My colleague Jamie Kitman got a chance to drive the 2020 Kia Telluride before I did, and he was so impressed he dubbed the new three-row SUV “astoundingly good.” My turn finally arrived last week, when a fully loaded, top-of-the-line SX model showed up on my doorstep. Right away I was impressed by the rig’s clean lines, the cool “halo”-ringed headlights, and the handsome 20-inch black-finished wheels. But would it measure up to Jamie’s glowing praise?
Within about 15 minutes at the wheel I was already nodding in agreement. In Comfort mode (adjustable via a rotary knob on the center console), the Telluride glides along with a plushness that rivals a Range Rover’s. In addition to the creamy ride, you notice a conspicuous solidity in the structure and, on the highway, an engine that barely makes its presence known. Thanks in part to the gearing of the standard eight-speed automatic, the 291-horse, 3.8-liter twin-cam V-6 hums along at barely 2,000 rpm while cruising at freeway speeds. That said, the 262-lb-ft torque peak doesn’t arrive until a lofty 5,200 rpm, so the six needs lots of revs to hit its stride. Even then, though, there’s no harshness from under the hood. The basic architecture of Kia’s 3.8-liter has been around a good long while (though it’s been upgraded with direct injection), but it’s a solid performer. Highway EPA fuel economy is a respectable 24 mpg.
Switch to Sport mode and the Telluride’s throttle becomes a bit more insistent, the steering quicker. For a three-row SUV the Kia hustles quite well, though road imperfections come through with a thwack when the suspension is under compression, such as when cornering). Steering feel is good, while handling sharpness is aided by a brake-based torque-vectoring system that helps rotate the chassis. Most important, the Telluride doesn’t feel as big as it is. Even in urban gridlock, maneuvering is effortless.
Other SUV makers may tout the go-anywhere capabilities of heavy-duty chassis components and advanced off-road systems, but Kia has wisely focused on what the majority of SUV owners—who rarely if ever venture from paved roads—really want. Namely, a relaxed driving experience in a spacious, welcoming cabin environment. In those respects, the Telluride is a real standout.
First, this is a bona-fide seven-passenger vehicle, and an eight-passenger version with a second-row bench is also available. No one is going to fight to sit in the third-row bench, but once there your passengers probably won’t scream insults at you. Leg- and headroom are decent, although filling all three back seats means shoulders are going to rub. The second-row twin captain’s chairs that come standard on the SX are an upgrade to business class, and the two front seats are just superb. Fold the second and third rows and the Kia will swallow up to 87 cubic feet of cargo. The Telluride can also tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The driver’s seat is a splendid place to spend time. In the SX, it’s leather-trimmed, heated, ventilated, power-operated, and within easy reach of every control. The cabin materials are rich-looking and agreeable to the touch. The Telluride SX is also bursting with advanced safety and convenience features, from smart cruise with stop and go to rear cross-traffic alerts, lane-keep assist, forward-collision alert, park-distance warning, and much more. An interesting feature, included with the SX, is a blind-spot view monitor. Click the turn-signal stalk, and a live camera view of the appropriate rear side appears in the center display. In practice, I found the system more of a novelty than a functional safety device, the camera view being tricky to interpret (is that car right next to me or one lane over?).
Far more effective—absolutely outstanding, in fact—is the blind-spot monitor that appears on the optional head-up display (part of a $2,000 Prestige package on my test example). If another vehicle is in your blind spot, whether you’re signaling or not, an icon alights on either or, if you’re hemmed in, both sides of a pictograph of the Telluride in the center. Without even moving your head, you know a vehicle is there. It’s completely nonintrusive—the light is muted and there’s no audio warning—but completely effective. And it’s uncannily good at watching for trouble. Once, on L.A.’s 405 freeway, I noticed that the left blind-spot icon had lighted, but I couldn’t see any vehicle to my port side. A split-second later, a car flashed by doing at least 20 mph over the limit. The blind-spot system had spotted the idiot coming and knew he was about to be an issue if I planned to change lanes, and had warned me accordingly. Great stuff.
Equally excellent is the Telluride’s infotainment interface. Topping the center stack is a 10.0-inch color touchscreen for controlling navigation, the audio system (Harman/Kardon surround sound is included with the SX), and vehicle setup. Below the central air vents lies a row of hard buttons for quick access to various subsystems (nav, radio, media, etc.). Volume is controlled by a simply rotary knob, as is station selection. Below, a row of analog knobs and buttons makes operating the climate-control system a cinch. Every other automaker out there should take a look at Kia’s (and sister division Hyundai’s) control interface. No other design on the market makes operating such a bevy of vehicle amenities so quick and user-friendly.
At just under $47K all-in, the Telluride SX is a value-packed SUV brimming with solid moves, astutely engineered features, and a character as unfailingly friendly as a Golden retriever. Jamie Kitman was right: This new Kia is astoundingly good.
|2019Kia Telluride SX V-6 AWD Specifications|
|ENGINE||3.8L DOHC 24-valve V-6; 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 262 lb-ft @ 5,400 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||19/24 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||196.9 x 78.3 x 69.3 in|
|WEIGHT||4,400 lb (est)|
|0–60 MPH||7.2 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||132 mph (mfr)|
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