Test Drive:2020 Kia Telluride

Christian Wardlaw | Mar 25, 2019

Introduction

With the new 2020 Telluride, Kia wades back into the big 3-row SUV arena from which it was summarily dismissed after the 2009 model year. Arriving at the same time as the Great Recession, the 2009 Kia Borrego was the right idea at the wrong time.

A decade later, Kia is trying again. This time around, the U.S. economy is strong, and SUVs are forecast to account for half of all vehicle sales in America by 2020. Built at Kia’s West Point, Georgia factory, the new Telluride is the right idea at the right time.

2020 Kia Telluride photo
2020 Kia Telluride

Available in LX, S, EX, and SX trim levels, every new 2020 Kia Telluride is equipped with a 291-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine, front- or all-wheel drive (AWD), seating for up to 8 people, as much as 87 cu. ft. of cargo space, and a tow rating of 5,000 lbs. when the SUV is properly equipped.

Styling and Design

Mountain ski resort towns like the one this Kia is named for might all look the same, but the 2020 Telluride doesn’t look like every other SUV. I see hints of the Cadillac Escalade and Volvo XC90 in this design, which makes the Telluride look upscale and seem like an utter bargain.

The test vehicle, a Telluride SX with the optional Prestige package, appeared downright luxurious from the Nappa leather-wrapped, heated and ventilated, exceptionally comfortable front seats. Simulated wood and metal trim is convincing enough, and you won’t notice the affordable-SUV quality of the plastic covering the cabin’s lower surfaces because you’ll be enthralled with the simulated suede on the headliner and windshield pillars.

Move into the second-row seat and you’ll still be comfortable, especially since Kia offers heated and ventilated chairs in this location. However, you’ll also start to notice obvious reasons why the Telluride isn’t priced higher.

Third-row seat comfort is similar to most other 3-row midsize SUVs, with the exceptions of the 2019 Ford Explorer and the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas. Though the Telluride is a sizable SUV, the third-row bench seat is mounted too close to the floor, reducing thigh support. The Explorer and the Atlas are more comfortable.

Behind the third-row seat, the Telluride supplies 21 cu. ft. of cargo space including a handy underfloor compartment. Fold the third-row seat down to create 46 cu. ft. of volume, and with the second-row seats folded flat the Telluride can tackle up to 87 cu. ft. of cargo.

Features and Controls

With an architectural look and feel, the Telluride’s dashboard emphasizes horizontally arranged infotainment and climate controls. Knobs control power/volume, tuning, and temperature adjustments, while buttons are visually distinguished with silver finish for infotainment functions and a black finish for climate functions.

In theory, this approach is smart. In practice, there are a couple of flaws. First, the tuning knob is too far away from the driver. Second, during the day it is too difficult to read the gray lettering on the silver buttons. Otherwise, the Telluride’s control layout is intuitive.

In addition to the technology features discussed below, Telluride highlights include:

  • Standard Sofino leatherette in the Telluride LX means that no version of this SUV comes with cloth upholstery
  • A standard Auto Hold function relieves the driver of the need to press the brake pedal while waiting at long traffic lights
  • A standard Safe Exit Assist system that warns occupants when it isn’t safe to get out of the vehicle
  • Hooks on the backs of the front seats are designed to hold plastic grocery bags
  • Second-row passengers can use “device pouches” for storing smartphones
  • Telluride’s power door locks automatically unlock following air bag deployment to ensure a rapid exit, if necessary
  • Heated side mirrors and rear air conditioning controls are standard

Safety and Technology

The Telluride’s standard infotainment system includes an 8-in. touch-screen display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and hands-free voice texting for iPhone users. Safety-related functions include safe teen driving alerts related to vehicle speed, curfew time, and geo-fenced boundaries, as well as a 911 Connect system providing quick access to emergency responders. A Rear Occupant Alert system is also standard, designed to warn a driver if a child or pet is left behind in the vehicle.

Upgrade to EX or SX trim and the Telluride gets a 10.25-in. widescreen touch-screen display showing three different sources of information on its home screen. It includes navigation, remote-access smartphone app functions, and wireless phone charging. With SX trim, an outstanding 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system is paired with the upgraded infotainment system.

Both the EX and SX also include a Driver Talk feature, which allows the driver to speak with second- and third-row passengers through the SUV’s speakers using the Bluetooth system’s microphone, and a Quiet Mode feature, which quickly limits stereo sound to the front seats when others in the Telluride are sleeping or enjoying their own forms of entertainment. Choose the Prestige package with SX trim, and Kia installs a useful head-up display.

Kia includes a long list of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems as standard equipment. They range from a drowsy and distracted driver monitoring system to front, side, and rear collision-avoidance systems. Lane-departure, lane-keeping, and lane-centering assists are also standard, along with adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability.

Highway Driving Assist, however, is the star of the Telluride’s safety technology offerings. Included with EX and SX trim, this system is, according to Kia, a Level 2 autonomous driving feature. Kia also says that under optimal driving conditions it will work for up to two minutes before requesting that the driver put his or her hands back on the steering wheel.

My driving was limited to the remote two-lane roads of western Colorado, where road signs are few and highway shoulders non-existent. Nevertheless, I was able to sample several of this SUV’s safety features and they delivered on their promises. Beyond that, they work with uncanny refinement, with the exception of the irritating lane-departure warning system, which beeps at everyone inside the Telluride instead of providing the driver with a haptic vibration through the steering wheel.

Driving Impressions

Every Kia Telluride is equipped with a 3.8-liter V-6 engine making 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. Refined and quiet, it emits a pleasing growl when revved and offered plenty of acceleration and passing response at mile-high altitudes.

A faultless 8-speed automatic transmission powers the Telluride’s front wheels, and all-wheel drive is an option. It includes a locking center differential that evenly splits power between the front and rear wheels for more challenging off-road driving conditions, and a Snow mode for wintry weather. Drivers can also choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Smart driving modes.

On pavement, the Telluride performs admirably, driving like a smaller vehicle than it is. Kia says that 60% of the SUV’s vehicle architecture is composed of high-strength steel, and that rigidity shines brightly in terms of ride isolation and handling capability. Despite the test vehicle’s 20-in. wheels, broken pavement and potholes rarely reverberated into the cabin.

During the course of my time with the Telluride, I drove on dry roads under sunny skies, drenched roads in rain, slushy roads during a snowstorm, and muddy roads the consistency of plaster. This Kia took it all in stride, and using the AWD system’s Snow and Lock modes proved particularly effective in the snow and mud.

Overall, under these rural and remote driving conditions, the Telluride proved itself effortless, natural, and rewarding to drive.

Conclusion

Value underscores the 2020 Kia Telluride’s inherent goodness.

With prices starting at $32,735 (including the $1,045 destination charge), you get a nicely equipped 8-passenger SUV with an industry-leading warranty and lots of important safety features. At $46,930, the Telluride SX with the Prestige package looks, feels, and is equipped like a big luxury SUV—but without the big luxury SUV price tag.

Based on my initial experience driving and riding in the Telluride, no matter which version you choose you’re likely to be happy with this SUV.

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