Back in 2019, the Kia Telluride made its world debut, a three-row SUV that was big, bold and boxy, conveying the kind of presence associated with the original legendary SUVs. And with a name like Telluride, you could tell that it was ready to tackle mountain passes, rugged off-road trails and nearly every other kind of road under Colorado’s wide western sky.
The Telluride appeared to check off all the boxes, providing comfortable seating for up to eight people, a powerful 291-horsepower 3.8-liter V6, available active on-demand all-wheel drive, and an attractive starting price of just $32,190. The big question, would people be able to look beyond the Kia badge and appreciate this SUV for what it brings to the table?
In a word, yes! The Kia Telluride has been a runaway success, with Motor Trend naming it their SUV of the Year, Car and Driver placing it on their 10 Best list, NACTOY awarding it the 2020 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, and U.S. News & World Report naming it the Best 3-Row SUV for Families. It’s been such a hot seller that Kia dealerships can’t even keep them on the lots! Those are some impressive achievements, to say the least.
So when I got the chance to test out a 2021 Kia Telluride SX AWD for a week, I was excited to put it through its paces and see what all the hype was about. My first impressions upon seeing the car was that it’s waaaaaay better looking in person, the Gravity Gray paint really popping in the sunlight, and the Nightfall Edition blackout treatment giving it a more aggressive look. From some angles, I was getting a bit of a Range Rover vibe from it.
When I like the overall styling of the Telluride, the one thing that has always bugged me about the car was the sheer amount of chrome it has. Thankfully, for 2021 Kia has introduced a new Nightfall Edition package that addresses this, adding a number of gloss black elements to the vehicle to give it a more aggressive yet sophisticated character.
Exclusive Nightfall Edition exterior elements include a newly designed radiator grill in black finish, unique 20-inch wheels in black finish with black lug nuts and center caps, gloss black roof rails, gloss black greenhouse trim/lower door side molding, gloss black skid plates, gloss black front bumper side air-duct garnish, gloss black emblems (incl. unique Kia logos), LED headlamps and fog lamps with black inner bezel, and body color door handles. This package costs $1,295, and I personally think it’s worth every penny!
The interior of the Kia Telluride is equally nice, with an abundance of premium materials used throughout to give it a decidedly upscale feel. There’s double-stitched, quilted Nappa leather trim upholstery, matte-finished wood, brushed metal finishes, heated and ventilated first- and second-row seats, leather-wrapped, tilt and telescoping steering wheel (which is heated), a 630-watt, 10-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system and more. Our Telluride also had second-row captain chairs, which were sweet. The third row is usable, but best suited for kids. (Not a fan of the placement of the heated/ventilated seat switches, as it juts out and digs into my leg)
Kia packed the Telluride with tons of technology, including a 10.25-inch color touchscreen, the aforementioned Harman/Kardon sound system, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto (not wireless), head-up display, wireless smartphone charging, six USB charging ports (two in each row), 360° parking cameras, and more. The infotainment system can even be customized with various widgets to suit your specific needs, but I left well enough alone.
But that’s not all. Kia also went big on the safety front, most notably with their Kia Drive Wise Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems. As you’d expect, this included all of the usual suspects like Forward Collision Warning/Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist-Rear, Blind Spot View Monitor, Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Parking Distance Warning, and Surround View Monitor.
We’re not done yet. Kia’s Highway Driving Assist uses radar to interpret lane markings so the vehicle can control steering, acceleration and braking to automatically adjust distance from the vehicle detected ahead. Lane Following Assist monitors lane markings to help keep the Telluride centered in its lane when Smart Cruise Control is activated.
Another cool feature that I grew to love was the Blind Spot View Monitor, which you can see in action in the photo below. It uses a system of cameras to display a live camera feed of your blind spot in the central digital portion of the gauge cluster when your turn signal is activated. This is incredibly handy, especially in a larger vehicle like the Telluride. A Honda Civic I drove years ago had a similar system, but this one is far superior.
Lastly, they’ve also included two handy features for families: Driver Talk uses a microphone to talk to kids in second and third rows without having to shout (“stop fighting back there or I’m going to turn this car around and go home!”), while Quiet Mode cuts audio output in second and third rows if the kiddos are sleeping and you don’t want to disturb them. Smart features that should make some parents’ lives a bit easier.
On the road, the 2021 Kia Telluride is quite enjoyable to drive, with adequate power on tap and impressive handling for a vehicle of this size. Under the hood is a 3.8L V-6 engine that puts out 291-horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, which is good for a 0-60mph time of 7.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 15.4 seconds. Given it’s weight (4,460 pounds), it could probably use some extra torque, as it lacked that get-up-and-go when trying to accelerate at speed.
Handling-wise, the Telluride drives more like a car or small crossover than the large SUV that it really is. Turn-in is crisp, ride quality is on the firmer side (maybe too much so?), and body roll is kept to a minimum. Drivers can choose from 4 drive modes (Smart, Eco, Sport, Comfort), each with different settings for powertrain, drivetrain, and steering effort. Personally, I found the steering to be overly tight regardless of which mode I was in. Could the 20″ wheels on my tester be to blame? It’s honestly tough to say..
Mileage is about what you’d expect for this segment, delivering 19/24 mpg city/hwy for AWD models, and we averaged right around 20 mpg during our week with it. It’s a large three-row SUV with a 3.8-liter V-6 engine under the hood, so it’s par for the course.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about the 2021 Kia Telluride SX AWD, and I can totally see why it’s been such a strong seller since it came out, as it offers a ton of value for the price. Speaking of which, the Kia Telluride starts at $32,190, while our fully loaded model came in at $47,550. If I were building one for myself, I’d take away the SX Prestige Package ($2,300) and the Towing Package ($795), bringing the price down to just over $44,000. That’s a bargain!
A comparable SUV with a luxury badge on the hood would easily set you back an extra $20,000 or more. But does it really offer you $20K more car for that money? It’s just something to think about if you’re considering an SUV from a luxury brand. Go test drive one and see for yourself.
Honestly, if I had a large family and was in the market for a luxury SUV (sorry, no minivans for this guy), the Kia Telluride would definitely be on my short list.