There’s a part of us that will never ‘not be surprised’ when KIA shows up to the party with a brand new offering that either manages to pique our curiosity or grab our attention outright. After all, it seems like just yesterday when their upstart lineup was little more than a joke outside of the automaker’s zealot fanbase (the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Saturn had become the brand of the moment).
So, we don’t think anyone could accuse us of exaggeration if we said that their tease and eventual introduction of the Stinger GT was an outright revelation, proving that KIA (so often criticized for bland performance and design theory) was capable of doing more than just playing it safe. Well-deserving of its self-labeling as a ‘new paradigm’ a 4.7-second sprint, 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque made us (and plenty of others) sit up straight and take notice. This simply wasn’t the same KIA we had grown tired of abusing via criticism, they were doing something different (and doing it well)! No longer guilty of making the same mistakes and expecting different results, we found ourselves dealing with a whole new KIA. And, you know what? We’ve really been liking it.
But if the Stinger spoke to the kind of refined design and performance which all-but defines this writer’s personal taste in vehicles, it was the conceptualization and execution of the Telluride that blindsided me as a critic of modern SUV design. In other words I was being hit by a one-two punch: first, of looking favorably upon a new SUV offering and, secondly, that it represented a freshman effort by (of all people) KIA.
And it’s with that in mind, that we begin this closer look at the 2020 KIA Telluride, and everything that it has to offer. As with any complex thoughts and feelings that are difficult to process, we’ve been told that we’re supposed to talk about it. So – put on your therapist hat and brace yourselves, because here we are, talking about it…
Priced to start around $31,690 MSRP the 2020 Telluride is served up in four trim levels (LX, S, EX, and SX) with the latter price from $41,490 MSRP. Offering seating for 7-8 people (depending on the configuration) the three-row full-size SUV is available in either FWD or AWD builds, deserving of the ‘Best in Show’ recognition it has first received when veiled back at the NAIAS.
And considering the over-saturation of the SUV (and crossover) segment as a whole, that’s really sort of saying something. Competition is steep, and when you’re putting yourself inside the octagon with the likes of the Ford, Explorer, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot and Subaru Ascent you need to come out swinging.
Earlier we had mentioned the Stinger. Setting aside the sense of ambition shown by KIA in their decision to produce a next-gen Gran Turismo offering, performance (which we’ll get to) is only a piece of the puzzle that is their success. A big part of it came in striking a perfect balance between on-brand recognizability, and bold new design philosophy. And, not entirely unlike Mazda, KIA had managed to create something undeniably distinctive without abandoning their core aesthetic. The same approach is perfectly evident in the realization of the Telluride.
While such cornerstones of KIA design as the rounded architecture and oft-lamented ‘tiger nose’ grille remain omnipresent, they feel like part of a greater whole when it comes to the Telluride. And while we would normally critique most crossover and SUV offerings for an uninspired blandness of design, the Telluride feels ambitiously different – evoking a similar sense of adventure to that most evident in Land Rover iconography.
Simply put, a walk around the Telluride provides a genuine luxury-inspired experience. It feels far more high-end than we would have previously thought a KIA capable of, and that’s a beautiful thing. It makes it a standout among most in-class competitors.
Climb inside the Telluride and you’ll find an expansive cabin whose ample dimensions are further exaggerated by an open/horizontal dash design which seems to push outward from the center. Minimalist controls (thanks to the expansive touchscreen interface) make for a welcome change from the cluttered center-stacks all too common in today’s crossovers. Factor in KIA’s smart material choices and selection of appealing accents and the Telluride manages to tick a lot of boxes.
Offering both abundant head and legroom (even in the third-row) it also provides a passenger-friendly experience for both adults (of all sizes) made possible largely by its boxier design and enabled further with the selection of second-row captain chairs. In fact, it’s the former which also helps to equip the Telluride with near class-leading cargo space behind the third-tow. This, of course, only serves to enhance its utilitarian appeal.
Regardless of trim level, the Telluride comes equipped with a 3.8-liter V6 engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. In our opinion, we’re always impressed when an automaker opts to serve up a singular powertrain, embracing both refinement and economy, while distinguishing trim levels based on amenities rather than performance. That said, the Telluride’s V6 powertrain churns out 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, while offering a max towing capacity of about 5,000 LBS.
So, how does that measure up against the competition? Well, it easily bests both the Pilot and the Ascent in terms of horsepower, falling inline both in terms of torque and utility. But the Telluride does fall a bit short when compared to the Explorer and Durango. Granted, those SUVs are optionable with either a twin-turbo V6 or V8, so they’re simply better equipped to hit mid-to-high 300 numbers (with the Durango offering the best tow rating).
But rather than highlighting a weakness, that comparison helps to highlight one of the Telluride’s best selling points. While hardly earth-shattering, its performance numbers rest atop the high-end of the confident scale and besting a perennial favorite like the Pilot is something certainly worth taking notice of. In other words, KIA’s clear sense of intent when it comes to the Telluride extends through its engineering and overall capabilities. It doesn’t aim to be the biggest, strongest or best. It just comes ready to play.
Safety and Assistive Features
KIA offers a well-realized suite of safety and driver-assist features including, but not limited to (i) Blind Spot View Monitoring, providing a live video feed from blind areas. (ii) Highway Driving Assist to regulate changing cruise speeds. (iii) Safe Exit Assist which monitors outside activity like pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles and (iv) Surround View Monitor providing a birds-eye view of the vehicle’s surroundings.
And we’re hardly alone in our appreciation of the Telluride. Criticism of the floundering NAIAS aside, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit has served as a major tentpole of the industry’s annual calendar, especially stateside. And it was at the most recent NAIAS where KIA’s reveal of the 2020 Telluride garnered the attention of countless industry publications, one of them being cars.com.
Named their ‘Best in Show,’ the publication’s commentary recapped its praise neatly by saying that a “you could put a luxury badge on the steering wheel and nobody would bat an eye.” We tend to agree.
Well Worth Considering
The 2020 KIA Telluride is more than one of the best offerings of 2020; it’s one of the best SUV offerings available within its class. Distinctively styled, engineered in a refined manner and well-equipped in terms of optional amenities, the Telluride speaks to clear intent (and we’re still surprised by how much we love it).