Driven: 2020 Kia Telluride Is Large, Luxurious And Here To Eat The Explorer’s Lunch

Consumers continue to flock to crossovers and automakers have responded by introducing a slew of new models. One of the latest comes from Kia and it has a winning combination of style, comfort and spaciousness.

Named after a ski-centric town in Colorado, the 2020 Telluride is the brand’s range-topping crossover and it’s designed to compete with models such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. Those are some pretty established competitors, but the Telluride has a lot going for it.

Boxy By Design

Crafting an attractive crossover is a difficult challenge and a number of them end up looking pretty anonymous. Designers obviously wanted to avoid this, so they’ve eschewed the sleeker styling of the competition and went for a boxy design.

Styling is always subjective, but we think the model looks pretty good as it has a noticeable presence and an upscale flair. We’re not necessarily sold on all the styling details, but the Telluride has a distinct identity and that’s notable in a rather tame segment.

Each trim level has unique styling features and even the base Telluride has 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and oodles of chrome trim.  Other highlights include an acoustic front windshield, rugged body cladding and mirrors with integrated LED turn signals.

A Luxury Crossover Disguised As A Kia

While the exterior looks pretty good, the interior is fantastic. There are no visible hints of cost cutting as nearly all materials are stylish and high quality.

Kia really pulled out all the stops and there’s elegant chrome detailing throughout the cabin.  Even the faux wood trim looks surprisingly realistic. These high-end details are more visible in the range-topping SX variant with the Prestige Package which adds Nappa leather seats, a heated steering wheel and a premium headliner that feels ultra plush.

The front seats are extremely comfortable and offer a wide range of adjustment in the top of the line trim. Most controls are logically laid out and the large infotainment system is initiative once you get the hang of it.

The amenities extend to the second row, but third row occupants don’t get much more than cup holders and a USB charging port. Speaking of the third row, it’s relatively easy to get into as the second row seats slide forward to improve entry and egress.

There’s an acceptable amount of space in the back as Kia notes the third row has 31.4 inches (798 mm) of legroom and 37.8 inches (960 mm) of headroom. These dimensions make the rear seats adult friendly, providing you only put two of them back there.

The situation is much better in the second row as there’s plenty of head and legroom. The second row is also raised up off the floor and this provides improved visibility and a greater sense of airiness.  The latter is further enhanced by dual sunroofs.

More interestingly, the Telluride SX with the Prestige Package has captain chairs which recline and feature heating and ventilation – a rarity for the segment. Even without opting for the luxury-oriented model, second row passengers will find a 12 volt outlet and conveniently located USB charging ports in the back of the front of seats.

In terms of space, the Telluride can haul up to 21 cubic feet (595 liters) of cargo behind the third row.  Folding the rear seats down is relatively easy and this increases the luggage capacity to 46 cubic feet (1,303 liters).  Drivers looking for even more room can fold down the second row and get 87 cubic feet (2,464 liters) of space.

While the Telluride’s interior is impressive, not everything is perfect. Some of the central controls are hard to read, thanks to their silver on silver design, and it’s a bit odd not having a digital instrument cluster even as an option. The controls for the heated and ventilated seats are also a bit counter-intuitive and the infotainment system’s metallic surround creates a reflection on the windscreen. That being said, these are minor complaints and most owners will likely get used to these quirks.

Four Well Equipped Trim Levels

We’ve already covered the Telluride’s pricing and trim levels, but here’s a quick recap. The entry-level LX starts at $31,690 and comes equipped with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a tilt / telescopic steering column and an eight seat interior with leatherette upholstery. Buyers will also find air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system and a push button ignition. Other highlights include a 3.5-inch LCD display in the instrument cluster, synthetic leather armrests and an 8-inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

The Telluride comes standard with an assortment of driver assistance systems including rear blind spot collision avoidance assist, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection and forward collision warning. Other features include lane departure warning, lane following assist, lane keeping assist and rear park distance warning. Rounding out the safety features are rear cross traffic alert, a rear view monitor with dynamic guidelines and a smart cruise control system with stop and go.

The mid-range S and EX are “volume models” and they feature additional equipment. The Telluride S begins at $33,900 and includes a power sunroof, LED interior lights and an 8-way power driver’s seat. Other goodies include heated front seats, second row captain chairs and a leather-wrapped shifter.

The $37,090 Telluride EX goes even further as it boasts leather seats, woodgrain trim and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The model also has heated / ventilated front seats, an 8-way power front passenger seat and a 10.25-inch infotainment system. Other niceties include a dual-zone automatic climate control system, rear automatic climate controls, a wireless smartphone charger and a Level 2 semi-autonomous driving system. Rounding out the additions are second row sunshades, a hands-free power liftgate and an extra USB charging port.

The range-topping Telluride SX starts at $41,490 and comes nicely equipped with a 10-way power driver’s seat, stainless steel pedals and a 7-inch LCD display in the instrument cluster. Other features include an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, a 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system and an interior mood lighting system with 64 colors. On the safety front, there are several extras including a blind-spot view monitor, high beam assist, forward park distance warning and a surround view monitor.

A Competitive And Smooth Powertrain

Behind the widest grille ever fitted to a Kia is a 3.8-liter V6 engine that produces 291 hp (217 kW / 295 PS) and 262 lb-ft (355 Nm) of torque. It is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission which can be paired to an optional active all-wheel drive system for an additional $2,000. This setup enables front-wheel drive models to return 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. All-wheel drive variants are a bit thirstier as the fuel economy rating drops to 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined.

The powertrain is a good match for the Telluride as the engine has plenty of power and can easily manage the crossover’s 4,482 lbs (2,033 kg) curb weight in SX trim. While drivers should keep their expectations in check, the engine feels pretty competitive for its class and the numbers bear this out. For comparison, the Honda Pilot’s 3.5-liter V6 develops 280 hp (209 kW / 284 PS) and 262 lb-ft (355 Nm) of torque, while the Toyota Highlander’s optional 3.5-liter V6 has 295 hp (220 kW / 299 PS) and 263 lb-ft (356 Nm) of torque.

The engine is backed up by an eight-speed automatic transmission and it’s a smooth operator in comfort mode. The gearbox also has a manual mode, but few drivers will likely use it.

Speaking of performance, the Telluride is available with an active all-wheel drive system. It distributes torque between the front and rear wheels depending on road conditions and vehicle settings. Eco and Comfort modes are primarily front biased, but Sport, Smart and Snow modes can send up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. The model also has an AWD Lock mode which evenly distributes power to all four wheels.

The system seems to work pretty well as the Telluride easily dealt with light rain and a snow storm on a trip between Gateway and the Colorado town that bears its name. Of course, owners shouldn’t expect to do any hardcore off-roading as the crossover has approach and departure angles of 17 and 20.9 degrees, respectively.

Drives Smaller Than It Is

The Telluride’s focus on comfort extends beyond the interior as the range-topping SX has a smooth and refined ride which can be helped by an optional self-leveling rear suspension. The crossover’s 20-inch wheels didn’t seem to affect the ride quality either, although most of our trip took place on well maintained Colorado roads.

Driving a large crossover is rarely exciting and that’s also true of the Telluride. The steering feels a bit heavy, but it’s precise nonetheless. The crossover is also pretty nimble for its size and it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a massive family hauler.

The brakes also bring the Telluride to a safe and predictable halt. We didn’t push them to the extremes, but the 13.4- (front) and 12.0-inch (rear) discs seem more than capable for the job at hand.

A Crossover To Get Excited About

Kia executives are pretty proud of the Telluride and openly admit they haven’t felt this excited about a vehicle since the Stinger. It’s easy to see why as the Telluride offers an impressive combination of comfort, style, spaciousness and luxury.

The good news doesn’t stop there as the crossover has competitive pricing and well equipped mid-range models. This means buyers can get a luxurious Telluride EX for a tad over $40,000 – including destination costs.

While the Telluride isn’t very exciting to drive, that’s pretty common for the segment. However, the vehicle drives smaller than it is and ride quality is top notch.

The 2020 Kia Telluride is currently on sale and anyone in the market for a seven or eight seat crossover should definitely consider it. We think the Telluride one of the most exciting mainstream crossovers in years and that’s already bearing out in terms of strong initial sales and high interest from potential buyers.

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  • TrevP

    I wish the fully loaded one didn’t come with black rims. I would have to get those swapped out ASAP


    One thing, reliability

    • salamOOn

      well, i guess top 5 brand in that thing is a good result.

    • Smith

      Not even, but at least a warranty that covers all the problems you’ll have. Just no re-sale value so you will loose your shirt on this one.

  • charlotteharry57

    There is no doubt that it’s a good value. It looks good, save for the taillights that I can’t stand. Orange DRLs are just plain weird. The question has nothing to do with expected reliability, which will be average or above, but there’s that warranty. The challenge is convincing potential buyers to enter a Kia showroom. My neighbor has a ’16 Sorento and she spends half her life telling everyone how great it is. I’ve yet to see that paying off. You also can’t miss the advertising; it’s everywhere.

    • bd0007

      Early indication is that Kia dealerships can’t keep the Telluride in stock and they’re selling at MSRP (or slightly below), w/ some dealerships even asking for a premium (which hopefully, no one takes them up on it).

  • Fuster Cluck

    Great vehicle for the money, but I’d have to get out a blow dryer and remove that stream of T E L L U R I D E newsprint on the front and back. The name is nice but the lettering is too dang much and I wouldn’t want to clean around all that mess.

    • Smith

      Trying to be Range Rover … Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha … now that’s funny, just like this boat, hilarious.

  • Merc1

    Priced right, looks good inside and out and drives well. Look for big sales.


    • bd0007

      Kia will sell every one it makes (buyers are even snapping up the SX trim w/ the Prestige package), but while it may outsell something like the Subie Ascent (much less the VW Atlas), Kia simply doesn’t have the production capacity for “big sales” (meaning anywhere close to what the Highlander sells).

  • Bo Hanan

    Nice truck. 63 pics? Really?

    • Smith

      62 too any, the one with the interior heater outlet was the only one they need to show!

  • salamOOn

    when i look at this car i wonder why the hell would i want to spend much more for mercedes or bmw…. this is absolutely amazing package!

    • MayTheBestCarWin05

      You are 100% correct. This vehicle looks to be a home run.

      Problem is, when people start spending $40k+, they really want to announce to the world they’ve “made it” with a blue&white roundel or that three pointed star.

      • SPEEDY

        Agree 100% … Not to mention, KIA’s logo is GAWD AWFUL!! It screams cheap cheap. They really need to redesign the Logo’s font, or fashion it into a remarkable symbol. When I think of Kia, I still think poor mans Hyundai. Give this nice SUV a nice redesigned badge!

      • pissedoffjuicebox

        >they really want to announce to the world they’ve “made it” with a blue&white roundel or that three pointed star.

        Try to buy a new BMW of similar size for a similar price.

        • MayTheBestCarWin05

          You’re correct. There isn’t one. But you make this statement as if the used car market doesn’t exist….

          • pissedoffjuicebox

            Fair point, but how is that conversation going to go?

            “I have a BMW.”
            “Cool, is it new?”
            “No, I’ve “made it” but I still can’t afford new.”
            “Ah…well, I’m going to go get in my Kia Telluride with more standard equipment than your used BMW, and I’ll enjoy the best warranty in the business while I’m at it.”

            On a separate point, you could also argue that the Kia Telluride will be on the used market one day and will be an even better deal than a used BMW. More reliable most likely as well. If you spend all of your “made it” money on a depreciating asset, and I’ve “made it” but save a huge chunk by buying this Kia, who’s the bigger fool? (I realize most people are idiots when it comes to cars and spending money).

          • MayTheBestCarWin05

            100% agree wit this statement. That’s why I bought a new VW Atlas SEL Premium vs a gently used Merc/BMW with way less options.

    • Smith

      Maybe for styling, quality, re-sale value, quality, styling … you name it. This is a boat and a tank rolled in to one it cannot be called a car or an SUV. Buy a KIA and in 3 years you will see what I mean, no re-sale value at all.

    • Enter Ranting

      I sat in one at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The interior was amazing.

  • bd0007

    Kia really needs to add the full digital gauge cluster; likely will come for the SX trim the next model year, but a bit surprising that it’s not being offered at the onset.

    • Smith

      Way too expensive for this really cheap behemoth!

      • Enter Ranting

        Digital screens are cheaper than analog gauges. That’s a big reason everyone is doing it.

      • bd0007

        The SX trim w/ the Prestige Package is hardly cheap; and considering that the new Sonata gets it (and presumably the next Optima), your line of “reasoning” is highly flawed (and it’s not really more expensive).

        And funny, for a “cheap behemoth” the Telluride’s interior makes the interior of the competition look extremely cheap.

  • Smith

    Even for a KIA this car is pretty in two ways ….. pretty ugly and pretty likely to stay that way. They went away from their design principal of okay styling, and moved over to O … M … G spells U … G … L … Y

  • Thunderbolt

    If you’re going for a roomy 3 row seats that isn’t a van, then this is might be the one. Otherwise, for the money I’d buy a Toyota Highlander.
    Highlander’s engine HP and Torque are slightly ahead of Telluride’s, but for accelerating and driving up moutain road, Highlander performs much better.

    • baofe

      citation needed on of road ability otherwise that’s just your opinion.
      Highlander is also on an old platform, its in need of a refresh especially with that dated infotainment and interior

      • salamOOn

        and halogen headlights from 2015…..

    • Rocket

      The Highlander is so much smaller it’s really not in the same class. And while the Toyota V6 is pretty sweet, the lazy 8-speed Aisin gearbox ruins it.

      • pissedoffjuicebox

        Not to mention the Highlander is so old that I’m surprised it’s still relevant.

  • Alberto Barrales

    Saw one in the wild on my way home from work and I have to say that I’m impressed.

  • Galaxium

    I hope it does eat Explorer’s market share – I wanna see less of the new Explorer on the street.

  • Yishay

    Love the color

  • john1168

    GOOD! The Explorer needs some more competition (in addition to the Cherokee) so Ford will hopefully step up it’s game. Slightly odd exterior but a nice interior in the Telluride.

  • MarketAndChurch

    It’s hard at the 50k pricepoint, because both it and the Explorer ST look amazing ( so does the platinum ), and if someone wants a similar “big suv” look, they can always step up to the Expedition.

    It’s good that the Explorer – and Grand Cherokee – will finally have some competition thanks to this. It’s really a toss up though. If it were my money, I honestly couldn’t choose between the two, but for Kia Stinger owners or luxury sedan/coupe owners, this has to be at the top of your list for your two-car garage. Thank you for all the pictures.

  • SteersUright

    Sure, it’s nice. But, the upcoming RWD Explorer seems much more exciting with stronger engines on offer and proper chassis layout. Were I in the market for these mini-vans disguised as SUV’s, I’d probably cross-shop this with the Pilot and others.

    • bd0007

      The RWD Explorer really won’t be a direct competitor to the FWD 3-row CUVs.

      • brn

        It will, because most buyers don’t know the difference.

      • pissedoffjuicebox

        It also costs an absurd amount more than the Telluride, and no, the quality is not any better, if present Fords are anything to go by.

  • Pavel B.

    If I was in the market for any type of SUV or truck like vehicle, and hopefully I never will be in such a place in my life. I would look hard at the Ford Flex.

    • “and hopefully I never will be in such a place in my life”

      Ouch, surely can’t be that bad.

  • Dennis Scipio

    The car’s looks are starting to grow on me, It’s not a bad design, has great features for it’s price, and I think it will age well.

  • Enter Ranting

    Kia is going to sell a billion of these.

  • bd0007

    While that little “nub” kinda ruins the rear, the taillight design is not a copy of Volvo.

    Need the taillights at the D-pillar for that and if anyone copied Volvo, it is Honda w/ the taillights on the CR-V and Fit.

  • vvmdrf

    I just can’t get over the blatant XC90 design rip-off. Shameful

  • TheBelltower

    This thing is a big deal. If Toyota and Ford don’t upgrade their Explorer and Highlander fast, the Telluride is going to do some serious damage.

  • Six_Tymes

    its a KIA. I look forward to laughing at you while driving one of these over priced behemoths

  • ErnieB

    While I think it’s a great looking SUV. The new Explorer just looks better..

  • pissedoffjuicebox

    Highlander, lol. That ancient vehicle that has been barely updated for close to a decade.

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