The new king of the 3-row SUVs.
by Chris Balmes
Just saying that the Kia Telluride is the new king of the 3-row SUVs is a bold statement. Believe me, I know. I was a little skeptical at first about Kia’s new full-size SUV – that is, unit I drove one. Let me tell you, the other manufacturers need to take notice and should be a little worried,. No, they should be very worried – the Telluride is just that brilliant. My first impression when I walked up to the Telluride was that this is a pretty damn good looking ride. It has a sophisticated brawniness to it. You walk up to the front end and instantly know that Kia is making a statement with this SUV, right there just above the grill in larger than life print: T E L L U R I D E. With the prominent tiger nose grill that Kia is known for and the amber encased headlights, this SUV has presence. The profile is slick with a sense of movement that flows nicely towards the rear end. Even the back, which tends to feel like an afterthought on most vehicles, seems to be well executed here. And, sitting on 20” black-on-black wheels gives this new full-size SUV an appearance that will have you grabbing one last glance as you walk away.
Opening the door, you are greeted with an interior that is as comfortable as it is luxurious. In fact, I was quite overwhelmed on how posh the cabin feels. The impression of every surface, knob, button and switch goes beyond just being an element selected by the Kia design team – it becomes an experience. From the soft plush leather to the wood grain inserts on the dash, you feel like you are in something that is way above its price point. The knobs for the volume and climate controls felt solid and satisfying when you turn them and the infotainment screen is responsive with menus that are intuitive and easy to master right away. From the driver’s seat, the seating position gives you a commanding view without sacrificing comfort. In fact, I found myself taking the long way to my destinations just to spend some more time behind the wheel.
Now let’s talk tech. The Telluride comes with most of today’s usual suspects when it comes to technology plus a couple more. Although the Kia Telluride starts at just $31,890 in LX trim, my test vehicle was the top-of-the-line SX level which starts at $41,790 plus $2,000 for AWD. The SX trim includes heated and ventilated seats with the controls placed in the hefty grab handles on either side of the center console – a surprisingly great spot for them. This Telluride was loaded with all the creature comforts you come to expect from ultra-luxury brands from Germany and Japan, not necessarily from a no-nonsense Korean company. The list includes wireless phone charging, multiple drive mode selector, locking differential, head-up display (HUD), USB charging ports all over the place and a slew of safety assist and warning features. They are all in there plus one of the most amazing features that I have seen in the form of blind spot monitoring. All you other manufactures listen and listen carefully – you can learn something from Kia here: besides having the standard alert in the side view mirrors, you also get an alert in the HUD, nice – right? But Kia didn’t stop there. The moment you press you turn signal stalk a real-time, full-color video appears in the center of your gauge cluster showing the driver everything in your blind-spot plus an additional 3 lanes over. The system works for both the left and right sides. It is absolutely brilliant and provides a level of situational awareness unmatched in the industry – kudos to Kia!
When it comes to driving the Telluride, the hits keep on coming. The moment you start driving, the vehicle performs a cool little trick, feeling a lot smaller than it really is on the outside, yet somehow simultaneously feeling a lot bigger than it really is on the inside. While most full size, three row SUVs feel big and cumbersome, the Telluride feels spacious yet nimble. Being someone who is used to smaller cars, I instantly felt comfortable and at ease driving the Telluride. There was absolutely no need for a “get used to it” period; instead, it felt as if this SUV was my personal vehicle that I had been driving for months. The handling was precise with little body roll and the steering felt deliberate and controlled. Brakes felt confident and linear, however, there was a little more peddle travel for my liking. The 8-speed automatic transmission was smooth and precise and switching to Sport Mode does give the Telluride a little more pep by upping the throttle response and changing the shift points. Also, while in Sport Mode the shift points do hang nicely, however there were moments when I was saying to myself, “OK, shift already.” As far as power is concerned, this Kia is equipped with its 3.8L Lambda DOHC V6 making a not too shabby 291hp and 262lb-ft of torque while still offering decent economy at 23mpg combined for FWD models and 21mpg combined for AWD models. The power is definitely there when needed, and it launches rather well – just don’t expect to be able to go toe-to-toe with sport-derived SUVs like the Jeep Trackhawk – it is obvious that the Telluride is meant for family hauling and grocery duties. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Now, for all of its brilliance the Kia Telluride does have some faults. While the interior does have a very luxurious feel, there are some parts-bin pieces that should have probably stayed on the shelf – especially the horn in the steering wheel. While the steering wheel itself is the prefect thickness and really feels great in your hands (with radio and cruise control buttons in the proper positions), for some reason Kia decided to use a hard-rough plastic horn. It’s as if Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa and then decided to give her a mohawk – it just doesn’t work! Another fault is that the arm rest on the doors are very hard, leaving me to wonder if they had forgotten to install the foam underneath as it wasn’t very long before my elbow was sore and uncomfortable. Also, while entry level Tellurides are 8 passenger trucks with 2-3-3 seating, the SX trim removes the middle 3 passenger bench and puts in 2 captain chairs giving it 2-2-3 seating. Unfortunately, the 3rd row just doesn’t offer the proper hip-room for 3 adults to sit side-by-side-by-side (however kids will be fine), so in reality you need to figure the Telluride as a 6 or 7 passenger family hauler based on the trim level. Forcing three adults in the third row is just as evil as putting passengers in the back of a Ford Mustang – such masochism should be reserved for quick trips only. Finally, and this is borderline nitpicking, but shorter drivers will find it hard to reach the infotainment touch screen. While I had no problems with my gorilla length arms, I can see it being a problem for those who do not.
Overall, like I said in the beginning – the Kia Telluride is a brilliant SUV despite a few imperfections. And to be honest, its short list of faults are things I can definitely live with. It’s a vehicle that not only has everything you need or want in an SUV, but is also a true pleasure to drive. In fact, all you want to do is drive it. In a market flooded with crossovers and SUVs, the Kia Telluride is more than just another SUV. It’s a statement to the rest of the market that Kia has legitimately built the new king of the 3-row SUVs.
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