The $47,000 2020 Kia Telluride we tested was a fully decked version of the new large-format three-row top-of-the-line SUV from the brand that once gave us the modest Sephia sedan and cheeky Sportage compact SUV when they first arrived in the US.
The Telluride is the largest SUV yet from the Korean brand who has seriously been on fire in the last decade, offering a full line of cars that have won the hearts of car buyers and journalists alike including myself. They’ve been a brand who really has it going on when it comes to design, quality and the ability to hit the market just right.
In this case we have a vehicle with a brawny avant garde swagger that elbows up to the vibe of heavy hitters like Range Rover and BMW with its presentation. It looks and feels positively huge and has the swank to get the attention of even the more ardent of car guys out there. In our week with it, we got lots of inquiries from passers by. Anecdotally, it has a lot of interest.
Inside you have sweeping lines and feature packed goodness when it comes to line-items on the window sticker regardless of what trim you get from the base grade LX to the fully decked SX we tested with all of it.
Like most Kias the interior is mostly well designed with decent materials and switchgear that reads well and feels a higher grade than it is when it comes to price. This is not to say however that we have equality to a Range Rover or BMW. In a relative sense this is still mainstream Bargainville with fake wood and lots of hard plastics.
It is however very functional and livable with a lot of space and versatility you’ll find appealing if you’re comparing it to many rivals.
It’s when you drive it that a few important things come to light. This is a front-wheel drive based crossover with a transverse V6 engine, not the broad shouldered truck-framed SUV it appears to be. This is a car for all intents, scaled up and made tall – and it drives like one.
In fact, our driving impression takeaways don’t at all fit with the image and expectations of a full-size SUV. Its large 20-inch wheels and car-grade suspension crash over potholes and speed bumps in a way that’s jarring and unrefined. It floats and wallows at speed, lacking the kind of damper control you would want in a vehicle weighing in at nearly 4500 pounds.
Road noise is high and the body structure doesn’t feel all that solid, flexing and creaking even around town. It really feels like they didn’t spend as much time engineering a robust and refined chassis as they did making sure it had all the infotainment bells and whistles. Basically, it drives like a big tall bloated car with not enough backbone.
Power too is a disappointment. Its oldish 3.8-liter V6 and 8-speed transmission while reasonably well numbered at 291 horsepower lacks the torque at only 262 pound-feet you need to move the Telluride off the line, especially when loaded down.
The engine and transmission were relatively noisy and not in a good way. It was thirsty. While rated at 19 city, 24 highway and 21 combined, we struggled to reach 17 mpg average in our week. Top it all off with an annoying idle start stop system and I just wasn’t that impressed with its driving experience.
My bottom line is that with all its swank and rolling large character it just isn’t backed up by substance and driving character. I liken it to that designer pair of sunglasses that are fashionable and expensive in which a lesser priced knock-off can be had at the discount store. I looks almost like the real thing but just isn’t.