I recently had the chance to drive the new 2020 Kia Telluride, which is Kia’s new entrant into the 3-row, midsize SUV segment. If you follow the industry, you might be curious about this, because Kia already has a vehicle in this segment — the Sorento. But the Sorento is rather small compared to the Telluride, and compared to the midsize SUV segment in general, and the Sorento’s third-row seat is rather tight.
Not so with the Telluride. The Kia Telluride is now the face of Kia for families, especially as shoppers are giving up on sedans en masse in favor of SUVs. The Telluride is designed to fit right into the meaty part of the midsize SUV segment, competing with all the most popular players — including the Ford Explorer, the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander.
On paper, the Telluride looks very similar to these SUVs. The Telluride’s starting price is $32,700, which places it within a few hundred dollars of the Toyota Highlander ($32,400) and the Honda Pilot ($32,500). The Telluride is 196.9 inches long, which also puts it directly next to competitors like the Highlander (192.5 inches), the Pilot (196.5 inches) and the Explorer (198.8 inches). And the Telluride’s powertrain — a 290-horsepower V6 — also mirrors the Highlander, which has a 295-hp V6, the Pilot with a 280-hp V6, and most of the other SUVs in the segment.
All of this may lead you to wonder: what, exactly, distinguishes the Telluride from its competition?
It’s an excellent question, but there are some good answers — and the most important is probably exterior styling. While many of the Telluride’s rivals follow the “lookalike” path for styling — a nice, conservative approach to styling that will appeal to as many people as possible — the Telluride has gone for a more muscular, aggressive, brawny and capable look. It’s a departure from the norm for Kia, who usually sticks to the conservative end of the styling scale, but the Telluride is far from conservative. The design may turn off some shoppers, but I find it highly appealing — a distinctive look like this is a breath of fresh air in a segment that’s so similar.
The Telluride also distinguishes itself with a few cool features. One is an easy-moving second-row seat, which is even simpler to move out of the way than the second row in competitors: all you have to do is push a button, and it slides forward to create easy access to the third row. The Telluride also touts a cool feature, similar to Honda’s “CabinTalk,” wherein you can amplify your voice over the speakers to speak to children in rear seats without turning around and yelling. And there’s even a neat idea where you can mute rear speakers and only listen to front speakers, at a low volume, so you can drive and listen to music up front while your kids sleep peacefully in the back.
Another important distinction between the Telluride and its rivals is the warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles of comprehensive warranty coverage, along with 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage. That won’t matter to many shoppers who plan to lease, or those who don’t keep their cars a long time, but it’s a big deal to drivers who plan to own their family vehicle for years to come.
With all this said, the Telluride doesn’t really distinguish itself in terms of driving experience. There’s no doubt it’s an excellent vehicle, but it drives a lot like everything else in this segment, without any noticeable unique traits to back up its boxy, brawny styling. I don’t say this as a complaint, since it’s perfectly competent and excellent in every way — but you shouldn’t expect the Telluride to deliver a driving experience that’s different from rivals, because it won’t.
Instead, you get the same effortless steering, the same good passing power and the same excellent visibility. The Telluride also offers all the usual active safety technology. It is, put simply, very good, but not distinctive.
Nonetheless, the Telluride woos me — the driving experience may not improve upon rivals, but it’s also no worse. It is, however, more attractive, with a longer warranty and some cool new features — and it very much deserves a spot on your midsize SUV shopping list.