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2021 Ford Explorer vs. 2021 Kia Telluride: Which Is Better?

If you need to carry seven passengers or more, the 2021 Ford Explorer or the 2021 Kia Telluride might be right for you. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The Ford Explorer was completely redesigned last year.
  • The 2021 Kia Telluride was an all-new vehicle for 2020. It remains unchanged for 2021.

2021 Ford Explorer

2021 Ford Explorer Front Left Side in White

Base Price: $33,470 / Read our 2021 Ford Explorer Review

What we like: Multiple powertrain choices; good fuel economy; sporty ST performance version; modern infotainment system.

What we would change: Most versions seat only six; lots of plastic inside; top trims are pricey.

Overview: Last year, the Ford Explorer underwent a major redesign, which improved packaging, better handling, and new powertrain choices. The Explorer now rides on a rear-wheel-drive-based unit-body platform, while AWD is available. The standard engine is a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder with 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque — more than most competitors’ V6s. Fuel economy is 24 mpg (RWD) or 23 mpg (AWD). A 3.3-liter V6 hybrid has slightly higher output and better EPA ratings: 28 mpg (RWD) and 25 mpg (AWD), but it’s only available on the Limited trim. The top engine offering is a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that makes 365 hp in the luxe Platinum and 400 hp in the high-performance ST. AWD is standard with this engine, and all Explorers use a 10-speed automatic. The maximum towing capacity is 5,600 pounds. The base variant gets a second-row bench and seats seven. All others have captain’s chairs and seat six. Behind the third row, there are 18.2 cubic feet of luggage space and a maximum of 87.8 cubic feet with all seats folded.

What’s new for 2021: A new Sport Appearance package for the XLT brings 20-inch wheels with a gray finish, a mesh grille also in gray, restyled lower body trim, dual exhaust outlets, light gray interior upholstery, and more. The XLT also adds standard heated seats and an optional heated steering wheel. On the Limited, some formerly standard features now cost extra, and the power passenger seat on upper trims goes from 10-way adjustment to 8-way.

Features and technology: The Explorer is offered in base, XLT, Limited, Platinum, and ST trims. All trims get Ford’s Co-Pilot360 bundle that includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. The base Explorer also comes with a power driver’s seat, a power liftgate, an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Wi-Fi, and two USB ports. The XLT brings heated front seats, roof rails, power-folding second-row captain’s chairs, second-row USB ports, keyless entry/ignition, acoustic laminated side glass, and a few other items. The XLT can be optioned with the Co-Pilot360 Assist+ package (adaptive cruise control with stop/go, lane centering, navigation, and more), a Sport Appearance Package, and a heated steering wheel. The Limited offers the hybrid powertrain option. It also includes 20-inch wheels, the Co-Pilot360 Assist+ package, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, wireless charging, leather, a 360-degree-view camera, and a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, among other niceties. Power-folding for the third row, a power-adjustable steering column, heated side mirrors, a hands-free liftgate, and a memory setting are optional. The sporty ST features the twin-turbo V6 with AWD, a firmer suspension, and shift paddles. Upgraded brakes and 21-inch wheels are optional. Other ST kit includes automated parking, a Terrain Management System including hill-descent control, and quad exhaust outlets. The top-spec Platinum keeps the twin-turbo V6 and AWD but reverts to the standard suspension. Its luxury features include a panoramic sunroof, diamond-stitched perforated leather, and a leather-covered dash/door tops/center armrest. An optional 10-inch vertically oriented touchscreen is exclusive to the ST and Platinum, as is a 14-speaker 980-watt B&O sound system.

What does the future hold: The Explorer is fresh off a redesign and isn’t likely to see major changes right away. See 2021 Ford Explorer models for sale near you.

2021 Kia Telluride

2021 Kia Telluride Front Right Side

Base Price: $31,990 / Read our 2021 Kia Telluride Review

What we like: Roomy and upscale cabin; available self-leveling suspension; standard safety and driver-assist systems are ample; 4-wheel lock on all-wheel drive.

What we would change: Add an engine choice.

Overview: The Telluride debuted just last year as the biggest and boldest SUV to date from Kia. This 3-row family crossover wasted no time pitting itself against established rivals like the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Toyota Highlander. And by many counts, the Telluride comes out on top. The 2021 Kia Telluride has seating for eight passengers (or seven when fitted with second-row captain’s seats), is filled with technology, comes standard with a full suite of active safety and driver-assistance features, and does it all at a price below that of its rivals. Throw in a standard V6, brawny yet handsome looks, one of the most spacious cabins in its class, and an unbeatable warranty covering 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain, and it’s little wonder Kia dealers have trouble keeping the Telluride in stock. The Kia Telluride also was named one of our Best New Cars for 2020. Whether it serves as a family SUV that offers a lot of great-looking metal for the money or as an amenity-laden road-tripper that could pass for a luxury SUV inside, the 2021 Kia Telluride is one of the most recommendable midsize crossovers around.

What’s new for 2021: For its second year on sale, the Kia Telluride offers the Nightfall Edition on EX and SX trims, giving this SUV blacked-out exterior aesthetics and a more aggressive look. The Kia Telluride Nightfall Edition is available in several colors, including the exclusive Wolf Gray. The towing trailer harness has been upgraded from 4-pin to 7-pin, and a remote engine start button has been added to the key fob. LED headlights are now included in the EX Premium Package. 

Features and technology: The 2021 Kia Telluride is available in four grades: LX, S, EX, and SX. AWD is a $2,000 option on all trim levels. The prices listed are before the $1,170 destination charge. Adding all-wheel drive (AWD) is $2,000, except for the topline SX model, in which it’s $1,900.

The 2021 Telluride LX comes with Sofino synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear-passenger air conditioning, keyless entry with push-button start, one-touch sliding and folding middle seats, sound-absorbing windshield glass, rear occupant alert, leather-wrapped tilt, and telescope steering wheel, 6-way manual adjustable driver’s seat and seating for eight. The standard infotainment system bundles an 8-inch touchscreen, 6-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and five USB inputs. A bevy of safety features comes standard (see Safety section below). Like all new Kia vehicles, the Telluride has a warranty that includes 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain. Beyond AWD, the LX has no factory options.

The 2021 Telluride S has all of the LX’s standard equipment plus 20-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, heated front seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, seating for seven with second-row captain’s chairs, and a leather-wrapped shift knob. Options for the S include seating for eight via a second-row bench and second-row armrest with cupholders.

The EX adds S standard features plus the second-row center armrest as standard, along with 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, an 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, ventilated front seats, seating for eight with a split-folding second-row bench seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic defog system, a 10.25-inch touchscreen, a navigation system, a wireless phone charger, six USB ports, a smart hands-free liftgate, LED taillights, power-folding outboard mirrors, acoustic front side windows, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Factory options for the EX include a towing package with self-leveling rear suspension, LED headlights, 20-inch wheels, and a heated steering wheel. The new Nightfall Edition is also available beginning on this trim.

To the EX’s standard features, the 2021 Telluride SX ($42,190) adds 20-inch black alloy wheels, LED projector-style headlights, LED fog lights, reverse tilt-down outboard mirrors, a dual sunroof with power front tilt/slide, a 7-inch color gauge cluster, 64-color cabin mood lamp, stainless-steel pedals, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, memory for driver’s seat and outboard mirrors, an upgraded 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system, blind-spot monitoring, high-beam assist, front parking sensors, and a 360-degree surround-view monitor. SX factory options include EX’s options plus rain-sensing wipers, a premium cloth headliner, premium Nappa leather seating, second-row heated and ventilated seats, a 110-volt power outlet, and a head-up display. The SX can also get the new Nightfall treatment.

You get all this plus an impressive amount of active safety and driver-assistance features, including lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. On the EX and SX models, you get Highway Driving Assist which can recognize speed limits and adjust speed appropriately.

What does the future hold: The Telluride is only in its second year of production. We expect small trim changes over the next few years but nothing significant. See 2021 Kia Telluride models for sale near you.

Explorer vs. Telluride: Strengths Comparison

2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Kia Telluride Rear

Ford Explorer Benefits: Multiple powertrain choices; hybrid’s fuel economy; high-performance ST model.

Kia Telluride Benefits: Luxurious interior; ample safety and tech; great warranty.

2021 Ford Explorer vs. 2021 Kia Telluride: Which Is Better?

2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Kia Telluride Front

In this head-to-head, we’d opt for the Telluride over the Explorer since it comes with so many technological additions and offers seating for eight (rather than just seven). If you really need a hybrid or a performance SUV, the Explorer would trump the Telluride.   Find 2021 Ford Explorer models for sale or Find 2021 Kia Telluride models for sale

Popular Powertrains 2021 Ford Explorer 2021 Kia Telluride
Engine 2.3-liter turbo I4 3.8-liter V6
Horsepower 300 hp @ 5,500 rpm 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 310 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm 262 lb-ft @ 5,200
Transmission 10-spd automatic 8-spd automatic
Fuel Economy 24 mpg (21 city/28 hwy) 23 mpg (20 city/26 hwy)
Also Available 3.0-liter turbo V6; 3.3-liter V6 hybrid; AWD AWD
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 10 years/100,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 7 8
Wheelbase 119.1 inches 114.2 inches
Overall Length 198.8 inches 196.9 inches
Width 78.9 inches 78.3 inches
Height 69.9 inches 68.9 inches
Turning Diameter n/a 38.8 feet
Headroom, Front 40.7 inches 40.9 inches
Headroom, 2nd row 40.5 inches 40.2 inches
Headroom, 3rd row 38.9 inches 38.1 inches
Legroom, Front 43.0 inches 41.4 inches
Legroom, 2nd row 39.0 inches 42.4 inches
Legroom, 3rd row 32.2 inches 31.4 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 61.8 inches 61.6 inches
Shoulder Room, 2nd row 61.9 inches 61.2 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd row 54.6 inches 55.3 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 152.7 cubic feet 178.1 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 87.8 cubic feet 87.0 cubic feet

Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist based in L.A. and she's covered automotive topics for a variety of well-known outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CNN and Motor Trend. She's also a television and video host and regularly covers breaking news, social justice, technology, health and wellness, and science in addition to her car coverage. When she's not working on her next project she's... Read More about Abigail Bassett

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  1. Telluride over an Explorer, LOL! The statistical comparison alone shows the Ford Explorer wins and nobody in their right mind would choose the low quality Kia.

    • 2021 JD Power Brand reliability rankings – KIa # 3 and Ford #22.
      Power train warranty – Kia 10 yr 100k miles and Ford 5 yr 60K miles
      Now who is in their right mind?

    • @Bart Luyendike Are you from the past. KIA has not been seen as a low quality automaker for over a decade. Telluride blows the Explorer away in every practical spec.

  2. I purchased a 2021 Telluride EX with the nightfall treatment and feel I made the best decision when looking for a 7 passenger AWD 7 passenger vehicle. It has more then enough power and options for living in the State of Minnesota.

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