As I pulled into the driveway with the Telluride loaner, my 10-year-old came out for an inspection. Curious about the captain’s chair she’d be commanding during a trip to central Pennsylvania‘s Hersheypark, she ran towards the SUV. Then she stopped—just stood there taking it all in. Turns out, the Telluride has this effect on adults too.
While heading home in the Kia from Manhattan to Long Island, I noticed the muscular SUV drawing covert glimpses from several other drivers. Maybe my fellow expressway commuters didn’t know what kind of SUV this was, but clearly they knew they liked it. Later, a friend who joined us for the weekend with his family, asked me what kind of car it was. His response: “That’s a Kia?”
And still not one of these people had seen the inside.
Since its release in 2019, the Kia Telluride has been a hit. Now in its third year, the SUV is still designed in California for Americans—you won’t find a Telluride outside of North America—with three rows that haul seven or eight people, depending on the second row’s configuration.
Maybe folks should know what a Kia is by now, although you’re not alone if the badging confuses you. Kia redesigned their simple oval logo and now subreddits are trying to find out who makes “KM” cars thanks to the new font. Typography aside, other 2022 updates include some exterior styling tweaks as well as making a 10.25-inch infotainment screen and adaptive cruise control standard on all trim levels.
Kia packs the same natural aspirated 3.8-liter V6 engine, capable of 291 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque into every model. The engine pairs with an eight-speed transmission and all four of the trim levels can upgrade to all-wheel drive. The starting price ranges from the LX’s $33,090 to the premium SX’s $42,990. Our SX tester had all-wheel drive (an additional $1,900), the prestige package ($2,300) with Nappa leather seat trim, heated and cooled second-row chairs, and a head up display, plus a tow package ($795).
The Telluride is a big SUV—and some might think, on paper, the engine is undersized. But I found it as spirited as I wanted it to be, heading west off Long Island on mostly expressway driving. You can expect a 0 to 60 mph time of around seven seconds, which proved enough to merge onto parkways and survive driving New Jersey, where tailgating is a birthright—even on your way to the “sweetest place on earth.” Despite the size, the steering never felt dull or lumbering, and lane-watching cameras make it easy to move around in traffic with confidence.
A dial on the center console lets you cycle through the various drive modes, from eco to sport. And the power felt responsive and adequate even when hauling a bunch of adults and kids to dinner. The breaks were solid and predictable too. Spinning the drive mode dial, you can feel the engine hold onto gears a bit longer in sport mode versus moving on quickly in the comfort configuration. The engine sounds pleasing behind the wheel, though you don’t hear much of anything else—and the cabin is very quiet. While I didn’t tow with it, the Telluride hauls up to 5,000 pounds, and the eight inches of ground clearance, combined with the self-leveling rear suspension, would make hauling a boat or trailer easier.
The cabin of our SX is what makes this such a fundamentally sound SUV for families. The design and materials, like leather seats, soft-touch dash, and headliner, feel upscale and look attractive. Upfront, seats are comfortable with great visibility. The button configuration is clear on the steering wheel and center stack, so even front passengers won’t have an issue making changes. The infotainment screen is very responsive. My only gripe is the lack of a digital cluster display. However, the Blind Spot View Monitor screen lights up between the analog gauges, beaming a camera’s view whenever you flip the blinker so you do get some tech there. Probably more serious is the lack of wireless Apple CarPlay.
Both the first and second row of captain’s chairs in our tester had heated and cooled seats, which work well. Passengers in the captain’s chairs have access to USB ports tucked into the backs of the front seats. You’ll also find hooks there designed to hold onto shopping bags or backpacks. The second-row seats recline, much to the delight of my daughter. Adults will appreciate how far forward they slide, which provides great access to the third row. Except for some added adjustability in the seats up front, sitting in the second row feels a lot like the first row—thanks in part to a dedicated moon roof.
That same friend who commented about the Kia hopped into the back and found it roomier than expected. Provided any adult stowing away in the back is under six feet tall, they should be fine. The third-row seat reclines slightly—and anyone sitting back there also gets their own HVAC vent controls and USB ports.
No matter how you slice it, the Telluride has plenty of storage. With the rear seats up, you get 21 cubic feet of cargo space, or enough for about four carry-on-sized bags. That’s enough space for a family of four to enjoy a long weekend. Fold the third row down and it more than doubles to 46 cubic feet, maxing out at 87. That’s plenty of room for a run to Home Depot or to toss in a mountain bike. Details like hooks that hold the seatbelts secure to the sides of the cabin are nice touches that make loading gear easier.
Kia’s package of standard safety tech is impressive—featuring forward-collision and rear blind-spot collision avoidance assistance, lane-keeping assistance, lane-follow assist, rear cross-traffic assist, reverse parking distance warning, smart cruise control and safe-exit assist. The adaptative cruise control worked very well on our trip while logging miles on I-80. So well, in fact, that I could pay closer attention to our daughter’s unreasonable expectation of the number of rides we’d be taking at Hersheypark as she worked through her plan of attack.
For her, the destination was surely the highlight of the trip. For me, the climate-controlled seats, a cushy ride, a thumping 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, and enough cameras to make landing on the moon easy were the real highlights. A close second? Kia’s Driver Talk feature: a microphone up front that lets the driver broadcast a message to the passengers through the speakers. It was designed, no doubt, to tell kids in the third row to knock it off. Happily, it works just as well to encourage kids in the second row to make the horn-blowing hand motion to truckers.
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