The delay in writing up this review makes for an interesting perspective.  As I write this it is late April 2020 and we are in week five or six of lockdown because of COVID-19.  Whereas back in February when I had the vehicle in for review, a three-row crossover was one of the hottest segments of the market, now, where carrying more than one or two people is a rare necessity, larger vehicles have a different look. When, rather than if, we get back to whatever normal resembles, I’m sure that perspective will once again change. 

The brief

Now, one thing about me, I’m a bit of a contrarian.  If something is popular, or there is a general trend in a direction, I immediately ask, what is wrong with this? What am I not seeing? If something is this popular there must be something very wrong with it.  So too with the Kia Telluride.

When I first saw the debut, I thought the design both inside and out looked quite good.  The interior materials seemed very good as well.  I asked myself, “is this a Land Rover at half the price?”  TL: DR, no, but that difference isn’t as far off as you’d expect.

The Telluride has taken just about every award that is out there, the list is too long to go through, but it is universally praised.  While my first impressions of it were good, it was all in a static environment.  Having this in a dynamic environment will put a different light on it.  One added twist to the review is that the test unit I had was just about at the end of its tour of duty, it had just over 10,000 miles on it.  Journalism miles are like dog years, 10,000 miles of car journalists driving is probably worth 50,000-60,000 miles in the real world.  More if it’s a performance-based vehicle.

Design

On the outside, Kia took a very simple two-box design, and then with great restraint, gave it a rugged athleticism to it.  It really is the direction Land Rover should have gone with its designs.  Where Land Rover designs have gone soft to reflect what they are best at today, driving down highways and city streets, the Telluride looks ready for a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  Tasteful touches and that restraint give the Telluride an upscale appearance.

If I had any complaints with the styling it would be the grill is just a bit too wide and the driving lights in the lower grill don’t really fit with the rest of the look and styling.  Save that, it’s a well-balanced look.

On the inside

The interior of the Kia is where it really stands out, especially for the money.  A few months prior to the Telluride being in for review I spent a week with the new Ford Explorer in Platinum trim.  To say I was underwhelmed with the Explorer would be an understatement.  The Telluride not only had superior materials to the Explorer throughout the cabin, but the as-tested sticker price was also almost $12,000 LESS than the Explorer!

Where the Telluride is NOT a Land Rover is in the materials that make up the interior.  Not that they are subpar, not at all.  At the Telluride’s price point the materials are what you would hope for, however, they do not punch above its weight class.  Step into an Audi, a Mercedes, Jaguar, or BMW crossover in this size class and the difference in materials, especially with the leathers is immediately noticeable.  There will be other small things in the interior (material and heft of controls) but that is why those brands and vehicles will command a $20-50,000 premium over the Telluride.

While the materials and the quality of the fit and finish are class standards, that is not to say everything is perfect.  One thing that you will notice right away is the infotainment screen.  The housing for it is quite large, yet, even in this top-spec model, it comes nowhere close to filling it.

Driving the Telluride in early February the seat heaters and steering wheel heater got plenty of work.  It takes a minute or so longer than you’d like for them to come up to temperature, however, once there the levels are OK.   Setting two (of three) isn’t quite enough and yet setting three is just a bit too much.  It would be nice if the system remembered that you had them on when you returned to the vehicle rather than having to reset them every time you got back into the vehicle.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but not wireless.  That would have been a bit of a coup d’état for the category.

There are a plethora of USB ports available for all three rows.  For second-row passengers, there are USB ports on the back of the front seats, and for third-row passengers, there are ports on the side panels next to the seats.

Nits to pick

As a personal preference, I do not like second-row captains chairs.  For me, it compromises the load floor when all seats are folded flat.  Why is this important to me?  My dog.  When I put his moving blanket down to protect the interior I have to make sure it’s obvious that he can’t step into certain areas.  He has to hang out towards the back of the cargo area, and that is not his preferred place to be. He likes being close to the front row so you can reach back and give him a pet from time to time.

I’m also a little particular about sound systems in vehicles.  Generally, Telluride’s Harmon/Kardon system is good.  There is a nice “air” to sound.  The problem lies in that most modern music is poorly recorded, and if you have a lot of sounds that are at the top end of the spectrum, it gets a little harsh.  You may not notice it, or care, but it is something that stuck out to me.

Something that Kia and Hyundai have been doing of late, they’ve taken the remote start off the key fob and put it onto the app.  Look, not EVERYTHING needs an app.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to.  When I want to remote start a car I want to grab the fob, press a button, and be done with it.  Not pull out my phone. Unlock the phone. Search for the app.  Open the app. Am I on the right page of the app. Now I can start the car.  Do you see which is quicker with far fewer steps?

On the road

When you drive the Telluride you understand why it has won near-universal praise.  It is quiet, it is comfortable and it doesn’t feel huge on the road.  While the Explorer was quiet and comfortable, it felt HUGE, it also felt remote and disconnected.  I am not saying that the Telluride is the heigh of connected feel, certainly not, but at least it had some engagement.

Rolling down the highway, Telluride felt like a vehicle you could do long miles in a day without fatigue. For someone who has to travel long distances for work, or for children activities Telluride is a good choice. 

Second-row seating is generous, a six-foot-tall person would have no problem sitting behind a six-foot-tall driver.  Entry into the third row is a little tight for an adult-sized person.  Legroom in the third row is tight for adults but tolerable for short distances.

Fuel economy is one of the few areas that it isn’t exceptional.  It’s fine, but about average for the class for non-hybrid vehicles.  The EPA rates the Telluride at 19 city, 24 highway and 21 combined.  Those numbers were just about spot on for my week with it.

In conclusion

In many ways, good ways, the Telluride reminds me of the Ford Flex.  I found the Flex to a great vehicle.  If you were to poll owners of the Flex they tend to rave about it, yet it never caught on for sales.  Ahead of its time?  Perhaps.  The styling was perhaps too restrained?  Hard to say.  But everything I liked about the Flex can be found in the Telluride, with better materials, better build quality, a far better warranty, and a more complete package.

If you are in the market for a three-row crossover, put your brand loyalties aside and drive the Telluride. If it isn’t the first, second, maybe the third choice, I’d be very surprised.