Car Reviews First Tests

2020 Kia Telluride SX First Test: Big, Boxy, and Actually Cool

The rest of the midsize crossover segment better look out

The rest of the midsize crossover segment better look out

For years, if you wanted a Kia that wasn’t a minivan and had room for seven, your only choice was the three-row version of the Sorento crossover. The problem was, even after Kia redesigned the Sorento for 2016, the third row wasn’t the kind of place you’d want to put a person with legs. For families who like the idea of being able to carry two extra passengers in a pinch, that was fine. But for anyone who needed to regularly use that third row, the Sorento was a hard sell. That’s where the all-new 2020 Kia Telluride comes in.

Even though it’s still technically a midsize crossover, the Telluride is the largest vehicle Kia has ever built. Compared with the current Sorento, it has about a 5-inch-longer wheelbase and is nearly 8 inches longer overall. That means the Telluride is also a few inches bigger than the Honda Pilot and even the new Toyota Highlander. It is, however, a bit shorter than the new Ford Explorer.

And although the boxy styling and overall size might suggest otherwise, there’s no truck frame underneath the Telluride’s sheetmetal. Instead, the Telluride is built on a unibody platform shared with the Hyundai Palisade. There’s a 3.8-liter V-6 making 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque under the hood, and shifting is handled by an eight-speed automatic.

If you want an entry-level, front-wheel-drive Telluride, it will cost you $32,735 USD. The version we brought in for testing, though, was a top-trim SX version with optional all-wheel drive and the Prestige package, which came in at $47,255 USD.

That’s a lot of money, but keep in mind that a top-trim Honda Pilot costs $49,065 USD. If you add fancy wheels, that total rises to $51,061 USD. And it’s not like you’ll save much money by switching to a minivan, either. An all-wheel-drive Toyota Sienna Limited Premium will run you $50,285 USD, and a loaded Chrysler Pacifica costs even more. Basically, if you want all the bells and whistles, be prepared for modern family transportation to be pricey.

And boy, did our Telluride SX come with a lot of bells and whistles. In addition to some more basic features, you get LED headlights, 20-inch black alloy wheels, dual sunroofs, a heated steering wheel, Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated second-row seats, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display, a surround-view camera system, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and six USB ports. None of these features is truly groundbreaking, but someone coming from an older car will probably be shocked by all they get.

Once we got the Telluride to the test track, we recorded a 0–60 time of 7.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 15.4 seconds at 92.9 mph (149.5 km/h). We have yet to test the new Highlander or Explorer, but those times put the Telluride well ahead of the Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium and a good bit behind the last Honda Pilot Elite we tested. The Telluride did edge out the Pilot in our braking test, stopping from 60 mph in 118 feet. In our handling tests, the Telluride averaged 0.80 g around our skidpad and ran the figure eight in 27.3 seconds at 0.63 g. That’s almost identical to the Pilot’s performance, though the Telluride’s figure-eight time was a tick quicker.

But despite the Telluride’s commendable handling (for a true three-row midsize crossover), there’s still no hiding its weight in the corners. “It feels really big and very soft,” testing director Kim Reynolds said. “It’s dominated by understeer and lots of body motions.” The biggest issue he had with the Telluride, though, was the unpredictable stability control. “Turn it off, and it’s sometimes off (surprisingly off) but other times reawakens with draconian intrusion. I did a few laps with it off, then all of a sudden, it was on again while turning to the right.”

Odds are, most owners will never touch the stability control button. Nor will they miss the Stinger’s twin-turbo V-6 that we would have loved to see Kia find a way to offer on the Telluride. In daily driving situations, the engine felt plenty powerful and sounded surprisingly sporty. And although the Telluride is a competent handler, buyers will probably appreciate the exceptionally quiet cabin, well-damped ride, and minimal wind noise even more.

The Telluride should also keep rear passengers happy. The seven-seat version we tested did a solid minivan impression, offering easy access to the third row and enough room for two full-size adults to sit behind full-size adults in the second row sitting behind full-size adults in the front. There are also plenty of storage compartments and two USB ports per row. Just don’t expect minivan levels of cargo space. With the third row up, there’s only room for two carry-on suitcases, so road trips might require adding a cargo carrier to the roof. Alternatively, a tow hitch and a self-leveling suspension are available as part of a $795 USD towing package.

Kia also appears to have made an intentional decision to prioritize durability over luxury in the Telluride. Everything you touch feels solid and high quality, but there’s a lot of hard plastic in the cabin, especially in the third row. And even though it looks real at first, the “open-pore wood” trim is fake, too. If you were hoping for a luxury experience at a discount, that’s going to be disappointing. On the other hand, if you plan to put the Telluride to work as a family hauler, it means you’ll probably be able to keep the cabin in good condition for longer.

Perhaps the biggest advantage the Kia Telluride has is that it looks cool. It’s no old-school body-on-frame SUV with a V-8, but still. The cool factor is something most of its competition doesn’t have, and it’s the kind of edge that will likely make the Telluride a huge hit for Kia. Is that logical? Nope. But if everyone was picking family haulers logically, the roads would still be full of minivans.

2020 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD
BASE PRICE $44,535
PRICE AS TESTED $47,255
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.8L/291-hp/262-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,510 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 114.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 196.9 x 78.3 x 68.9 in
0-60 MPH 7.2 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.4 sec @ 92.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 118 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.80 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.3 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 19/24/21 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 177/140 kW-hr/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.93 lb/mile