Kia has been on a roll as of late, and it had a very strong 2018 with the unveiling of the redesigned Kia Forte, as well as the recent unveiling of the redesigned Soul lineup. But amid the vibes generated by these models, as well as the ongoing success of the Kia Stinger sport sedan, a notable void existed in its SUV lineup with the Sorento being the biggest offering that Kia offered. The Korean car brand decided to change that today, and has unveiled the biggest SUV it has ever produced, the 2020 Kia Telluride.
Before we get into what makes the Telluride such an important vehicle for Kia, we might as well focus on the origins of its odd name. Instead of originating from the bowels of the marketing department, or a clever buzz word at the advertising department, the Telluride moniker is derived from Telluride, Colorado a small town that was founded in a valley of the Rocky Mountains, and was settled by individuals that according to Kia embodied the discovery and ruggedness that the Telluride SUV is all about. While we are still processing this bit of information, the moniker is a nice improvement over Kia’s last full size SUV, the ill timed and quickly axed Kia Borrego.
The exterior styling of the Telluride was penned by Kia designers in Irvine, California and it has a very strong concept car-esque vibe about it. The cheerful front end is pleasing to look at, and it leads out nicely into a purposeful side profile that allows the Telluride to exude a high degree of confidence. Wheras the recently unveiled 2020 Ford Explorer opted to stick with a familiar mold, the Telluride takes the mold, smashes it, and then runs over the pieces with its look. This is especially true with the rear fascia which features huge vertical style rear taillights that help serve their role as potent calling cards for the Telluride in nighttime driving. Their appearance and how they are perceived by passersby will undoubtedly be the subject of personal taste, but either way the Telluride is a nice and welcome departure from traditional and in some instances mundane SUV clichés. Kia engineers even gave the Telluride tough plastic lower trim to allow it to withstand hits from off-road obstacles, even though it does have the unfortunate consequence of making lower grade Telluride’s look a bit cheap when viewed from certain angles.
Wheras the exterior of the Telluride was designed to be able to play in rough terrain like a spirited billy goat, the interior of Kia’s full sized offering is a very refined place to spend time in. The instrument cluster layout is very similar to other Kia models, and higher trims actually feature leather accents, tasteful wood trim, and comfortable three row seating. While Kia reps insist that the Telluride is not a direct sibling to the more on-road focused Hyundai Palisade, it still offers a lot of the Palisade’s luxury appointments. This includes a 10-speaker 630 watt Harmon Kardon sound system, as well as a 10.25 inch touchscreen that controls Kia’s bulletproof UVO equipped infotainment system and its full Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. If your smart phone runs low on juice while out adventuring in the Telluride, you can feel confident knowing that the SUV comes equipped with six USB ports as well as a wireless charging pad.
Like the Palisade, the 2020 Kia Telluride offers only one engine offering for buyers to choose from, a 3.8 liter V6 which makes a healthy 291 horsepower, and is a smidge higher in this regard than some of its rivals, including the Honda Pilot. All of this muscle is sent to either the front wheels or to all four wheels via the optional all-wheel drive system through a smooth shifting eight speed automatic transmission. Drivers can choose from four different drive modes (Smart, Normal, Sport, and Comfort) as well as a separate Snow mode, while AWD lock is there in the event you manage to get the Telluride into a particularly tough section of road or on the beaten path. Choose Eco or Smart, and power goes to the front wheels only, while Comfort and Snow ensure a relatively balanced split front and rear. Sport mode does the opposite, and moves the bias to the rear wheels for improved sportiness.
While we will have to wait to see how the Telluride handles real world driving, a brief ride in one of the SEMA themed Tellurides Kia had available on their Telluride Torque Track in Cobo Hall did reveal that the platform has reasonable amounts of security and poise, even when pitched about hard on bumps and challenging terrain. We suspect that many Telluride owners will not go off the beaten path, and instead fold the rear seats down for maximum storage capacity when shopping at the mall, or attending the local soccer game.
Being a vehicle that is strongly focused on growing families, it is no surprise then that the Telluride comes packed to the figurative gills with a long laundry list of safety technology. A lot of it is standard, and some of it is optional, but we will just focus on a few of our favorites, Surround View Monitor backup camera, blindspot monitoring, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, a heads up display, and adaptive cruise control. Kia even lifted Hyundai’s nifty Rear Occupant alert which uses special ultrasonic sensors to detect movement from a child or pet left in the back seat. As is the case with the Santa Fe and Palisade, the Telluride will go through a set of progressively more noticeable alerts, and owners will even get an email sent to them warning them of any movement in the rear. As a bonus, the Telluride even adds a special occupant system that keeps rear occupants from exiting the vehicle if it picks up a car passing on the corresponding side, once the danger is past, the doors will unlock and then rear passengers will be able to exit.
Kia did not release final U.S. pricing for the Telluride, but the company did confirm that the big utility will be built alongside the Sorento and Optima sedan at Kia’s plant in West Point, Georgia. When it eventually makes its way to Kia showrooms, it will appear in LX, EX, S, and SX trims with pricing expected to start higher than the Sorento. Kia did not say whether it is considering making an all out version of the Telluride that would share its inspiration with the SEMA versions, but rumors suggest that the company’s mind could be swayed if the idea generates enough consumer interest.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.