle-leather look with quilted stitching adds to the go-anywhere appearance and gives me more confidence in the vehicle's abilities. Then there are the big and beefy hand-holds on the centre console. You know, so you can pull yourself into this lifted crossover and hold yourself in place when you're crawling over rocks.
Ok, fine, nobody is crawling over rocks in their Telluride, and this isn't even the X-Pro that gets all-terrain tires on more dirt-friendly 18-inch wheels. It doesn't matter because it looks like it can do all of those things, and that makes you feel like it can and you will. With six passengers and a week of camping gear, of course. That look and that feeling is massively popular right now and, frankly, it's fun.
Why? Because as I spend the morning loading up with luggage and finding a way for my Dalmatian to sit in the middle row despite the standard captain's chairs (only SX and EX get eight seats) ahead of a seven-hour drive, it's nice to think I'm going on a fun adventure and not a day-long slog. But once I'm six hours into said drive, I absolutely do not want the road noise, sway, and general discomfort that comes with an actual rock crawler.
So how is this big crossover on the highway? Kia tunes its vehicles for a sportier-feeling ride than most of the competition, with sporty being marketing speak for stiff. The Telluride is no different. The stiffer springs and shocks mean that the Telluride isn't bouncy or wallowy over highway dips and bumps, which is a pleasant surprise in this segment. However, the sharp impacts that this leads to over pot holes and expansion joints might wake up the kids who were quietly sleeping in the back. At least you can use the in-cabin public address system to give them your best pilot impression and let them know it was just a bit of light turbulence.
Kia's Highway Driving Assist feature does its best to make day-long highway drives like mine less stressful. The system combines adaptive cruise control and lane centreing to let it do most of the steering for you. Plenty of these systems are more of a hindrance than a help (just days later I would turn off Subaru's similar system on a very similar drive), but this one is good. No bouncing from side to side in-lane, and the steering doesn't fight you.
HDA also has assisted lane changes. Tap the signal and wait for a moment and the Telluride will change lanes if it detects that it is safe to do so. The system will flash your signal for more than the usual three blinks, too, going until the change is done. If you're not happy with how long the assisted change is taking, it won't interfere with you if you give the wheel a bit of a tug to speed things up.
With all the seats occupied, the Telluride offers 601 L of cargo space. That's about in the middle of the class and in-line with the family sedans that it replaced. At least if you're not planning on loading right to the ceiling and risking cargo falling into the back seat (though if you do load that high, the digital rear view mirror lets you see "through" it.).
Fold the back seats and you've got 1,304L, again about average, and with everything flat there is 2,455L of total cargo volume. Passenger space is similarly capacious. There is ample head and legroom in the first row and the second-row has class-leading knee space. The second row slides fore and aft, too, so you can trade some second row space for either more cargo or taller passengers in the third row.
Telluride comes loaded up with road-trip friendly features including heated seats and a heated steering wheel on all trims. This X-Line model has ventilated front seats and even heated and ventilated middle-row chairs. My dog has never been so spoiled! Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both standard and top trims have Harman Kardon audio. There is a large wireless charging pad in the centre console, and Kia's neat seatback USB charge ports are both USB-C.
There is only one engine offered in the 2023 Telluride, a 3.8L gas V6 making 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. It's not enough shove to make the Telluride feel quick, but it is enough to get the job done when passing or merging on the highway. The eight-speed automatic is quick to change gears and keep revs down. While the engine is mostly quiet from in the cabin, the exhaust at idle does sound delightfully meaty for the amount of power it actually offers.
Fuel economy is rated at 12.8 L/100 km city and 9.8 highway. I averaged in the low 10s which is impressive given the low temperatures, winter tires, and snowy conditions.
The Kia Telluride already offered an appealing package, and the changes for 2023 improve the package. Most of the figures are average for the class, except for the price. What's included is tough to find for the money anywhere else, especially in base EX-spec. The looks are what really put the Telluride over the top, though, at least if you like the more capable and outdoorsy vibes that it gives off. A quick look at sales across the industry shows buyers do.
2023 Kia Telluride X-Line
BODY STYLE: four-door midsize SUV
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine/all-wheel drive
ENGINE: 3.8L V6; Power: 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm; Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION: eight-speed Automatic
CARGO CAPACITY: 601 litres behind rear seat, 1,304 behind second row, 2,455L with all seats folded
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular Gasoline in L/100 km) 12.8 city; 9.8 highway
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: (L/100km) 10.3 combined
PRICE: $50,195 (base EX); $61,195 (X-Line as-tested)