Kia has created a winner with the all-new three-row Telluride. It has won many industry awards for best in class. Is it actually as wonderful as it seems?
If you have seen any of Kia’s advertising for the Telluride, you will have likely seen it wading through water or plowing through mud. Kia is pushing the Telluride as a capable, go anywhere family hauler. To push this idea even further, Kia has given the exterior design of the Telluride a boxy off-roader look. Kia has done an excellent job of separating the Telluride from the Palisade, which shares the same platform.
Looking at the front, there are a variety of features that are unique to the Telluride. The headlights, running lights, and fog lights are all LED and different from any other vehicle on the market. The running lights, which double as turn signals, form rectangles around the dual vertical headlights. The fog lights are horizontal and very low in the front bumper. As is common on many vehicles, the fog lights aren’t actually fog lights as the headlights are required to be on in order for the fog lights to be on.
From the side it’s clear that the wheelbase is long, which pushes the wheels out to the corners of the body. This makes for relatively short front and rear overhangs for this segment, which also pushes the idea of off-road capability. The windows are large enough to provide clear views, but not so large that the styling is hurt.
Just like the front, the rear lights are distinguishable from any other vehicle on the market. There are two lighted bars that run vertically and angle in at the top. The reverse lights are on the liftgate and blend perfectly with the taillights. The exhaust outlets look great, but give the rear bumper an asymmetrical look as there are two exhaust tips on the passenger side, but nothing on the driver’s side.
Inside is where the Telluride really shines when compared to the competition. The leather is top quality with heated and ventilated seats in both the front and middle rows. Every passenger has easy access to a USB charging port, and as is common in many vehicles today, cupholders abound.
Up front, the dash layout is intuitive and easy to use. There was almost no learning curve for this system. The steering wheel has easy to use buttons and switches that are clearly labeled. The climate control buttons on the dash are large and clear. Rockers for the seat heaters and ventilators give solid feedback. There’s a wireless charging station in front of the shift lever, along with additional charging ports.
Moving to the second row, the features and comfort are almost on par with the first row. USB charging ports are placed into the seat backs of the front seats in a clear and easy to use position. The moon roof gives an open air feel to the middle and rear seat passengers. There are buttons for the heated and ventilated seats on the doors. There is plenty of room for two car seats in the captain’s chairs, and there is still enough space to slip by to get into the third row if needed.
In the third row, there is plenty of room to fit adults comfortably. This is partially because the second row seats can be moved forward to provide more leg room for the third row. There are USB charging ports on each side of the third row, and the seats even recline a little for additional comfort. Even with average height adults in all three rows, it never feels cramped.
On road, the Telluride is smooth and comfortable. There is a little bit of lean in the corners, but overall it is very well managed. This is an excellent highway cruiser and road trip crossover. When going for the long haul there aren’t many vehicles as comfortable as this. There could be a little more sound damping, as there was a little more noise at high speeds than expected.
There are five different drive modes available which adjust the throttle, steering, AWD system, and transmission. The modes are comfort, sport, smart, eco, and snow. Smart and eco modes are front wheel drive only and tuned for best efficiency. Comfort mode has a front wheel drive bias, but sends power to the rear when accelerating. Sport mode sends more power to the rear approaching a 50/50 split. It also increases throttle response, changes the transmission shift points, and stiffens the steer for better response and feedback. Snow mode has a near 50/50 power split and reduces the throttle response to decrease the chance of breaking traction when accelerating from a stop.
In any of the modes, the center differential lock button can be engaged for an even, 50/50 power split front to rear. This should only be used on slick surfaces, as it can cause driveline binding and tire scrub when on high traction.
This brings us to the off-road portion of the review. Locking the center differential distributes power evenly between the front and rear axles, but to transfer power side to side, the Telluride uses the ABS system. It does this by applying the brakes to the spinning wheels which then transfers the power to the wheels with traction.
This system works well when there is a decent amount of momentum or when on relatively flat ground. The Telluride struggles to climb hills when one or more wheels loses traction. From our testing, this happens because it has a hard time transferring power side to side when a lot of torque is needed on one or two wheels. This may be because there isn’t enough torque on hand to overcome the braking force required to stop the spinning wheels and climb a steep hill. The best way to avoid this problem is to maintain momentum, but with little underbody protection, driving at higher speeds increases the risk of damaging something under the vehicle.
When compared to other crossovers like the Honda Pilot and Subaru Ascent, it does a better job of distributing power to where it needs to be. The place for the Telluride isn’t so much of an off-road as it is an all-weather on road cruiser.
Our test model was the SX V6 AWD, which has a base price of $43,490. The additional options included the Snow White Pearl Paint for $395, the Prestige Package for $2000, carpeted floor mats for $210, and the carpeted cargo mat and seat back protection for $115. The Prestige Package includes the head up display, 110v inverter, nappa leather, heated and ventilated second row seats and rain sensing front windshield wipers. Including destination charges, this brings the total to $47,255.
Overall, the Telluride is an excellent family hauler and road trip vehicle. It offers great comfort and good value in a relatively small outer shell. The traction system is great for all weather conditions on pavement but isn’t as capable off-road as Kia claims. Kia has done their research on what Americans want and delivered with the Telluride.
Matthew Barnes is an experienced towing expert. He works as a mechanical engineer and his day job involves testing a variety of vehicles while towing trailers of all types and sizes. Matt shares his knowledge by writing for automotive news outlets in the evenings. When he’s not working he can be found spending time in the great outdoors with his family. He enjoys camping, hiking, canyoneering, and backpacking. Whenever possible he spends time riding in or on any power sports vehicle he can find and claims he can drive anything with a motor, which probably isn’t true.
Matt lives in the Utah mountains and often posts cool off-roading videos to his Instagram and YouTube channel.