2020 Kia Telluride SX AWD Review

Jun 16, 2019

Kia’s first big SUV is a perfect game. Whatever superlative sports metaphor you’d choose, the Telluride is all that.

It’s harder to write a glowing review than one that picks a few nits, yet I found none to pick in this review of Kia’s new Telluride SX AWD. That’s the top level model, but there are four trims, so one should fit in most folks’ budget.

Telluride is new from the wheels up. It’s perfectly sized to compete with the likes of market dominators like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder and Subaru’s new Ascent and VW’s Atlas. It’s near as big as a Chevy Tahoe too, but likely will compete more with Chevy’s new Traverse.

In any case, those makes should all be worried, because Kia has not put a wheel wrong here.

First, the boxy yet elegant Telluride is handsome in the way Land Rovers have been handsome for decades. It makes no apologies for being a big people mover and the SX, with its orange LED ring around the headlights delivers a stylish look, as does its inverted L taillights.

The Telluride is boxy but handsome.
Credit Mark Savage

Inside, the SUV is stylishly luxurious and refined. The test utility vehicle, a Dark Moss (greenish brown), featured a black over white leather interior with white perforated leather seats that were comfy. The dash is black over white with satin aluminum trim and fake gray wood trim on dash and doors that looks and feels real. There’s a flat black trim around the expansive 10.25-inch infotainment screen. Overhead is an off-white suede-like headliner and sun visors that make occupants feel they are wrapped in soft velvet.

OK, so it’s not a Texas Torpedo or Cowboy Cadillac like many U.S. car makers pump out. But if you want luxury and utility at a modest entry price, Telluride nails it.

Before we go into all the other goodies, let’s talk about pricing. A base LX with AWD lists at $34,735 including delivery. AWD adds $2,000 to any model, so you could go lower. But a well-equipped EX goes for about $37,000 and the tested SX lists at $44,535 with delivery. Sounds like a lot, until you stack it up against the competition, some of which hit $50,000 for starters for their top trim level.

Performance is stellar. I drove the Telluride to Louisville and back, nearly 1,000 miles roundtrip with four aboard. Everyone was comfy and we carried enough cargo to fill the tail under the two-speed power hatch. Yes, you can adjust the hatch to open more quickly. Just stand behind the Kia with the big key fob in your pocket, no need to wave or click anything, and the hatch opens.

Seats are firm but still comfy.
Credit Mark Savage

Power is perfect at 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque from the smooth 3.8-liter V6. And it’s mated to a silky eight-speed automatic so you’ll barely notice shifts. Even fully loaded the Telluride powered up to highway speeds with ease to edge in front of hard-charging semis.

There are five drive modes — Eco, Comfort, Sport, Smart and Snow. Obviously Snow is for winter and Eco for fuel saving. I used Comfort mostly on the highway, or Smart, which adjusts to your driving patterns. Sport definitely gives the Telluride more torque and acceleration, making it good for highway entry.

Gas mileage was almost unbelievable. Mine ranged from 25.6 in two highway stints with some city driving to 26.8 in all highway driving. I averaged 25.9, even better than the EPA figures of 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway — and all on regular gas.

The handling is sharp for a big SUV. The Kia is easy to maneuver both on the highway and in parking lots. Visibility is good too, and a 360-degree camera eases pulling in and out of tight parking spaces.

The ride is primo due to a multi-link rear suspension and stiff body structure. While some big utility vehicles tend to bounce or jiggle over rough roads (like a truck), the Telluride is controlled and comfortable. Plus, the interior remains quiet even on cement streets. I’d made much of the same drive a week earlier in a small BMW and found highway pavement noise a problem. Not here.

The buttons make the infotainment screen easy to use.
Credit Mark Savage

Inside, the Telluride is not only elegant and luxurious, but it’s packed with useful features.

First, it has a beautifully designed dash. On the dash is a big infotainment screen, which has eight buttons below it to make tuning a breeze. Kia and Hyundai seem to have this worked out, while many automakers struggle with complex infotainment screens and no buttons.

The main gauges are easy to see and read. The SX includes a head-up display that projects on the driver’s side windshield. A manual tilt/telescope steering wheel is standard too, with all the usual cruise control and trip computer buttons on the hub. SX’s steering wheel also is heated.

Side mirrors fold flat to the vehicle when it’s turned off, or you can do it with a button on the door. There’s also a wireless charger for phones in the cubby under the center stack and one of five USB hookups is there too. Others are available for the two rows of rear seats.

That’s right, the Telluride has a third row seat that folds flat into the cargo floor. With it in place a standard Telluride will seat eight, while the SX has captain’s chairs in the second row, so only seats seven. Second row room is generous, the third row would be most comfortable for pre-teens or smaller adults.

The Telluride can fit up to eight people.
Credit Mark Savage

Seats are fairly firm. But they’re comfortable all around with the first two rows offering good lower back support but minor hip support. Front seats are powered and the driver’s seat has a power lumbar adjustment, two memory settings and a power lower cushion extension. The captain’s chairs slide to provide more legroom or extend cargo space. Second row seats, like those in front, are both heated and cooled with three settings each. All seating is stadium style, meaning the second and third rows are slightly higher than row one.

Overhead are twin sunroofs. If there’s too much sun there are sun shades, plus second row passengers can pull up manual sunshades on the side windows.

Then there are all the safety systems you’d expect: blind-spot warning, pedestrian warning, lane departure warning, the 360-camera, smart cruise control and a safe exit system that won’t allow a back door to open when it detects approaching vehicles.

Kia’s Highway Driving Assist (HDA), also acts like lane departure, but only when the cruise control is engaged. It helps keep the car centered in its lane and maintains a safe distance between the Telluride and vehicles around it. Likewise, a driver attention warning will flash a coffee cup graphic on the control panel if it senses the driver becoming drowsy or inattentive.

There’s also a blind-spot view monitor, which is an extension of blind spot warning. When the driver turns on a turn signal the cameras in the side mirrors show the view from the front door back and down so you can see in your blind spot, along with your location in the lane. It works for either side and cuts the risk of side-swiping another vehicle. Cool!

As if all that weren’t enough, the tested SX model added a Prestige package ($2,000) and carpeted floor and cargo mats. The package includes upgraded Nappa leather seats, the premium suede-like headliner and visors, the heated/cooled second row seats and rain-sensing wipers. Oh, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard on all Tellurides.

With that, the test vehicle hit $46,860, still lower than many competitors’ top models in this category. Plus, it’ll tow up to 5,000 pounds. Not all will.

Seems that from the mid-$30,000 range through about $47,000, Telluride will provide elegant, quiet, luxurious, powerful transportation for a family of up to eight. That’s a grand slam, and a slam dunk!

Overview: 2020 Kia Telluride SX AWD

Hits: Good power, ride and handling in an elegant people mover with quiet interior. Refined look and feel at modest price. Twin sunroofs, heated/cooled seats first two rows, heated wheel, 360-degree camera, good dash layout and buttons, power hatch, suede-like roof liner, turn signals initiate side-view cameras, full range of safety systems.

Misses: None

Made In: West Point, Ga.

Engine: 3.8-liter V6, 291 horsepower

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,255 lbs.

Length: 196.9 in.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Cargo: 87.0 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/24; 25.9 (tested, mostly highway)

Base Price: $44,535 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $40,461

Major Options:

SX Prestige package (head-up display, Nappa leather seats, premium cloth headliner & sun visors, heated/cooled second row seats, rain-sensing wipers), $2,000

Carpeted floor mats, $210

Carpeted cargo mat w/seat back protection, $115

Test Vehicle: $46,860

Sources: Kia, Kelley Blue Book

Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.