The strengths of size
THE GOOD
  • Solid ride quality
  • Functional and upscale cabin
  • Space galore
THE BAD
  • Rough roads degrade ride quality
  • Limited off-road performance
  • Some drivers may want more power
2020 Kia Telluride Review

If you’re eyeing up the new 2020 Kia Telluride for your next crossover, you’ll need to begin preparing your wittiest comebacks to comments and questions about its tremendous size, as these will come fast and often.

The Telluride is Kia’s largest machine, and if you’ve got the sort of family that tends to stretch the storage and space of a vehicle, it’s worthy of your attention – though it’s not for everyone.

The burly SUV comes with seating for up to eight people, and offers usable cargo space behind its folding third-row seat. All models get 291 hp standard, and towing is rated at 5,000 lb.

Ultimately, here’s a machine that’ll satisfy a wide range of families – though sportier drivers and off-road enthusiasts may have better options.

Styling: 8/10

The Kia Telluride looks just fine, though many will find it more appealing in person than in photos. Handsome and lustrous, it’s big and gentle and decorated tastefully with chrome, but not too much of it.

Despite various styling elements borrowed from other popular crossovers, the Telluride manages the near-impossible in this segment: Standing out in the crowd. You won’t lose the Telluride in the Costco parking lot, or blend in while stuck in traffic.

A cohesive styling approach and a good punching-up of the Telluride’s visual volume results in a look that’s not for everyone, but one that stands out better than most in the game. Pay close attention to the wheels of your choice, though: My tester’s rims garnered numerous comments about a low-budget look against the rest of the vehicle.

On board, the Telluride aptly deploys leather, stitched, embossed, metallic, and gloss-finish elements, as well as modern dials and stalks, for an atmosphere that’s tidy and sophisticated but not too flashy. It’s casually luxurious, and most shoppers will appreciate the modern and bright instrumentation and on-screen readouts.

Leather surfaces line the steering wheel and gear selector, and many commonly used buttons are constructed of etched metal rather than printed plastic for a more durable and upscale touch that helps elevate the cabin.

Safety: 8/10

The Telluride should prove a solid pick for the shopper who’s after the latest in advanced safety technology. All models include forward collision avoidance and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, as well as adaptive cruise control and blind-spot assist. Many of the market’s latest safety gadgets are standard on all models.

In use, these systems are easy to learn and operate with sufficient polish and consistency to quickly earn the user’s trust. Each can be switched on and off to taste with ease, allowing first-time drivers to learn each system at their own pace.

The big Kia also carries a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the organization’s second-highest safety score. A better score for headlight performance may have helped earned the highest rating of Top Safety Pick, though the IIHS docked a few points. I found the headlights to be sufficiently powerful, but aimed too high: Forward lighting was cast high into treetops, resulting in plenty of flashing from oncoming motorists. (Ask your dealer if an adjustment of the factory headlight aim is possible should you notice this issue as well.)

The Telluride also makes parking a safe and confidence-inspiring experience, in two ways. First, the high-resolution surround-view camera system provides a clear and easy-to-read image of the vehicle’s entire surroundings on a single screen. Second, the rear cross-traffic radar reliably alerts the driver of incoming vehicles as they reverse, sometimes with surprising detection distance.

Practicality: 9/10

The Telluride is hugely practical, thanks mostly to its hugeness. Second-guessing is unlikely when it’s time to load up with virtually any combination of passengers and gear, and even with all seats in use, it retains enough cargo space for a good grocery run, or days’ worth of shopping.

Second-row seats are easily reclined, slid fore and aft, and tipped-and-tumbled ahead for third-row access. Spring-loaded mechanisms enable one-handed operation of key functions, and release latches, levers and buttons are easily accessible and clearly marked.

For an adult of about 5-foot-10, like your author, that third row is accessed with no notable crowding. The pass-through is adult-friendly, and I could sit in the third row with more space and comfort than other third-row seats in recent memory. Younger passengers will have plenty of third-row seat to grow into, though adults may start to feel crowded on longer trips.

Further back, the cargo load floor is within jump-in reach of most mid-sized canines, though smaller or older dogs may be safer to board by other means. My five-year-old Golden Retriever had no issue.

Extra points for the abundance of storage cubbies far and wide – including proper cupholders, deep door pockets of varying size, and a deep centre console with handy drawer insert, and multiple USB ports and power outlets within reach of all occupants. Expect no issues with keeping your family juiced up on the move, even if a few of the kids are often double-fisting mobile devices. There’s a wireless charging pad up front, too.

User Friendliness: 9/10

Shoppers can expect minimal stress and effort when it’s time to manipulate and interface with just about anything in Telluride’s cabin.

Forward controls are logically arrayed into vertical slats on the centre of the dash – one row for entertainment, another for climate control. Steering-wheel-mounted controls are highly visible, bright, and partially textured for easy eyes-free navigation.

The instrument cluster incorporates a fully digital driver computer that can call up various displays relating to current running data. Customize the display to your tastes with a few taps on the steering-wheel-mounted controls.

When using the turn signals, a corresponding camera-feed image is displayed on the screen, giving the driver a digital shoulder-check in addition to the radar shoulder check by the blind-spot monitor, and of course, the manual shoulder-check that should be made.

Various settings for drive-mode selection and off-road assist features are relegated to a simple knob below the shifter as well. Manipulation of this dial results in a visual repeating of the given selection on screen, reducing eyeball time away from the road. The repeating of wiper and light stalk settings on screen has a similar effect.

All said, Telluride drivers can expect easy operation and monitoring of their features – and surroundings – at all times.

Features: 8/10

My mid-level Telluride SX offered a solid list of equipment given its $45,000 asking price. To the strong “space for the dollar” quotient, my tester got automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, a power tailgate, dual sunroof panels, a wireless charging pad, automatic lights and brights, and a large central touchscreen interface with flawless Android Auto compatibility. Apple CarPlay is also on board. The Harman Kardon stereo should satisfy most of the audiophiles among us, too.

Other welcome features included an auto brake hold function, and one-touch power-folding mirrors. Auto hold keeps the car stationary once you’ve stopped, even if you release the brakes. Drivers can toggle it on and off with a switch depending on preference.

The power-folding side mirrors quickly make the Telluride a touch narrower, for instance, when on a tree-lined trail, or going through a car wash. The mirrors can also give drivers a visual confirmation that the Telluride is locked from a glance, since they can be programmed to fold in automatically.

Power: 7/10

Overall, most will find the Telluride’s performance to be adequate. The standard 3.8L V6 makes 291 hp and 262 lb- ft of torque. This engine is not turbocharged, meaning it lacks the low-rpm responsiveness that some drivers of turbocharged crossovers enjoy.

In light-footed driving, the engine and transmission work to keep the revs down, where things are smooth and quiet but not hurried. A leisurely driver who prefers peace and quiet and fuel mileage will find the setup just fine. Sportier drivers may not.

Passing and merging power are adequate, but require a good stomp on the throttle, as well as a moment for the transmission to kick down, and a moment more for the engine to access its higher-rpm pulling power.

All said, the engine and transmission are capable of very smooth and relatively quiet operation – though responsive and thrilling performance are not on the menu.

Comfort: 8/10

The Telluride does its best work on pavement. On smooth highways, it’s a supple cruiser: The ride is sedan-like, noise levels are nicely hushed, and even beyond the highway speed limit there’s little need to raise one’s voice for a conversation. Further, the Telluride feels lighter at the controls than some drivers will think, given its size. It’s a big machine, but the engineers have dialled things in for a smaller and more car-like drive.

Smoother in-town roads are dealt with nicely, too. The suspension strives to keep the body under smooth control, while softening the edges of even the most jagged bumps and potholes. The result is a ride that’s dense and solid without being harsh, and a finely tuned layer of softness between the wheels and occupants over most common surfaces.

On very rough roads and certain off-road trails, ride quality and noise levels do take a good hit – especially on lightly rocky trails and washboard-covered gravel.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The Telluride’s size might intimidate some first-time crossover shoppers, though there’s no cause for alarm. With decent outward visibility, full radar and camera hazard detection, and a lightness to most of the controls at lower speeds, it’s scarcely more difficult to drive around than a great big car.

The turning circle is large, but not excessive. Parking and manoeuvring in tight quarters should prove easy-peasy in quick order for apprehensive drivers, even more so with proper use of the camera system.

Mostly, it’s just like sitting in a great big sedan, but higher off the road, and with a lot more room.

A few more notes here: First, even when driven somewhat spiritedly, the Telluride is tidier and more athletic than it looks. Don’t go trying to follow a Volkswagen GTI around an off-ramp or anything, but actually, it stays relatively flat and drama-free in cornering situations.

Brakes work like the throttle: Don’t be shy. Fast stops are delivered with sufficient urgency and minimal drama, but a hearty smash, deep into the pedal is required to see the Telluride’s best work here.

In an off-road setting, caution is advised. Ground clearance isn’t massive, and was reduced further by my tester’s optional running boards. Combined with its long wheelbase and modest approach and departure angles, this one’s best for use in less-than-serious off-road conditions.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

Given the Telluride’s heft, and it’s great big V6 engine, your author was expecting a somewhat heavier fuel bill. Driven the way the Telluride is best driven – gently and leisurely – the powertrain does a good job of keeping consumption reasonable, at least by all-wheel-drive eight-seater standards, anyhow.

Drivers can expect a full day’s highway cruising on a single tank, and official fuel economy ratings see Telluride put back 12.5 L/100 km around town and 9.6 L/100 km on the highway, for an 11.2 L/100 km combined figure. Your results may vary.

Value: 9/10

The Kia Telluride will offer the greatest return on investment for shoppers after a generously sized eight-seater that’s well-equipped, operates like a car, and comes wrapped up with a truly distinctive look. Unless you’re after a sporty driving experience, or more serious off-road chops, here’s a three-row that should be on your radar.

The Verdict

The 2020 Telluride ultimately is not for every driver, though those set on massive space, solid ride quality, and a cabin conducive to staying connected, organized, recharged, and comfortable on the move will find it a near no-brainer.

The strengths of size 4/30/2020 9:00:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.8L   Model Tested 2020 Kia Telluride SX
Engine Cylinders V6   Base Price $49,995
Peak Horsepower 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm   Destination Fee $1,895
Fuel Economy 12.5/9.6/11.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $51,990
Cargo Space 601 / 1,304 / 2,455 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row  
Optional Equipment
None