2020 Kia Telluride Review

2020 Kia Telluride - New kid in town, Telluride makes all the right moves.


Kia's biggest vehicle yet, the Telluride appeared on dealer lots this past Summer. All-new from the ground up, Telluride is a mid-to-large 3-row crossover offering seating for 7 or 8 passengers. Front- and all-wheel drive models are offered, all with a V6 engine. Competitors include the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas. Telluride is mechanically similar to the Hyundai Palisade, which is all-new as well.

Four trim levels are offered: LX, S, EX and SX. All get a 3.8-liter V6 engine that makes 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel-drive optional across the board. Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.

Standard safety features on all models includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and drowsy driver warning system. Standard features on the LX include 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, simulated-leather upholstery, 60/40-split folding second- and third-row seating, Bluetooth, five USB charge ports, 8-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration and 6-speaker stereo with satellite radio and USB input.

S models add 20-inch wheels, roof rails, sunroof, power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats and second-row captain's chairs. EX adds LED taillights, power-folding mirrors, acoustic glass for front doors, hands-free liftgate, keyless entry and ignition, three-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather upholstery, power-adjustable front passenger seat, ventilated front seats, 10.3-inch touchscreen, driver voice amplifier for the rear seats and a wireless charging pad.

SX adds to the EX all of the above plus LED headlights and foglights, dual sunroofs, front parking sensors, upgraded driver information display, interior ambient lighting, driver-seat memory functions, surround-view parking camera system, 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system, blind-spot camera, automatic high beams and low-level automated highway driving system. Prices start at $31,690 and clime to more than $46,000 for a loaded SX. All-wheel drive adds $2,000 to the MSRP.

Sporting an all-new chassis and design, Kia sticks to what works in the engine department. The 3.8-liter V6 provides adequate acceleration and brisk passing response. Posting a 0 to 60 MPH time of about 7 seconds, it's a tick or two slower than a Chevrolet Traverse or Honda Pilot. In addition, load up with four or five passengers, and acceleration is noticeably blunted.

The 8-speed automatic shifts smoothly, almost imperceptibly. It can be caught in the wrong gear when climbing mild grades or rounding corners, resulting is a delayed downshift. Kia's all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range. However, it does have automatic torque vectoring and several driver-selectable modes including sport, comfort, eco and snow. In addition, you can lock the center differential. This makes the Kia system slightly more capable off-road than some others.

EPA numbers for the front-drive model are 20 MPG city and 26 MPG highway. AWD models net ratings of just 19/24 MPG. Those numbers put the new Kia mid class for overall fuel efficiency. As is the case for most vehicles in the class, regular-grade gasoline is OK. In routine around-town driving, expect to average close to the EPA city rating. Throw in some gentle highway cruising and that number will climb north of 22 MPG. Straight highway cruising generates about 26 MPG overall.

As you might expect, Kia played it safe when engineering the Telluride's driving dynamics. It's not too cushy and it's not too sporty. The suspension does an excellent job of filtering out the rough stuff and controlling unwanted secondary motions. There's no bobbing or bounding on badly broken pavement. Overall, the Telluride perfectly nails that ride-and-handling balance that's so elusive in this class.

Though completely competent, Telluride's somewhat slow steering and flaccid suspension quickly get overwhelmed when the road gets twisty. Driven at acceptable speeds, most will find that the new Kia performs adequately in the bendy sections. Stopping power is quite good and the pedal is very easy to modulate. As is the case with acceleration, when you add a few passengers or a load in the back, braking distances grow. Interior noise levels are acceptable. There's a bit more wind noise than expected, but the engine and tires are mute most of the time.

In this class, getting the interior right is the most important aspect of design. In the case of the new Telluride, Kia hit it out of the park. The interior has a modern, upscale demeanor that would not be out of place in an Audi or Mercedes-Benz -- especially SX trim. The control layout is neither overly busy nor is it bland. The available all-digital instrument panel that's strikingly sharp.

The best part, from a driver's perspective is the blending of the buttons and touch screen display to provide a seamless interface that's both intuitive and logical.  Climate controls are arranged in a simple pod at the top of the center console, audio controls just above that and the large touch screen with Kia's UVO infotainment system just above that. Vehicles with the digital display get a gimmicky side-view monitor when you activate the turn signal. At low speeds it makes sense for parking, but at high speeds it is just distracting.

Like most automakers in this class, Kia offers a suite of safety systems that features surround-view cameras, lane-departure warning, cross-traffic alert and Kia's semi-automated self driving. It works in conjunction with the adaptive cruise control to provide autonomous-like driving on highways. Unfortunately, it is prone to ping-ponging from one side of the lane to the other and doesn't brake as smoothly as systems found in competitors.

Front seats are nicely padded and provide great long-haul comfort. Head and leg room are quite good. The same can be said for the 2nd-row captain's chairs. Those in the back will find that leg room can be tight if the 2nd-row seats are all the way back, but otherwise comfort is quite good. In addition, the one-touch tip-and-slide feature makes it easy to climb in back. Door openings are large and the step-in height is modest, making it quite easy to get in and out, overall.

Telluride boasts 18 cu. ft. of cargo space behind the 3rd-row seats and up to 86 cu. ft. of space overall. That's better than the Mazda CX-9 or Toyota Highlander and on par with other offerings in the class. The load floor is flat, if a bit high, and the opening is wide. Interior storage is great, with lots of open and covered bins throughout.

Bottom Line - Telluride's combination of passenger room, comfort, features and price is nearly unbelievable. Most competitors, save its Hyundai twin, cost thousands more. This new Kia sets a benchmark for large midsize crossovers that has to have other automakers scratching their heads.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.