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2020 Kia Telluride Review: Surprisingly Seductive

Faced with steadily growing interest for the modern version of the minivan – i.e., crossovers with three rows of seats – the two Korean automaker Kia and Hyundai have reacted with big new propositions this year. Forget models that try to be all things for all occasions: from now on, the companies are taking clear aim at the practical, family-oriented side of sport utility vehicles with their all-new Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride.

It was the latter model I had occasion to test out over a long weekend this July. And if you think four days is not enough to take the real measure of a model, think again. When that long weekend involves a several-hundred-kilometre road trip with the kids and camping gear in tow, you’re sure to discover if the vehicle can meet your needs for transporting lots of stuff.

Bigger than the Sorento
The arrival of the Telluride should take some pressure off the Sorento, the brand’s only SUV that could up to now fit the needs of those looking for a mid-size three-row SUV, that is since the disappearance of the short-lived Borrego over ten years ago.

Photo: V.Aubé

To give you an idea of the Telluride’s dimensions, the new model longer is longer by 7.9 inches, wider by 3.9 inches and taller by 2.8 inches than the Sorento. And you guessed it, the wheelbase of this genuine three-row people-mover is also longer, by a notable 4.8 inches.

You could also say this is a more “macho” vehicle, starting with the vast stretched-bow-tie front grille flanked by vertical headlights and confirmed by the resolute squareness of the whole front section. In back, the eagle’s-head-shaped position lights add a touch of elegance to the shape, which in profile vaguely brings to mind the Volvo XC90 - not a bad model for the new SUV to evoke, quite frankly!

Bigger than the Sorento, part two
What is true outside applies also to the interior. The Kia Telluride is more welcoming than the Sorento, forced, as mentioned, to play a dual role in recent years for the company. Immediately you feel the extra inches of space, both length- and width-wise. And that third row of seats can actually be used by adults.

Photo: V.Aubé

Also, given the higher segment the Telluride sits in, and given that the tester we had was the most high-falutin’ trim, the SX, the quality of execution makes you feel you’re in a very refined vehicle. Amidst the pleasant-to-touch surfaces like the mock-wood elements and the suede-like, however, you’ll find the commands you’re used to from a Kia.

The gained space also translates into greater comfort for passengers, plus it makes life easier for parents securing the kids into the back-row seats. As for the front row, basically it’s business class; nothing’s been neglected, both seats being soft and enveloping, and both heated and ventilated. The driver also gets a heated steering wheel, and their seat and the driving column are power-adjustable with a memory function to keep it all handy when you switch drivers.

On the road… and on vacation
Can you tell that I find both the outside and inside of this Telluride very well designed and constructed? That’s great of course, but what matters most is how it behaves on the road. In this respect, the biggest Kia available in Canada doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Under the hood sits the good old 3.8L V6 (naturally aspirated, direct injection) that delivers 291 hp and maximal torque of 262 lb-ft – both of which are obtained at high RPM, it should be noted.
Wedded to this V6 is an 8-speed automatic transmission that manages power being sent to all four wheels.

Wedded to this V6 is an 8-speed automatic transmission that manages power being sent to all four wheels.

Photo: V.Aubé

Electronics being as omnipresent as they are in modern vehicles, the Telluride of course features drive modes controlled via a wheel placed near the gear shifter; these change the configurations and do alter the drive of the SUV. Eco mode obviously helps reduce fuel consumption, while Smart mode adapts to the driver’s habits. But comfort mode is the most convivial and will probably be the most frequent default choice; its settings don’t try to either handicap or boost the Telluride’s performances. Sport makes for some rough gear changes, but it does quicken the engine’s responses. Sand, Mud and Snow are pretty self-explanatory additional modes.

The new Kia Telluride enters the segment this year in the top third, in my view, but I’m not ready to predict it will upend the established order. The mechanics are not overly sophisticated compared to other offerings out there, while the transmission is competent, drawing little attention to itself. The comfort level of the vehicle is excellent, thanks to the well-calibrated suspension that does a good job of absorbing the road surface’s blemishes.

Photo: V.Aubé

I did note a bit of roll when pushing the SUV a little aggressively into corners, but to be fair that’s the case with virtually all SUVs in this size category. The braking is acceptable, while sound insulation is definitely a strong point of Kia’s new three-row mid-size utility model.

The last word
My first encounter with the new Telluride was a positive experience, all told. Kia finally has a entrant in this growing segment of stretched utility models. The vehicle’s styling is of head-turning quality, the construction and finishing is solid, and the drive is able and competent even if it doesn’t quite sparkle. The big Kia won’t make anyone rave about its sportiness, that’s for sure, but it still constitutes one of the best additions to the segment for 2020.

Photo: V.Aubé

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