Christopher Little

Quick Spin: 2021 Kia Telluride

The Kia Telluride was the first Kia designed specifically for the US market. And to say that the Kia Design Center in Irvine, CA hit the three-row SUV nail on the head would be a massive understatement. The 2020 Telluride was such a monumental success upon launch that dealers had weeks-long waiting lists for sold cars. Good luck finding one to test drive! Even we struggled, only now getting our first jaunt behind the wheel now, almost a year and a half late. The phenomenon was so great, the Kia PR team dubbed it the “Selluride” during the model rundown at the Kia Seltos launch event. So what lies behind this SUV’s lighting-in-a-bottle success? After a wintry week with the lightly-updated 2021 Telluride SX V6 AWD, the answer is crystal clear.

If it wasn’t for the Kia’s distinct styling, it might not have drawn as much attention on launch. Where many in the segment are going for complex shapes and sweeping design lines, the Telluride’s broad hood, clean sides, and upright windshield immediately set it apart. The long roof, wide grille, and distinctive stacked headlamps and inverted “L” tail lamps prove to be signature design elements as well. For 2021, an optional Nightfall Edition package adds an exclusive black grille and 20” gloss black wheels in addition to gloss black trim, roof rails, skid plates, headlight bezels, and emblems. In our tester’s Everlasting Silver hue, the blacked-out elements added a bit of contrast. The team was split on bright or dark elements, but Kia now offers a trim package to suit either taste.

The traditional shape of the Telluride means the cabin is bright, spacious, and offered excellent visibility in all directions. Climbing in and getting comfortable behind the wheels is simple and easy. There’s ample head and leg room in the first two rows and the second row captain’s chairs provide easy access to the third row. Carrying less people and more cargo? Flip down the third row and slide the second row seats forward for tall and deep cargo space. There’s no swooping roofline and origami rear hatch to impede cargo capacity. This simplicity carries over to the instruments and cabin controls. A large easy-to-read set of gauges flank a large color driver display. A large 10.25-inch touchscreen display sits atop the climate and audio control panel. Real buttons facilitate all the important controls while the bright and responsive screen offers a simple interface for onboard navigation or standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The Telluride also appeals to family buyers with its long list of available driver assist technology. Our Telluride featured a head’s up display, forward collision warning and avoidance assist, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and avoidance, surround view monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop & go, plus highway driving assist with lane following capability. The later features allow the car to monitor the distance to the vehicle ahead, road stripes, and speed signage to help keep the Telluride centered in the lane at a safe distance from vehicles ahead.

Kia has dialed in an excellent on-road demeanor for the Telluride. Comfortable four-wheel independent suspension provides an expected and acceptable amount of body movement. The AWD Telluride normally distributes 20 to 35 perfect of the power to the rear wheels. Dial the drive mode knob into Sport or Snow, as we did in our snowy dirt road travels, and up to 50 percent of power is sent rearward. There’s also an AWD Lock mode that delivers equal power to all four wheels for more serious situations. The Telluride is powered by a 3.8L V6 producing 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft torque. Paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, the Telluride’s acceleration is adequate for the big three-row SUV. It also offers up to 5,000 lbs towing capacity.

Kia focused on what matters to consumers when developing the Telluride, and the sales figures show as much. The traditional shape provides a large greenhouse and spacious seating. Our testers standard dual sunroof also adds plenty of light into the cabin. The cabin’s traditional layout offers well-though-out storage, comfortable ergonomics, and best-in-class technology features. A suite of driver assistance and safety features provide the aids that buyers have come to expect as well. A simple and effective powertrain doesn’t introduce any complexity, but also doesn’t hold the platform back in terms of daily driving performance and efficiency. Even from a visual standpoint, the Telluride’s long hood, simple lines, and distinctive visual features don’t fit the sharp angular norms from the competition. It didn’t set out to be different, but it comes across as refreshingly so. In a segment were many get some things right, the Telluride seems to get it all right.

-Christopher Little

2021 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD$44,090
SX Prestige Package$2,300
Towing Package$795
Carpeted Floor Mats$210
Cargo Cover$155
Destination Charges$1,170
As-Tested MSRP$48,720

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