2020 Kia Telluride first drive: Crossover SUV squares off

March 27, 2019

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about three-row crossover SUVs or Colorado towns: Telluride is not a long way from Palisade. At least on paper.

About 130 miles separate Telluride, Colorado, from Palisade, Colorado. When it comes to the 2020 Kia Telluride and the upcoming Hyundai Palisade that shares its underpinnings, powertrain, and mission in life, the gap may not even be that big.

MORE: Read our 2020 Kia Telluride review

That matters because both crossover SUVs are late to the game when it comes to hauling up to eight passengers and their gear in comfort. Up until now, Kia dealers have peddled Sorentos with optional third-row seats, which deliver acceptable space in row three for those shorter than 5-feet and are worse than Spirit Airlines’ economy class for anyone taller.

With the 2020 Telluride, Kia fixes that shortcoming. The Telluride is big, even for a three-row crossover SUV. It stretches 197 inches from bumper to bumper and is about 78 inches wide, which leaves it with a bigger footprint than rivals such as the Subaru Ascent, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander. Accordingly, the Telluride is more spacious inside, but not by much. Its cargo area offers more room on paper, but much of that is above the window line. Stacking luggage where it obscures outward vision is never a good idea.

Where the Telluride breaks ground—never an easy task among three-row crossover SUVs—is in its styling. It’s styled to look boxy and tough, without hard edges. It looks as good in Telluride as it does in Tribeca. From a distance, its boxy shape suggests Tahoe-like proportions, but the smaller Telluride wears its lines better than the Chevy and detail flourishes such as a chrome belt line that tempts the roof pillars and attention-grabbing orange LED halo running lights that make it a standout in a sea of anony-utes.

It’s not as bold inside, but the Telluride has the kind of low dashboard and outward vision-enhancing narrow roof pillars that were once the realm of Honda and Subaru. Kia has been listening.

Depending on the trim level—LX, S, EX, SX—the Telluride can be had with a three-piece middle-row bench or individual captain’s chairs with a skinny pass-through. Most will probably leave dealer lots with the captain’s chairs, since a narrow chasm is apparently enough to pacify warring kiddos. Someone should tell D.C. about this secret.

The third row is third class, but no more so than most rivals. The Telluride doesn’t top the VW Atlas when it comes to row-three space, but its big windows make the space feel more, well, spacious than it is.

2020 Kia Telluride

2020 Kia Telluride

Cargo doesn’t suffer. Behind the third row, the Telluride can lug 21 cubic feet of cargo. Fold row three and that grows to 46 cubes. With all three rows tucked away, maximum cargo capacity is about 87 cubes.

Up front, the standard 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment is nice but not as impressive as the 10.3-inch widescreen that takes its place on EX and SX trims. All Tellurides come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, at least five USB ports, and Bluetooth, while a PA system that projects the driver’s voice to miscreants in row three at the tap of a button is on the options list.

Speaking of standards, every Telluride from the $32,700 LX up to the $47,000 SX with all-wheel drive comes standard with lots of safety tech. Kia doesn’t charge extra for automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, or active lane control. Some rivals—we’re looking at you, Chevy Traverse—demand beaucoup moolah for those features we consider essential.

Driving the 2020 Kia Telluride

The 291-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 under the Telluride’s tall hood teams to an 8-speed automatic and is tasked with putting power to either the front or all four wheels. With as much as 4,500 pounds of crossover SUV to lug around, the Telluride won’t win any drag races. Its 8-speed automatic shifts smartly in most situations, but our drive at high elevation revealed an overeagerness to slip into a higher cog for fuel savings.

Driving a Telluride at sea level instead of the 8,750-foot elevation of its namesake ski town will likely result in more sprightly acceleration. Still, we have our doubts that it’ll outscoot the comparatively brisk Honda Pilot or feel as sprightly as the turbo-4s in the Subaru Ascent and Mazda CX-9.

Fuel economy is merely so-so at 23 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 21 mpg combined with the $2,000 all-wheel-drive system.

The Telluride’s ace is its commendably supple ride, which bests some luxury SUVs. Even the 20-inch rubber on our $47,000 Telluride SX tester shrugged off end-of-winter potholes. The Telluride’s steering doesn’t say a word to the driver, but it’s well-weighted and had no trouble keeping the ‘ute in a straight line when the winds picked up around Palisade.

If there’s any turbulence in the Telluride’s future, it may come from the Hyundai Palisade. Hyundai’s version of this crossover SUV delivers equally daring looks and a smattering of tech not found in the Telluride such as a digital instrument cluster

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