• Large new 3-row SUV seats up to eight
  • Available with front- or all-wheel drive
  • 3.8-liter V6 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission
  • Loaded with safety and driver-assistance tech
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard
  • Starting prices range from $31,600 (LX) to $43,490 (AWD SX)

 

The 2020 Kia Telluride, a luxurious new 3-row SUV built specifically for the U.S., shines brightly as a comfortable long-distance road-trip machine. On our recent 3-day road trip from Colorado to California, by way of the unreal Monument Valley and the Mojave National Preserve, the Tellluride impressed, gobbling up the miles with ease and wowing us with its quiet and confident demeanor, all while returning a respectable 25 mpg.

Styled in California at the company’s Irvine design studio, this boxy Kia is a handsome crossover SUV with a windshield that’s a bit more upright than is common these days, which makes for a good forward view. It also helps to keep this large Kia SUV, which is built in West Point, Georgia, from looking like a minivan, although it can seat up to eight when the captain’s chairs of the seven-seat model are replaced by a 3-seat middle bench. Competition for the new Kia Telluride includes the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.

Refined powertrain and chassis

One powerplant is available in the 2020 Kia Telluride: a 3.8-liter V6 that sends 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque to the front (or all) wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. This smooth and unobtrusive aluminum-block engine mounts transversely in the Telluride’s rigid unit-body chassis, which benefits from large amounts of high-strength steel and a multilink independent rear suspension. Load leveling is optional on the EX and SX models. The Telluride’s all-wheel drive system, an extra $2,000 on each model, features an electrohydraulic coupling that manages a multiplate clutch to automatically apportion power where needed for enhanced stability in slippery conditions.

The new Telluride also has four driving modes -- selectable via a knurled knob on the center console – that automatically adjust the engine, transmission and steering characteristics to suit varying drivers and conditions. In Eco and Comfort, no more than 35 percent of the engine’s power can be sent to the Telluride’s rear wheels. In Sport, Smart or Snow modes, 50 percent of the power can be sent rearward to keep this big Kia SUV moving in slippery conditions, aided by an AWD Lock button that ensures all four of the Telluride’s wheels get an equal amount of power. For the record, the standard tow rating for the 2020 Kia Telluride is 5,000 pounds, but let it be known that a tow hitch is available only as an option on the EX and SX Tellurides.

Telluride’s lead designer on the shape

“The first thing you’ll notice is that Telluride is boxy,” explains Kurt Kahl, lead designer on Tellluride. “That’s on purpose. Unlike SUVs of the recent past, which are rounded out to look more and more like sedans and wagons, the Telluride is wide, solid and firmly planted on the road. It has a long, broad hood, and the widest tiger-nose grille of any Kia, with an elegant chrome finish across the top and bottom to make the grille even more prominent. Bold stacked headlamps wrap around the fenders to convey power and stability. The rectangular shape is really distinctive, and the SX model features a ring of orange LEDs for an even more dramatic look.”

Continues Kahl: “Around the side you’ll see a clean profile with muscular-looking cut lines. The expansive windows flow all the way back to a narrow rear roof pillar, and they are surrounded by a chrome or satin-chrome finish depending on the model. At almost 197 inches nose to tail, [the Telluride] is among the longest SUVs in its class, and the long wheelbase makes it easy to slide in and out of the third row. It offers more walk-in space than both the Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander. With the Telluride, we really wanted to design a vehicle that would help us do the things we love. A big liftgate with a low load height also was key.”

Abundant technology

As you’d expect of a flagship SUV, the Telluride is packed with technology. Safety is highlighted by Kia’s Drive Wise suite, which includes forward collision warning and avoidance technology, lane-departure warning and assist, blind-spot collision avoidance, smart cruise control (with stop and go), rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and a surround-view monitor to help with parking maneuvers. The 2020 Telluride also has what Kia calls Highway Driving Assist (HDA), which uses radar to “see” lane markings and allows the vehicle to automatically adjust its steering, acceleration and braking to maintain a set distance to the vehicle ahead. Of note, HDA recognizes speed limits on federal highways and adjusts speed accordingly.

Comfort and convenience technology also abound in the 2020 Kia Telluride. Highlights include standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus available niceties such as a 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, wireless phone charging, six USB ports (two for each row of seats), a head-up display and a new Quiet Mode system that cuts audio to the second and third rows so those rear passengers don’t have to be bombarded by the music choices of the driver and front passenger. 

Upscale cabin

Like the Kia K900 luxury sedan, the Telluride impresses us inside, thanks to rich-looking materials and good attention to detail. Although the pseudo wood trim doesn’t look real, it plays off handsomely against the brushed metal trim on other parts of the Telluride’s dash. The quilted and double-stitched Nappa leather of the seats in the SX model KBB drove also is handsome, complemented by the leather-wrapped steering wheel. In addition to interior hooks that help you keep packages and sacks off the floor, the 2020 Telluride benefits from available heated and vented first and second-row seats, a controller for the rear air conditioning in the headliner, plus a reclining third-row seat.

What’s it like to drive?

We spent three days in an all-wheel-drive 2020 Kia Telluride SX, driving from Colorado to California on all kinds of surfaces in all kinds of weather. In short, we were impressed. The Telluride felt quiet and refined, and we loved the way it covered the miles with ease. While you might think the 291-horsepower V6 would struggle propelling a 4,400-pound vehicle, the Telluride had no problem maintaining the 80-mph speed limit allowed on Utah’s Interstate 70.

What’s more, the suspension tuning felt great, providing excellent ride comfort without making the vehicle feel floaty. There were noticeable differences felt in the four drive modes, primarily in how quickly the smooth 8-speed automatic transmission would downshift. For much of the time, we left the Telluride in Eco mode, and were pleased with the refined response to driver inputs.

Active cruise control did a good job of maintaining the distance to the vehicle ahead, and the active steering of the Telluride’s Highway Driving Assist followed the roads well, provided they had clearly marked lines on both sides. There were times when I went for a minute without having my hands on the steering wheel; after a while, though, the Telluride would remind me to put my hands back on the wheel.

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Good on- and off-road

On the hardpacked red dirt roads of Monument Valley in Arizona, the Telluride felt just fine. We never needed to use the AWD lock button, and we appreciated how the good ride height made it easy for us to cross berms and the like without worrying about scraping the Telluride’s underbody. Later, on the sandy roads of the Mojave National Preserve, we pressed the AWD Lock as a likely unnecessary precaution.

Complaints? A few. You can’t see the Telluride’s head-up display when you’re wearing sunglasses. Also, the glovebox is barely big enough to hold the Telluride’s thick owner’s manuals. And truth be told, there’s not a whole lot of space behind the rear bench seat, which splits 60/40. With rear seat in use, there’s maybe enough room back there for a few carry-on bags (or a load of groceries), not much else.

On a positive note, the reclining rear bench folds forward with ease to increase the Telluride’s cargo capacity, via manual straps. And if you want the center row folded as well, it’s simply a matter of pushing the individual buttons on the driver’s side of the Telluride’s cargo area. Of note, the Telluride’s adjustable second row seat is super spacious, roomy enough for a person who’s 6-foot-4 to sit behind a driver of the same height. That third row, however, is best suited for two people of, say, 5-foot-7 or shorter, because of headroom concerns. You might also squeeze three small kids onto that back bench reasonably comfortably.

How much does the 2020 Kia Telluride cost?

The front-wheel-drive 2020 Kia Telluride LX, an 8-passenger model equipped with 18-inch wheels and five standard USB ports, starts at $31,690, plus a destination charge of $1,045. Next up is the Telluride S, a 7-passenger model with 20-inch wheels, at $33,990. The Telluride EX, upgraded with leather seats, Highway Driving Assistant, UVO infotainment and a handsome 10.25-inch touch screen display, begins at $37,090.

At the top of the Telluride ladder is the SX model, with black-finished wheels, dual sunroofs, LED headlamps and the 10-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. This flagship Kia SUV starts at $41,990, but that price can climb to about $47,000 when equipped with options such as the $2,000 all-wheel-drive system and a $2,000 Prestige package that includes Nappa leather seat trim, a suede-like headliner, rain-sensing wipers and a head-up display. All-wheel drive is available on all models.

Telluride models

Telluride LX ($31,690)
8-passenger seating
Leatherette seat trim
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
18-inch painted wheels
Smart cruise control with Stop & Go
Pushbutton starter
8.0-inch touch-screen display
Electric parking brake

Telluride S ($33,990)
7-passenger seating (second-row captain’s chairs)
20-inch alloy wheels
Dark metallic grille
Heated front seats
Roof rails
Sunroof
Front and rear skidplates in a silver finish
Chrome exhaust tips

Telluride EX ($37,090)
Leather seating
Highway Driving Assistant
UVO infotainment with navigation
10.25-inch touch-screen display
Power liftgate
Vented front seats
Wireless smartphone charger
Available tow hitch and self-leveling rear suspension

Telluride SX ($41,990)
Black-finish 20-inch alloy wheels
Dual sunroofs
LED headlamps and foglights
High-beam assist
Surround-view monitor
Blind-spot monitor
Park Distance Warning
10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system
Interior mood lighting
Available Nappa leather seat trim

Final thoughts

In 1993, the Kia Sephia went on sale in the U.S. for the first time. This humble little South Korean sedan, a crude and rather frumpy competitor for the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra, didn’t have much going for it other than a low price. Now we have the Kia Telluride, a head-turning 3-row SUV built in Georgia. The exact opposite of frumpy and crude, the Telluride embodies just how far Kia has come in these last 26 years. 

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