The pace at which automotive fashion and innovation moves these days is enough to make this year’s darling next year’s has-been.
That left the largest Kia SUV to date, which managed to scoop up just about every award possible and leave the automotive media gobsmacked, at risk of feeling less-than-fresh in its sophomore year. Bucking the trend, however, the 2021 Kia Telluride is just as impressive as it was when it launched. And now it’s even better-looking, too.
For the past several years, Kia’s designers have delivered hit after styling hit. The Telluride is a genuine knockout, looking like it should be parked next to Range Rovers at the country club instead of the fleets of generic family buses at the ice rink. It appears unapologetically big and self-confident, eschewing the usual swoopy designs for a bold, purposeful, and upright one, making it a standout in the segment.
For 2021, Kia has released a Nightsky package for the range-topping SX Limited trim that swaps out all the chrome and bling for blacked-out grilles, racks, and wheels. Even the Kia emblems have gone monotone. Black-out packages are nothing new, but it makes the already attractive Telluride appear more high-end, especially when finished in the stunning Dark Moss hue of my tester.
Kia has paid even more attention to the interior of the Telluride. It’s a contemporary design with well-integrated technology, but it’s also beautifully finished with leather, convincing faux wood and metal trim, and design elements like the grab handles that border the centre console and shifter and are reminiscent of those in the Porsche Cayenne. The high-quality materials are used throughout the cabin, so passengers in the back seats don’t feel like second-rate citizens, either.
The fancy interior doesn’t just look good – it feels good, too. The first two rows feature captain’s chairs in this top-of-the-line tester that are heated and cooled, and the driver’s seat has adjustable lumbar and thigh support for added comfort.
Rear-seat passengers have their own climate controls and there are vents throughout to move air around the spacious cabin that tallies more than 4,400 L of overall volume. And while the specific numbers for second- and third-row head- and legroom are generally not segment-leading in any single measurement, it’s a sufficiently roomy space for grown occupants to ride comfortably.
Contributing to the passenger contentment is both a smooth ride quality and a remarkably quiet cabin where wind, engine, and road noise are all quelled to luxury car levels of serenity.
Kia has long been known to offer its vehicles with surprisingly high feature counts for the price, and the Telluride is no exception. In this top-tier SX Limited Nightsky, the only option added was the $250 metallic paint; otherwise, the extensive standard kit includes the heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, head-up display, enormous dual-pane sunroof, self-levelling rear air suspension, at least half-a-dozen USB ports throughout, and a decent-sounding audio system. There’s also a full suite of driver aids and active safety features, all as standard equipment.
User Friendliness: 9/10
It’s one thing to load up a vehicle with trinkets and technology, but another altogether to make it all work harmoniously for the user. Once again, Kia has done its homework and the Telluride features an infotainment system that doesn’t require an advanced degree in computer engineering to navigate. In addition to the straightforward menu system, the 10.25-inch touchscreen presents information with bright, crisp graphics, and is highly responsive to user inputs. It’s also got Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, of course, and best of all, there are simple knobs for volume, tuning, and climate adjustments.
The driving position offers good visibility all around and the back-up camera also features a top-down view, and is supplemented by parking sensors, too.
Digging really deep to look for faults, I’d like to see the keyless entry door sensors on the rear doors, not just the fronts. And about the only other item that detracts from the cabin being a wonderful place to spend time is that the smell of all the synthetic materials used in the interior is rather fetid. A cabin as premium as this deserves the aroma of leather.
People generally buy SUVs for their perceived practicality. With three-row crossovers like the Telluride, perception becomes reality, and Kia’s biggest player offers plenty of practicality. In addition to the spacious passenger room, the Telluride offers a little more than 600 L of cargo space behind the third row of seats. Second only to the Chevrolet Traverse, there’s considerable space for suitcases or groceries. Fold the second and third rows down and that space grows to over 2,450 L, placing it solidly mid-pack in the very close category.
Perhaps just as important, accessing the expansive cargo hold is a snap thanks to pull straps on the back of the third-row seats, and a pair of buttons to fold the second row – and it’s all accessible in the cargo area. The hatch is power actuated, too.
Roof rails are standard equipment should the driver’s cargo carrying needs expand beyond the interior; and the Telluride is rated to tow as much as 2,268 kg (5,000 lb), which is typical for the class. And although Kia offers three off-road terrain modes (snow, mud, sand), the Telluride’s size and lack of ground clearance preclude it from ever being a real off-roader. But then, it’s not intended to be one.
At 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, the Telluride’s 3.8L V6 is competitive if not class-leading in either figure. Weighing in at just less than 2,000 kg (4,409 lb), which seems to be the typical mass for most of its competitors, the Kia’s engine has no trouble moving it along at a decent pace. There’s abundant power to make passing manoeuvres effortless, too.
The standard eight-speed automatic transmission is geared so that at highway speeds, the Telluride cruises with so few revs that a few times I caught myself travelling much faster than expected. Pulling away from a stop, however, acceleration is a bit soft compared to some of the turbocharged competitors. The V6 needs a significant 5,200 rpm to reach its peak torque, so bottom-end grunt is adequate, but not at all sporting.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
Weather was seasonably miserable during my test week, with plenty of cold, wet roads to challenge the Telluride’s traction. But equipped with a set of winter-appropriate tires and standard all-wheel drive, there was never a situation where grip felt compromised.
There’s minimal steering feel through the wheel, and when driven in an inappropriately aggressive fashion through corners, the Telluride leans significantly, but it feels controllable, which in an emergency situation, could help a driver avoid a nasty mishap. Very few three-row SUVs approach anything sporty in the way they handle, and the Telluride certainly doesn’t either, instead leaning to a much more luxurious ride.
Fuel Economy: 6.5/10
Displacing 3.8L, the Telluride’s engine isn’t a small one these days, and it is a bit thirstier than some of the other rigs in the segment. While it’s rated at 12.5 L/100 km city, 9.6 highway, and 11.2 combined, during my week of mixed driving, the Telluride was unable to do better than an indicated average in the mid-12s. In fairness, the winter tires didn’t help its efficiency, and I avoided the soul-sucking eco drive mode that softens the throttle response, so it’s possible in better weather, and with a lighter foot, that it could achieve better figures.
On the bright side, during my recent review of the Subaru Ascent, its smaller turbocharged four-cylinder only delivered an overall average that was 1.0 L/100 km better than the Kia, though that means savings that should equate to a few hundred bucks per year. The Telluride requires regular-grade gasoline.
The Kia Telluride receives top safety marks from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); and looking at the standard equipment list on all trims, it’s easy to see why. In addition to a solid structure and seven airbags, all Tellurides have forward collision avoidance, driver attention alert, LED headlights with high-beam assist, blind-spot collision mitigation, rear cross-traffic alert and automated braking, rear parking sensors and adaptive, stop-and-go cruise control.
Stepping up one level to the SX trim – as well as the SX Limited that sits above it – adds front parking sensors, and Kia’s blind-spot monitor, which utilizes the wing mirror camera to show in the central gauge display if there’s a vehicle in either blind-spot as soon as the turn signal is activated.
In the low $50,000 realm, there are at least a dozen choices in the three-row crossover category. As much as I love the look of the Nightsky package, I’d skip it for the $1,000 it saves and stick with the SX Limited that gets the nicer Nappa leather interior in lieu of basic leather and blacked-out exterior trim. Even still, at $55,695, the Telluride Nightsky is not only a very well-equipped offering within its highly competitive segment, it’s also arguably the best-looking. What’s more, driving the Telluride makes the driver feel like they are in a much costlier machine.
Families needing a large, mainstream crossover are spoiled for choice. There are several excellent choices, with fresh alternatives coming out every year. For now, Kia’s Telluride remains at the top of the pile, providing its buyers with the features, comfort, and style typically reserved for machines costing significantly more money.
|Peak Horsepower||291 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||12.5 / 9.6 / 11.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||601 / 1,304 / 2,455 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2021 Kia Telluride Nightsky|
|Price as Tested||$57,940|
$250 – Metallic paint, $250