When we first tested the Telluride in 2019 we said Kia was on a roll. And honestly, that was the tip of the iceberg – everything from the fun Forte GT sedan and Soul SUV to the new K5 have wowed us. So, when we had the opportunity to re-visit the full-size 3-row SUV that really has been one of the brand’s biggest (figuratively and literally) success stories, we were thrilled.
Was Big. Now Big and Bad.
The big truck has had few changes for 2021, which is fine – this is one of the most handsome vehicles in its class, and it has always had a Range Rover vibe at much lower price. Nothing to complain about there.
The front end makes a powerful first impression with a large version of Kia’s Tiger Nose grille, with stacked headlamps. And the name Telluride spelled out in big block letters. That’s if you can read it – our tester was the new for ’21 Nightfall Edition, which includes a black finish front grille and black logos. Combined with our tester’s Gravity Gray paint, it looked extra mean – like something out of one of California’s custom shops.
The profile is unapologetically big and boxy, like a linebacker standing upright staring down the competition. If the front end’s blacked out treatment isn’t enough, you’ll also appreciate the exclusive 20-inch black finish alloy wheels and dechromed side trim.
More black trim makes the L-shaped LED taillight stand out, while the black badging makes those trying to catch a better look try a little harder. The final touch is a rear skid plate and dual exhaust pipes poking out below the rear bumper. It’s a little low-key, a little under-the-radar, and we love it.
Large and Luxurious
The elegant looks of the exterior are the perfect entrée to the interior. Step in, and the first thing that wows you is the room. It’s huge. While you can get a 2nd row bench for 8 passenger seating, our luxed-out SX tester had luxurious 2nd-row captain’s chairs. Even so, adults won’t be battling out where to sit, even the third row is plenty comfortable for big folks.
More than comfortable, thanks to our tester’s optional SX Prestige Package, that lives up to the name with Nappa leather seats, heated and ventilated front and 2nd row seats, and premium cloth headliner and sun visors. All gorgeous – except we’d probably opt for a darker leather than our tester’s ivory-colored hides. You might have a tough time keeping them clean with all the regular stuff we ask SUV’s to do.
You also get the Range Rover feeling inside, with a two-tone interior, nice stitched details, and satin and faux wood trim that manages to look elegant. A massively wide interior means you have room to stretch out the controls, so they are easily accessed, with nicely sized buttons. Some of the controls like the audio systems metal-tone trim can be a bit hard to read in daylight, though.
Getting information suffers no such issues, there are large clear analog gauges with a spacious 7-inch TFT screen for info. It has a great party trick, too – signal for a left or right turn, and a camera in the outside mirror projects an image on the display, making it easy to maneuver the big beasty.
There’s also a generous 10.3-inch touchscreen display that works with Kia’s excellent UVO system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are along for the ride, naturally. For display purposes, the big screen can be broken into three slices so you have plenty of info. Our favorite is the overhead 360 view that makes parking in tight spaces or smaller garages a snap.
A powerful Harman/Kardon surround sound system fills the big cabin with big sound, while luxuries like Tri-zone climate control, memory driver’ seat and wireless charging make every day easier.
Rides Big, Drives Small
Under that long hood is Kia’s 3.8-liter V6, and it’s a sweetheart, pumping out 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. It revs smoothly, and pulls the Telluride around confidently, and in Sport Mode, quite quickly too. The 8-speed automatic is an excellent match, serving up smooth and easy shifts. We even got close to 20 mpg in our time with the big guy, impressive, because we really were enjoying ourselves in Sport Mode!
The all-wheel drive system can actively distribute torque between the front and rear axles, making it a capable machine in all sorts of terrain. And with a drive mode selector including Sport, Smart, Snow, Eco and Comfort – a convenient dial on the center console lets you dial in the perfect setup for just about any drive. With a tow rating of 5,000 lbs., you can bring the toys along, too.
The ride is a pleasant surprise, with a firm, controlled feel – this is no boat – and it makes it easy to maneuver and feels confident, even in the twisty bits. The steering is precise, and it really helps make the Telluride feel smaller than it is behind the wheel. And that surround view monitor makes you king of the parking space. City hops or longer jaunts, this is a great cruiser.
The Kia is loaded with the latest safety tech, and we especially found the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist does an excellent job on the freeway. Cross country road trip? No problem!
So, how much for the Range Rover good life on a budget? You can get into a Telluride LX starting at $32,190, which is impressive value for a large 8-passenger SUV that does so much so well.
Our SX V6 AWD represents the top of the line and started at $44,090. We also had the Nightfall Edition Package ($1,295), SX Prestige Package ($2,300), Towing Package ($795) add in some carpeted mats and Destination ($1,170), and we rang the bell at $50,180.
Competition includes the Honda Pilot at $51,435, VW Atlas at $51,080, and the Kia’s sibling, the Hyundai Palisade at $49,085. All are excellent vehicles, but none match the Telluride’s combination of looks, capability and value.
Looking for a 3-row SUV? The 2021 Kia Telluride is best in class, and a great value too!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.