2020 Kia Telluride Review

It’s not ironic that companies like Kia, which made their bones selling mostly small cars, are selling big crossover SUVs like the new eight-passenger Telluride.

It’s necessary.

Any car company that hasn’t got a big crossover SUV is going to miss out on a lot of sales.

People want larger vehicles that can carry a bunch of kids to school during the week and carry a bunch of stuff home from the store on weekends, plus the kids.

You’d need two small cars for that.

Better to get one Telluride—especially because of one other thing.

What It Is

The Telluride is Kia’s newest and largest-ever model.

It’s a three-row crossover SUV that has a higher standard tow rating (5,000 lbs.) than any Kia made before it weighed. Also, under the hood, the Telluride gives owners something many of today’s big crossovers are not.

A 3.8 liter V6 is standard in the Telluride (vs. the much smaller turbo fours that come standard in most of the current crop of plus-sized cross-shops, including the VW Atlas) are the only available engines in cross-shops like the Subaru Ascent and Mazda CX-9.

And it doesn’t even use more gas.

It also has fewer parts than a turbocharged four and is less stressed than a turbocharged four that has to work harder to make less power which means there are fewer things likely to wear out or break at some point down the road.

The Telluride also has the longest-running powertrain warranty of them all: Ten years or 100,000 miles.

Prices start at $31,690 for the base LX trim with front-wheel-drive; the same trim with the optional AWD system stickers for $33,690.

A top-of-the-line SX trim with AWD and the 3.8 V6 lists for $43,490.

What’s New

The Telluride is a new model for Kia and the brand’s first full-size crossover. It replaces the Sorento.

What’s Good

Big and strong standard engine.

No upsell on the engine to get AWD.

Exceptionally roomy (42.4 inches of legroom) second row.

What’s Not So Good

ASS is standard.

AWD comes standard, for less, in the Subaru Ascent.

VW Atlas has more cargo room.

Under The Hood

It’s getting hard to find a V6 in a crossover SUV unless you pay extra for it—which in most cases you’re forced to do if you want AWD.

Assuming a V6 is even still available.

In the Telluride, it’s standard.

All trims get a 3.8 liter V6 that makes 291 horsepower — substantially more horsepower than the turbo fours that are standard in rivals like the VW Atlas (2.0 liters, 235 hp) and all-you-can-get in the Mazda CX9 (2.5 liters, 227 hp) and Subaru Ascent (2.4 liters, 260 hp).

The Kia’s standard engine is also stronger than the VW’s optional 3.6 liter V6 (276 hp) which you have to buy if you want AWD and isn’t offered with the standard four.

Also standard with the Kia is a 5,000 lb. tow rating.

The four-cylinder Atlas is a nice rig, but it doesn’t have broad shoulders as it comes; the standard tow rating is just 2,000 lbs.

You can upgrade that to 5,000 lbs. with the V6 but you have to buy the V6, which raises the base price of the Atlas to $35,495 ($3,805 more than the price-to-start of the V6-equipped Kia).

Looked at another way:

You could take home a Telluride with AWD and still pay a couple thousand less than VW wants for the FWD V6 Atlas.

And no matter how much you pay Mazda, the CX-9 is only rated to pull 3,500 lbs.—which is about the same as most current mid-sized cars.

Among its direct cross-shops, only the Subaru Ascent matches the Telluride’s standard tow rating and beats it by including AWD as standard equipment. However, the plus-sized Soobie comes only with a turbocharged four cylinder engine which is a small engine for a vehicle this size.

The turbo boosts the power of the Ascent’s little four to V6-ish levels (the Soobie’s four makes more torque—277 ft.-lbs. at 2,000 RPM vs. 262 ft.-lbs. at 5,200 for the Telluride’s V6. But it takes a turbo to do that.

Plus an intercooler.

More parts and more pressure.

Not the hot ticket for longevity, usually.

Turbocharged engines used to be found almost exclusively in performance cars as power-enhancers. They’re being used now to maintain power. To get a little four to make as much power as a larger V6 on demand — while getting higher gas mileage.

Except sometimes they don’t.

The V6/FWD Telluride is rated 20 city/26 highway by the EPA—exactly the same mileage as the 2.0-equipped Atlas and 2.5 liter-equipped CX9.

The 2.4 liter-equipped/AWD-standard Ascent does slightly better than the V6/AWD Telluride: 21 city, 27 highway vs. 19 city/24 highway. But it’s a hairsplitting difference. And it may be a less-than-advertised difference.

With a large engine, the advertised mileage is generally close to what actually is the mileage. But with a turbocharged engine, your actual mileage can be less than advertised depending on how much (and how often) the engine is on boost. This will be often if you expect to get V6-ish power out of it.

Mileage aside, the Telluride is also quicker as-it-comes than all of its immediate rivals. Zero to 60 happens in 7.1 seconds. The Atlas is faster but only if you buy it with its optional engine.

On the Road

Near-miracles have been performed with little engines, but why perform them? What is the advantage to the person buying a vehicle of an engine that’s harder working, has more parts and doesn’t deliver a meaningful mileage advantage?

Or even any advantage at all?

Including audible ones?

The Kia’s V6 produces a deep bass note in the low and mid-ranges—the proper accompaniment for a big vehicle.

Four aren’t bad engines.

But they are small car engines—Economy car engines; sports car engines. They aren’t supposed to be big SUVs engines and are only being used in big SUVs because of fuel-efficiency edits hurled by the government. This makes it harder and harder to build big vehicles at all.

It’s refreshing to find a right-sized engine in the Telluride.

And it’s a tangible (and well as audible) advantage vs. rivals.

The Telluride’s optional AWD system is also an advantage in that it is disconnectable (maybe not a legitimate word, but it gets the necessary point across).

In EcoSmart mode, 100 percent of the V6’s power goes to the front wheels; the rear wheels coast (as it were) and this probably accounts at least partially for this big-engined Kia’s surprisingly good gas mileage relative to its small-engined rivals.

There are also Comfort/Snow, Smart, and Sport modes that vary the power split from 80/20 front-to-rear to 65-35 front to rear (in Sport) and you can lock in a 50-50 split for maximum traction in snow or off-road.

The standard eight-speed automatic has two overdrive gears—eighth being a 0.648:1 ratio, which makes 25-plus MPG on average (well, what I averaged) possible even with a pretty aggressive 3.648:1 final drive ratio which gives the big T leverage down low for pulling and hauling trailers and other things.

All trims get ASS—automated stop/start. This is becoming unavoidable in new vehicles regardless of type and for the same reason that so many big vehicles come with such small engines: To appease the government and its fuel efficiency (and C02 “emissions”) edicts.

But there is an off switch.

All trims come standard with 7.9 inches of ground clearance but the T doesn’t drive like a jacked-up 4×4 SUV which is a big part of the appeal of these big crossover SUVs. You feel like you’re driving something substantial that is also quiet and very comfortable.

There’s an old country road I use to test the rebound damping of vehicles like this. The kind of road that makes axles hop and fillings drop. If the Big T’s hopped, I couldn’t tell. No need to slow down, even. Almost nothing transmitted to the interior that suggested other than a paved road. This effect was enhanced by Kia’s superb seats which are not buckets or benches, but something in between.

The Big T is also remarkably maneuverable. Its turning circle (38.8 feet) is only slighter wider than a Honda Accord’s (38.1 feet). You also sit up higher and see more because there’s less metal surrounding you and more glass. In most modern cars, you’re hunkered down, and the metal of the doors rise up while the glass pinches up and back. This makes electronic “safety assists” almost necessary to avoid pulling in front of someone or backing into someone.

The Big T has them, too but they’re not necessary because you can see where you’re pointing it as well as what’s around it.

At The Curb

You might call it the TelluRover.

It’s a compliment.

The Telluride looks almost happy which is a nice contrast to the snarly and angry design ethic that afflicts so many vehicles today.

Inside, there are also similarities with Audis which isn’t a huge surprise given Kia’s styling chief, Peter Schreyer, is Audi’s former styling chief. He is known for styling modern but having vehicles age well—no easy design feat. He did the Audi TT, and it still looks current even though it made its appearance way back in ’98.

A big difference vs. others in this class is the allocation of interior room. The Telluride touts more second row legroom (42.4 inches) than first row legroom (41.4 inches) and its second row legroom is significantly more than in rivals like the Atlas (37.6 inches), Ascent (38.6 inches) and CX-9 (39.4 inches).

The third row is tighter at 31.4 inches, but that’s equally true about the third rows in all the vehicles in the Telluride’s class. They are big but not enormous. At 196.9 inches long overall, the Telluride is only about five inches longer than a mid-sized sedan such as the Honda Accord (192.2 inches). To get more third row legroom and more third row access you’ll need a minivan or a full-size SUV, neither of which has the turning circle of a mid-sized sedan.

And besides, Kia’s third row is adult-usable because it has almost as much headroom (38.1 inches) as the driver and front seat passenger enjoy (39.5 inches). This is because of the Kia’s sensibly flat rather than sloped roofline. Even with the optional see-through glass roof, six-footers can sit in the third row without slouching down to make some room for their heads.

Cargo capacity is 21 cubic feet with the third row up and 87 with the third row folded. This is about the same as you’d get in the Ascent (17.8 cubic feet with the third row up; 86.5 with the third row folded) a bit more than the Mazda CX-9 offers (14.4 and 71.2 cubic  feet) and a less than in the Atlas, which cleans everyone’s clock with 96.8 cubic feet of total capacity.

The Rest

In addition to the V6, all Tellurides come standard with AppleCarPlay and Android Auto, five USB ports, an 8-inch LCD touchpad-style display for the audio and apps, as well as adaptive cruise control and 18-inch wheels.

Many of these items aren’t included as standard equipment in rivals, especially the adaptive cruise control, which is often bundled with an extra-cost package or requires buying a higher trim.

Unfortunately, several driver “assists” are also standard, including Lane Keep Assist and Automated Emergency Braking. These are driver-pre-emption/idiot-proofing technologies that are annoyances if you’re not an idiot and don’t like being pre-empted.

But, they’re much less peremptory than in several other models, and you can turn them all off, just like ASS.

EX and LX trims offer a load-leveling suspension system to improve towing dynamics, and you also get a larger 10.3 inch touchscreen plus a neat voice amplifier for the driver which lets you communicate with people way in the back without shouting.

There’s also a Quiet Mode for the audio system that cuts the feed to the speakers in back if the people back there prefer not to listen.

The Bottom Line

Kia has done good work here. The standard V6 and lower-than-most price make this newest crossover the go-to-crossover in the segment.

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*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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