Kia’s Upscale Telluride:
Rugged – But Not Too Rugged – Luxury
In an annual recap on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast, I offered the Corvette C8 debut and the Mustang Mach-E announcement as two product highlights from the 2020 calendar year. Had I been organized, I’d have included Kia’s ongoing success in the new car market, a success seemingly sealed with the reception given its new-for-2020 Telluride. It’s been, to appropriate an oft-used descriptive, a helluva ride.
America’s appetite for the 3-row crossover continues unabated, even in a year when no one is sitting in a school’s carpool lane. And while Chevy’s Suburban remains, in many zip codes, the gold standard for the large family commute or vacation, most Suburbans (and the smaller Tahoe) are sold on that side of $60,000, necessarily restricting it to the ‘better’ zip codes. Into this scrum came Kia, introducing its big-boned Telluride, sitting above the smaller 3-row Sorento in the Korean carmaker’s food chain.
In its upright, two-box profile, the Kia speaks more to the traditional SUV than a car-based crossover. While employing unibody architecture, a front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive powertrain and enough nanny aids to keep eight (or so) nannies busy, the Telluride is a pointedly upright carriage with minimal overhangs and a generous greenhouse. In the segment offering notable three-rows from Toyota, Honda and Mazda, the Telluride is the most obviously upright, the most visually conventional.
If upright Tahoes and Expeditions informed the outside, we’ll guess Maserati’s Levante influenced the inside, at least in the Telluride’s SX trim. This is splendor under your *ss, with leather trimmed seats (Nappa leather, if opting for the SX Prestige trim) which both heat and cool. There are second row captain’s chairs which, while nice, I’ve never fully understood – they seem to minimize the ‘utility’ in a sport utility – along with a split 60/40 third row. And it’s a generous 3-row. Within its 114-inch wheelbase and almost 200 inches of length, you’ll enjoy 46 cubic feet of space behind the second row, and 21 cubic feet of space behind the upright third row. If it’s you and five family members you’ll probably want to put something on top, but then, that’s what Thule and Yakima do.
Behind the wheel, you’ll find the world at your fingertips, but while incorporating almost all of this century when considering comfort and convenience, there’s just enough of the last century to make driving intuitive. We like what Kia has done in maintaining that balance, especially when having just a week to get to know the vehicle.
Under the hood Kia restricts your choice to but one powertrain, but it’s a good one. In a world where seemingly everyone is going to four cylinders of turbocharged power, Kia sticks with a 3.8 liter normally-aspirated V6 driving the front wheels or all wheels through an 8-speed automatic. With 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, there’s nothing here that will wow the hooligans, but it will wow you, the chump making the next 84 monthlies. It’s smooth, refined and – when turning the dial to ‘Sport’ – almost recreational. The Telluride drives ‘smaller’ than it is, and that’s always a good thing in a large crossover.
Of course, part of Kia’s momentum is building excellent product, while an equally important aspect is knowing the market. If many buyers in the marketplace are those with money, a carmaker is well served by chasing that money with more equipment and higher trim levels. At one time a $47K Kia would have been a true, what-the-h*ll moment. But in today’s context, with $70K pickups and Civics pushing $30,000, the Kia – even when optioned to the veritable hilt – comes across as a viable buy. I might argue with its ‘rugged luxury’ positioning, but I can’t argue with the Telluride’s design, build quality or packaging. If shopping for a 3-row crossover (and who isn’t?), put it on your short list.