2020 Kia Telluride First Drive - Your Road Trip Awaits

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2020 kia telluride first drive your road trip awaits

Life is often a matter of timing. Ask Kia about the difference between the 2020 Kia Telluride crossover and its last attempt at something similar – the Kia Borrego.

Remember the Borrego?

I do. That body-on-frame SUV wasn’t a poor vehicle – I drove one, briefly, and liked it – but it came to market right as the Great Recession and a rapid rise in gas prices were conspiring to work against expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs. Sure, plenty of nameplates survived the carnage, but a newcomer like the Borrego, produced by a brand once known for cheap compact cars, had no chance against those market headwinds.

Enter the Telluride, which is so different from the Borrego that about the only things they have in common are class, amount of seating rows, engine displacement, and door count. Unlike the body-on-frame Borrego, the unibody Telluride is entering a market where the winds are a bit more favorable – crossovers are still hot and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.

So Kia won’t have to worry about fighting an uphill battle, at least in terms of market forces. It’s going to be all about the product this time. And the product is quite good.

(Full disclosure: Kia flew me to Gateway, Colorado so that I could drive the Telluride. The company fed me and put me up in a room in a nice resort that had a pretty neat car museum on property.)

Good when judged against three-row crossover expectations, that is. In this class, shoppers want space, content, comfort, and utility. Other than perhaps passing power and ride, performance-related issues take a back seat in buyers’ minds.

If such things as ride and handling do matter to you when you’re looking for a family hauler, well, here’s the skinny on the Telluride. The 3.8-liter Lambda II GDI is a more-modern version of the 3.8-liter Lambda II found under the Borrego’s hood, and this direct-injection, Atkinson-cycle engine puts out 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque.

This powerplant motivates the upcoming Hyundai Palisade (which shares its chassis with the Telluride), as well, and it mates with an eight-speed automatic transmission in both applications. Wheels are either 18 or 20 inches, depending on trim, and the Telluride has a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. Front- or all-wheel drive is available.

Acceleration ends up being adequate. The SX trim I drove had all-wheel drive and a curb weight north of 4,300 lbs, so there’s a bit of bulk to be moved around. There was enough passing punch on hand to allow me to get around a slow-moving truck at altitude while driving uphill en route to the actual town of Telluride without drama, but if you’re expecting to be pushed back into your seat, don’t hold your breath.

The eight-speed is mostly not felt, but it didn’t much care to downshift for engine braking needs, and some downshifts for passing were a bit wonky. Oh, and if you’re wondering why the sublime twin-turbo V6 from the Stinger isn’t available here, that engine was designed for a front-rear layout and wouldn’t fit well in the Telluride.

Steering feel is artificial yet firm and accurate, and as you might expect, there’s plenty of body roll in corners; understeer/plow occurs if you come in a little too hot. Ride is smooth (although marred a bit by some float/wallow) on the pleasant two-lanes of Colorado, though we had no chance to test on the freeway. Switching from “smart” drive mode to “sport” firms the proceedings up a bit, but only a bit. Other drive modes include comfort and eco. There’s also “snow” modes and an “AWD lock” mode available on AWD models.

Speaking of AWD models, smart and eco modes deliver 100 percent of the power to the front wheels, while comfort splits it 80/20. Sport has a 65/35 split, and lock distributes power equally to all four wheels.

Kia did have us try our hand at a fairly easy off-road trail, and while we did hear tell of one popped tire on someone else’s rig, our Telluride had no real trouble. Getting to the trailhead should be easy.

The front suspension is an independent MacPherson strut setup with coil springs and stabilizer bar; the rear is an independent multilink setup with stabilizer bar.

Not that the Telluride’s responses when driven hard really matter all that much, save perhaps the ride and passing aspects, as noted above.

That in mind, the seats are all-day comfy. Third-row access isn’t impossible for adults – I got back there via the pass-thru between the second-row seats without too much trouble, and I’m a long-legged six-foot-one. Once back there, I had enough legroom that I could’ve tolerated a ride of up to maybe 30 minutes without complaining.

Getting out via sliding the second-row seat on the driver’s side was a tad trickier, but I made it out, if not gracefully.

Legroom and headroom upfront are plentiful, even for taller adults.

Interior storage is class-competitive, with a nice bin in front of the cupholders that holds the available wireless cell-phone charger. iPhone users take note – mine had a hard time charging. I have a case, like many iPhone users, and that could’ve been the issue.

The fake (Kia admitted it) wood and metal trim on the dash of our SX trim tester looked and felt good, but there was more hard plastic than I’d like, especially on the door armrests. Once again, an infotainment screen stands tackily above the upper dash, but the look is less obnoxious here than in other applications. The line of HVAC controls is sleek and attractive, and the necessary knobs are easy to reach and use.

Interior noise levels are kept to a minimum, with only some tire and road noise bleeding through, although the engine does get a bit buzzy and thrashy over 3,000 RPM. Given the comfortable seats and quiet cabin, the Telluride makes for a good long-distance tripper.

Cargo space is listed at 87 cubic feet down with both rear rows down, 46 with the third row folded, and 21 with all seats up. That’s more than the Honda Pilot with rear seats all down or all up, and equal with third-row down. It bests the Toyota Highlander across the board.

Kia went all-in on the boxy styling and, while it’s sort of plain, it’s a handsome enough look. It won’t turn many heads, but there’s something to be said for simplicity. Interior tidbits I didn’t cover before include a dual grab-handle setup on the center console that looks cool (and houses the seat-heater/cooler switches).

Kia hasn’t skimped on content, offering available features such as (*takes a breath*) a 10.25-inch touchscreen, premium audio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, wireless cell-phone charging, USB ports in each row (five ports standard, with a sixth available), available two-device Bluetooth connectivity, reclining third-row seats, leather seats, heated front-row seats, heated second-row seats, cooled front-row seats, cooled-second row seats, heated steering wheel, second-row climate control, remote start, keyless entry and starting, head-up display, Kia’s UVO infotainment system, head-up display, and remote start.

Available tech-type stuff includes: Forward-collision warning, forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist (rear), blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention warning, smart cruise control, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, park distance warning (front and rear), 360-degree camera, highway-driving assist, safe-exit assist, microphone for communicating with second/third row, quiet mode (cuts audio in second and third rows), and rear occupant alert.

Four trims are available: LX, S, EX, and SX. The LX and EX are eight-passenger, the S is seven- or eight-passenger, and the SX is seven-passenger.

Pricing is as follows: $31,690 for an LX with front-wheel drive, $33,990 for a FWD S, $37,090 for a Telluride EX with FWD, and $41,490 for an SX with front-wheel drive. Add $2,000 to any of those for AWD, and destination is $1,045.

A $2,000 Prestige Package (head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats, heated and cooled second-row seats, premium cloth headliner, and 110-volt inverter) is available on the SX AWD. Our tester had that package, plus carpeted floor mats and carpeted cargo mat, for a total of $45,815. With D and D, it was $46,860.

That pricing is a bit more than that of the Highlander Limited and less than a Limited Platinum, and the same story repeats when comparing the Telluride to a Honda Pilot Touring or Pilot Elite.

Fuel economy measurements are 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway/23 mpg combined for front-wheel drive models, and 19/24/21 for AWD models.

Unless market tastes change overnight, the Telluride’s story is going to play out much differently than that of the Borrego. Sure, this is no driver’s crossover, but if you’re hauling seven or eight passengers often, or lots of gear, and you have long distances to cover, the Telluride fits the bill just fine. Quiet, comfortable, and nicely optioned, this large crossover is a darn good road-tripper.

Kia is offering up an impressive, if slightly boring, three-row large crossover to satiate consumer demand. Will it sell in tony Telluride, home of Land Rovers and Subarus? I don’t know. But it will be coming to a suburban driveway near you.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC, Kia Motors]

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2 of 54 comments
  • Jatz Jatz on Mar 24, 2019

    I'm confident I'll be able to find on Amazon a custom fit cover of darkest, dullest matte fabric to obliterate the glare and distraction from the gottdamn dash tablet in my next car.

  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Mar 25, 2019

    I think someone forgot to take the yellow protective tape off the headlight surrounds. With a screen that wide they could have extended the gauge surround to cover the infotainment screen as well. It would have looked better and you wouldn't feel any more closed in than the way it is now.

  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
  • Donald More stuff to break god I love having a nanny in my truck... find a good tuner and you can remove most of the stupid stuff they add like this and auto park when the doors open stupid stuff like that
  • John Williams Sounds like a Burnout Special you can put together on any 5.0 F150. Whoever said this was Cars and Coffee bait is right on the money.
  • ToolGuy Question: F-150 FP700 (  Bronze or  Black) supercharger kit is legal in 50 states, while the  Mustang supercharger kit is banned in California -- why??