- Spacious, airy interior
- Chic looks
- Standard safety gear
- So-so mpg
- Turbo rivals are quicker
- May be too big for some
features & specs
The 2021 Kia Telluride earns our Best Car To Buy nod with its excellent features, warranty, space, and style.
The 2021 Kia Telluride blocks out a distinct place in the crossover SUV realm—as our Best Car To Buy 2020.
With the 2020 Telluride, Kia can tote up to eight passengers, with available all-wheel drive and all the luxury fittings it applies to some of its most expensive sedans. It’s an excellent value even in high-end versions, and brings strong safety scores and a long standard warranty with it.
Sold in LX, S, EX, and SX versions, the 2021 Telluride earns a TCC Rating of 7.5 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Shorter than a Chevy Tahoe but bigger than a Honda Pilot, the 2021 Kia Telluride wears all the right angles. It’s not thematically different from, say, a Mercedes GLS—but it’s all but perfect in the blend of a few upticks and slight curves with what’s essentially a basic two-box design. The details define Kia’s latest and greatest personality to date: the Telluride’s electric-razor grille and its C-shaped headlights and taillights turn an ordinary SUV shape into a crossover with ideal proportions and a smart, sporty stance. The interior matches with well-chosen textures and finishes arranged in horizontal planes, above average in quality at the very least, and quite lush at the Telluride SX level.
The Telluride’s performance stays closer to rivals. A 291-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 teams with an 8-speed automatic to provide ample but not blazing power, but it’s easily accessed with the well-sorted gearbox. Suspension tuning outpoints rivals like the Pilot; where it thuds over bumps the Telluride ushers them out a side exit, wordlessly. All-wheel drive and all-weather traction are fine, and so is towing, but the Telluride’s gas mileage is just average.
An airy interior seats up to eight in very good comfort in the Telluride. The standard three-person bench in the middle row can be exchanged for a pair of captain’s chairs. Adults will fit in every seat in this crossover SUV, and up to 46 cubic feet of cargo will fit behind the second row of seats, no matter if there are two or three of them.
Kia’s earned top crash-test ratings with the Telluride, and automatic emergency braking is standard; so are blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. Every Telluride also comes with power features, at least an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and synthetic leather upholstery. At the top of the lineup, the Telluride SX can have all-wheel drive, nappa leather, a 10.3-inch touchscreen, a sunroof, and a blind-spot camera that feeds video to the instrument cluster.
2021 Kia Telluride
Kia plays the corners with the Telluride, and wins.
Kia banked heavily on the appeal of a square-rigged SUV when it penned the Telluride crossover. Its gamble paid off handsomely. The Telluride gets an 8 from us for styling; it’d be higher if we rated it based on its lush SX edition.
Like a scaled-down GMC Yukon, the Telluride throws off a chunky but purposeful vibe. Upright and narrow headlights and a wide grille give it a hefty stance that’s less voluptuous than anything else Kia builds. It’s on point without hyping some nonexistent ruggedness; it even plays off some Volvo cues, like its tall taillights, as it discreetly embraces its family-wagon mission.
It looks great on 20-inch wheels too, though we’re divided on its appearance with the black-finish wheels of the SX, and with the new blacked-out trim on the new Nightfall edition.
The carlike interior of the Telluride follows the same boxy theme, without angling too hard in the retro dimension. Controls sit on a low dash with a billboard-style touchscreen for infotainment—LX and S versions get an 8.0-inch touchscreen while EX and SX editions upgrade to a 10.3-inch widescreen. The plush package of nappa leather available on the SX creates a dashing environment that reads like luxury without spending like it—but its off-white leather looks particularly vulnerable to Capri Sun. Better to go with Hershey brown.
2021 Kia Telluride
The Telluride’s a smooth ride, though not an overly quick one.
Kia suits up the Telluride SUV with a V-6 engine, automatic transmission, independent suspension and an option for all-wheel drive; it’s a convention of conventional hardware. But what it does with those ordinary bits rises above the clutter. The Telluride’s one smooth ride. We give it a 6 for performance.
The Telluride shares its 291-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 with the Hyundai Palisade. Coupled to an 8-speed automatic, it ships power to the front or all four wheels. Given the Telluride weighs as much as 4,500 pounds, acceleration’s fine, not fierce. Mid-range passes come quickly thanks to deft gearbox software, but low-20s fuel economy and middle-sevens acceleration tick boxes rather than tickle fancies.
It’s better at traction and towing. With available all-wheel drive, the Telluride can deliver good traction when the road turns glossy or when it disappears under a coat of snow. The all-wheel-drive system can lock its power split to send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels at speeds of up to 40 mph. The Telluride also can tow 5,000 pounds, at the expense of even more potential forward power, of course.
Where the Telluride excels is in its softly damped ride. Even when 20-inch wheels from S and SX trims cap its spindles, the Telluride can filter off road irregularities without becoming irregular itself. The base 18-inch wheels and tires may be even better at tuning out varying road quality, but we’ve only driven this crossover with on-trend 20s.
The Telluride doesn’t lose composure with bigger wheels; it rarely loses composure at all. The steering has Kia’s trademark heft without feedback, and it grows stiffer when the drive mode selector flicks into “smart” mode. But the ride remains unruffled, pleasant, and unperturbed by potholes.
2021 Kia Telluride
Comfort & Quality
People, stuff, pets? Bring them all along in the Kia Telluride.
Kia drew its Telluride crossover long and wide, to hold up to eight people and their carry-ons. With fine finishes to boot, the Telluride’s a 9 for comfort and quality.
The Telluride checks in at about 197 inches long, with a 114.2-inch wheelbase—about the same as the related Hyundai Palisade.
In the base Telluride, the front seats make do with manual adjustment, but the Telluride S gets an eight-way power driver seat, while the EX and SX add a power passenger seat. Kia covers its thrones in synthetic leather, while real leather appears on the EX and SX, while nappa leather costs more on the top model. Space and driving position are excellent in front, and there’s ample small-item storage for smartphones and keys.
Tellurides come with a second-row bench seat or two captain’s chairs with enough room for large adults—and they slide forward for easier access to the third-row bench, which can also seat adults in fair comfort for short-distance trips. A Honda Pilot offers about the same space—and so do the Odyssey and Pacifica minivans, in case you’re wondering about the Telluride’s hidden agenda.
The Telluride can tote 21 cubic feet of cargo behind the third row, and 46 cubic feet behind the second row of seats. Fold those middle seats down, and the Telluride’s good for 87 cubic feet of storage; since we’ve been around for a while we’ll compare that to the Ford Flex.
Kia snaps and fits fine materials into every Telluride, but the SX edition gets special note for its hints of wood and chrome. For another couple of thousand dollars beyond the SX, nappa leather and a sueded headliner give the Telluride a truly lavish feel, one that makes some luxury-badge SUVs look chintzy in comparison.
2021 Kia Telluride
Safety gets its day in the sun in the Telluride.
Kia engineered the Telluride’s crash systems with families in mind, and the NHTSA and IIHS agree with its choices. We give it a 9 for safety.
The IIHS says the Telluride earns its Top Safety Pick award, but the award only applies to the SX edition and to EX models with optional LED headlights. Other models still score top “Good” scores in all IIHS tests, and its automatic emergency braking gets a “Superior” rating.
The NHTSA gives the Telluride five stars overall, but a note: front- and side-impact protection both are scored at four stars, with the net rounding up to the five-star overall score.
All Tellurides have automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control. Telluride SX SUVs add front parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and a surround-view camera system. The SX can be fitted with a head-up display.
2021 Kia Telluride
Value is just the first of the Telluride’s best features.
Kia sells the 2021 Telluride in four different versions, and each of them offers strong value. With good infotainment and standard features, as well as a long-reaching warranty, it’s a 9 on our features scale.
The $33,160 Telluride LX sports standard power features, active safety features, seating for eight, keyless start, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. All-wheel drive costs $2,000.
The $35,560 Telluride S gains 20-inch wheels, heated front seats, power driver seat adjustment, and second-row captain’s chairs. Pass it up and spend into the $38,560 Telluride EX, which adds leather upholstery, wireless smartphone charging, a power tailgate, cooled front seats, a 10.3-inch touchscreen, and a sunroof.
For $43,360, the Telluride SX feels like a gateway to luxury with its 20-inch wheels, surround-view camera system, and Harman Kardon audio—and it is, when $2,000 more gets you heated and cooled second-row seats, nappa leather, a heated steering wheel, and a head-up display.
All Telluride crossovers get coverage from a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.
2021 Kia Telluride
Telluride gas mileage isn’t its best story to tell.
Kia’s Telluride scores average fuel-economy ratings, which earn a 4 here. Front-drive Tellurides earn EPA figures of 20 mpg city, 26 highway, 23 combined. With all-wheel drive, the numbers dip to 19/24/21 mpg.
They’re typical ratings for three-row crossovers, while a few competitors post 23-mpg combined numbers. A hybrid powertrain might help—it pushes Toyota’s Highlander to 36 mpg combined—but Kia hasn’t committed to one.