• 2020 Kia Telluride - Driven

A three-row crossover that’s no mere family-hauler

As I photographed the 2020 Kia Telluride in a Maryland park, a fellow visitor peeled off from his family to ask about the car. It made sense. Full-size crossovers like the Telluride are the chariot of choice for many families today, thanks to their three rows of seats and long lists of amenities. And the all-new Telluride had just hit the market. But as it turned out, the man wasn’t eyeing the Telluride for himself. It was his teenage daughter who’d sent him across the parking lot to check out this newly released SUV. It looked cool, she told him, kind of like a Range Rover. And she wanted one.

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Few vehicles can wear the labels of both “cool” and “family-friendly,” particularly once you start to demand a third-row seat. A Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, or Subaru Ascent has all the cool factor of a minivan, just less cargo room.

They’re about spaciousness and quiet comfort — perfect qualities for a family car, but nothing that’s going to stir the soul.

Even the “cool” big crossovers like the stylish and sporty Mazda CX-9 or Volkswagen Atlas are desirable mainly on a relative basis; if you need seven seats, they’re more exciting than a Pilot or Toyota Highlander, but not many people are rushing out to buy Atlases because they’re just so dang awesome.

On the flip side, character usually comes at the expense of everyday comfort and value. Whether you’re into the rough and rugged Toyota 4Runner, the mighty but ponderous Chevrolet Suburban, or the lavish but frightfully expensive Range Rover Sport, you just have to give something up.

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Is the new Telluride going to pull off this rare balancing act — keeping up with a Pilot for the family-hauler crowd, while also winning the hearts of buyers who don’t necessarily need a seven- or eight-passenger crossover? It’s a tough challenge for anyone, especially for a company that’s only now debuting its first full-size crossover.

But the Telluride, priced from $32,735, definitely brings enough comfort, quietness and value to be one of many great family cars in its class, along with an upscale cabin design — even if its looks have a lot more character than its driving experience.


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Okay, it has to be said: The Telluride doesn’t really look that much like a Range Rover. That said, without risking a plagiarism charge, Kia evokes a similar tough-but-luxurious vibe. The Telluride comes across as boxier than most of today’s crossovers, and its slim vertical headlights and taillights emphasize the vehicle’s 90-degree angles. What’s more, the windowline stays nearly level as it makes its way toward the rear of the vehicle. It’s a remarkable and effective piece of design restraint that creates big ’90s-looking windows, rather than little slits of glass above acres of sheetmetal, as current trends demand.

By subtly hearkening back to the time when SUVs were legitimately capable — a time when it still made sense for teenagers to want Ford Explorers — the Telluride distances itself from the 2020 herd.

It also has cleaner styling details than the flashier yet less original Hyundai Palisade, the Telluride’s mechanical twin.

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Turning to the spec sheet, the Telluride measures 196.9 inches long, 78.3 inches wide and 69.3 inches high. The former two figures are within 0.3 inches of a Honda Pilot, though the Honda is an inch and a half taller while the Kia has an extra 3 inches of wheelbase (114.2 inches total). Looking to some other competitors, the Telluride is a little bigger than a Toyota Highlander — it slots between the full-size Telluride and Kia’s midsize Sorento — and a little smaller than the Chevrolet Traverse or the new 2020 Ford Explorer.

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Inside, the Telluride looks and feels upscale, with an elegant and well-finished dashboard that doesn’t limit the vehicle to family duty.

It doesn’t have a particularly SUV-esque design, except for a pair of grab handles that flank the center console, but the uncluttered, vertically spread instrument panel is both contemporary and user-friendly. The design is more conventional than the Hyundai Palisade’s, whose console rises high up into the instrument panel and contains more of the vehicle’s controls; Kia also sticks to a conventional gear selector instead of the Hyundai’s push-button unit.

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The Telluride comes standard with a good-sized 8-inch touchscreen perched atop its dashboard, while upper trim levels like the tested SX upgrade to an extra-wide 10.25-inch unit. This setup lets you present three pieces of information side by side, such as your GPS map, audio information and weather, as in the accompanying photos. All models support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. The cabin is sprinkled with five USB ports on base models, and six on upper trim levels.


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The Telluride comes standard with three rows of seats, with seating for eight passengers if you pick the second-row bench seat or seven passengers with second-row captain’s chairs like our test car. (The available seating configurations vary by trim level.)

Unlike the Kia Sorento, which squeezes everyone to fit three rows into a fairly small body, there’s generous space in the Telluride.

The front seats and the middle row both offer well-shaped cushions and ample legroom. Even the third row is decent for adults; you sit low to the floor, like in most competitors, but there’s above-average leg space and cushioning, and the seatback has adjustable recline. Third-row access is a little easier in a few competitors, though. Available family-friendly features on upper-trim Tellurides can pipe the driver’s voice through the rear speakers (“driver talk”), and a selectable “quiet mode” that uses only the front speakers

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Overall, cargo volume is class-competitive if not class-leading, though the Telluride’s most impressive spec is one of the most significant: 21 cubic feet behind the third-row seat. In competitors with skimpy space back there, you might be forced to regularly fold down the third row, or if it’s occupied, give up on carrying some items. For contrast, the Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9 have just 14 cubic feet of space behind the third row, giving the Telluride a whopping 50% more volume. Most other competitors are in the mid-to-high teens, though the plus-size Chevrolet Traverse boasts 23 cubic feet. Folding the third row opens up 46 cubic feet in the Telluride, and you get 87 cubic feet behind the front seats. The seats fold easily and create a flat floor. Again, those volumes are competitive but not standouts. Similarly, the Telluride matches but doesn’t exceed most competitors for towing; it can handle up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. Upper-trim models add a self-leveling rear suspension to cope with hauling.

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While the Telluride’s boxy shape doesn’t generate class-leading cargo volume, it does lead to among the best outward visibility of today’s crossovers.

Drivers and passengers alike can appreciate the big windows, which give kids an above-average view from the rear rows of seats. A blind-spot monitoring system is standard equipment on every Telluride, while the SX adds a sideview camera monitor that presents a video of your blind spot between the gauges when you activate either turn signal. That’s an advantage over the Honda LaneWatch system, which works only on the passenger side, but Honda’s system is otherwise better; it provides a bigger and better-positioned display, along with useful guides indicating your clearance from cars in the neighboring lanes.


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Kia’s ads for the Telluride show it blasting through a muddy field, but on the road, it’s competent but decidedly unexciting. It rides smoothly and quietly, and it handles with respectable composure for a big crossover, though not with eagerness or excitement. Similarly, the standard naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V6 engine (which makes 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque) is quick and silky-smooth, but it’s hard to provoke it to make a ton of noise.

The Telluride’s approach is great if you’re looking for getting around without any fuss — less so if you’re looking for SUV character.

Even if it looks more traditional than just a big generic family crossover, the Telluride isn’t a bargain-priced Lexus GX. We didn’t take the Telluride off-road, but its optional all-wheel-drive system can be locked in at low speeds, and there’s also a selectable mode for snow.

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The Telluride’s big V6 engine, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, achieves class-competitive EPA fuel economy ratings. With front-wheel-drive, it manages 20 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg overall.

All-wheel-drive knocks it to 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 21 mpg overall.

Those figures do trail turbocharged four-cylinder competitors like the Mazda CX-9 and the redesigned 2020 Ford Explorer, and even some V6 models edge out the new Kia. That said, during a weeklong test, with mixed driving that skewed toward more highway than city conditions, our all-wheel-drive Telluride SX averaged 24.2 mpg — better than even its EPA highway estimate.

Engine 3.8L, V6, Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) Lambda-II
Displacement (cc) 3,778 CC
Compression ratio 13.0:1
Horsepower 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 262 lb.-ft. @ 5,200 rpm
Block Aluminum
Head Aluminum
Valve System DOHC with DUAL CVVT
Fuel System Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI)
Rec. Fuel Unleaded Gasoline (Regular 87 or higher)
Emission Rating ULEV70
Fuel tank capacity (gal.) 18.8 gallons
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Curb weight 4,112 lbs
Towing capacity Automatic transmission, FWD (lbs.) 5000
Towing capacity Automatic transmission, AWD (lbs.) 5000


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Let’s get this right out there: The Telluride is a Kia, but that doesn’t mean it’s less expensive than the competition — at least not just yet. It’s a pretty good buy, to be sure, but without big discounts available, its purchase price is above some competing three-row crossovers.

The Telluride’s base price of $32,735 for the LX model, including the mandatory destination charge, does bring lots of standard equipment, another Kia staple.

Notably, there’s a full complement of safety gear: a forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning with automatic steering corrections, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring with a rear cross-traffic alert. The LX also has a leatherette upholstery (cloth isn’t available on the Telluride), fully featured infotainment system a six-speaker sound system, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The next-up S model ($35,035) has a power driver’s seat, heated front seats and a choice of second-row captain’s chairs in addition to the LX’s bench seat, plus a sunroof flashy 20-inch alloy wheels.

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The EX ($38,135) and SX ($42,535) bring genuine leather, cooled front seats, the larger touchscreen, and a power liftgate — which would have been valuable as an option on lower trim levels. They also share the driver talk and quiet mode features. Between the two, the SX adds 20-inch wheels versus 18-inchers on the EX, parking sensors and a surround-view parking camera, the blind-spot cameras, memory settings for the driver’s seat, a second sunroof, LED headlights and some high-end extra-cost options: upgraded leather upholstery, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a head-up display. The EX is sold only with eight-passenger seating, the SX only in the seven-passenger configuration.


2019 Honda Pilot

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The Honda Pilot has dominated the mild-mannered minivan alternative wing of the three-row crossover class since its last redesign in 2016, aided by a fresh 2019 update that upgraded its infotainment system and control layout. The Telluride offers a similar driving experience — for better or for worse — but it has a far more opulent interior, more cargo space and a more interesting design.

Read our full review on the 2019 Honda Pilot

2019 Volkswagen Atlas

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The Volkswagen Atlas has some character, with its blocky and bulgy design. It’s fun to drive, with a powerful six-cylinder engine and eager handling responses for such a big vehicle. At the same time, it’s roomier than the Telluride, with exceptional passenger and cargo space (though only seven seats rather than eight, thanks to a two-passenger third row). And generous discounts mean it’s actually more of a bargain than its Kia competitor. The Telluride looks and feels much more luxurious, though, and it’s more fuel-efficient.

Read our full review on the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas

2019 Mazda CX-9

2019 Mazda CX-9 With Much More Gear For A Bit More Money
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The luxurious, sporty Mazda CX-9 is another unexpected value leader in this segment — thanks in part the long list of luxury equipment that Mazda includes even on the low-trim Touring model, along with its fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s also roomier than it looks, thanks to artful styling that masks its size. But the Telluride is even more spacious, it’s quieter and it has better visibility.

Read our full review on the 2019 Mazda CX-9

2019 Subaru Ascent

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Like the Telluride, the Subaru Ascent is an all-new entrant into the full-size crossover class. In look and feel, it’s more Pilot than Telluride — all about high-quality family-friendly utility with little pizzazz. It’s roomy, it drives well, its turbocharged four-cylinder engine gets excellent gas mileage and it’s even competitively priced. But there’s little character, not even Subaru’s traditional hardy grit.

Read our full review on the 2019 Subaru Ascent

2019 GMC Acadia

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The GMC Acadia, like the Telluride, is a family-friendly crossover that uses handsome, upscale looks to expand its appeal. It’s also half a size smaller than the Telluride and its ilk, adding to its appeal for buyers who don’t appreciate the interior room that results from extra bulk. That said, the Acadia’s interior lacks the Telluride’s upscale design and meticulous build quality, and big families will feel the pinch of its smaller cabin. And many safety features are restricted to pricey trim levels.

Read our full review on the 2019 GMC Acadia

Upcoming Competitors

2020 Hyundai Palisade Exterior
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The Telluride is also about to face two all-new 2020 competitors: the redesigned Ford Explorer and the all-new Hyundai Palisade. As we mentioned before, the Palisade is mechanically identical to the Telluride, just with different aesthetics. If you like how it drives, you’ll want to consider both. The Explorer, meanwhile, moves to an all-new platform that promises greatly improved driving dynamics and fuel economy over its lumbering predecessor. But Ford took few styling risks, meaning the new Explorer doesn’t look so different from the 2011 model — except for a controversial vertical infotainment screen.


2020 Kia Telluride - Driven
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High on style, luxury, refinement and passenger comfort, the 2020 Kia Telluride has quickly joined the upper ranks of its market segment. There are ways to spend even less, so don’t assume that Kia has cornered the budget-priced slice of the market. But the Telluride is a solid overall package whose appeal extends beyond the sum of its parts.

Brady Holt
About the author

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2020 Kia Telluride - Driven

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