Pushing northwest on a cold, windy late autumn day, up through the Sandy River Valley on a winding Route 4 toward Rangeley, our Snow White Pearl Kia Telluride once again demonstrated why this all-new three-row crossover is racing up the sales charts. It flat our works better than most of its established rivals.
This was a point I repeatedly made to inquisitive observers admiring the bold stance of the Telluride and its unique square LED running lamps, viewers who leered at the luxurious interior, and to drivers genuinely interested in this latest crossover. Dispel all that you used to think you knew about Kias; this Telluride is the latest example of the huge gains the brand (part of Korean partner Hyundai) has accomplished in chassis engineering, technology, plus fit and finish. This is a class leader, right out of the gate.
The look is like few other crossovers. Squared shoulders and a brawny face give the Kia a confident style that is well-executed outside and inside, where the interior is extremely human-friendly. Dimensionally almost identical in size to the Honda Pilot and Subaru Ascent, the Telluride looks larger.
And the space is comfortable — everywhere. The front seats in our top SX trim — starting at $31,690 for front-drive models, $47,705 loaded with every feature — were 400-mile comfortable. The second-row buckets, heated and cooled here, fold, recline, slide back and forth, plus they flip forward with a single-finger touch of a button, providing ample space to access a split-folding third-row bench that actually will ferry real adults who don’t regularly attend yoga classes.
The Telluride’s sibling — the Hyundai Palisade — appeared in this space recently. It was good to sample the Kia version second. While both crossovers share the same basic chassis as well as powertrain — a 3.8-liter V-6 with 291 hp running through an eight-speed automatic — the Kia adds some personality distinctions. Several drive modes include a “sport” setting that changes throttle responses and driving verve; the AWD knob features a “lock” button for low-speed traction situations, while the shifter remains a conventional console lever instead of the Hyundai’s electric push-button setup. This allows Kia to make a more versatile, user-friendly console.
Both of these crossovers have large touchscreens with Apple/Android/Navigation programs plus infotainment; both have excellent blind-spot cameras to complement their blind-spot mirrors (everyone loved the view from these handy cameras), and there is Surround View 360-degree camera technology and triple zone climate panels.
The Telluride is also packed with the latest electronic driving aids, including highway driving assist, which will allow you to operate hands-free at highway speeds. You are supposed to be tending the wheel, yet the Kia does a very good job of steadying the vehicle within your lane while working with the dynamic Smart Cruise control.
Kia also features a rear-seat minder system, warning you to check rear seats before exiting the vehicle. And, there is a safety minder preventing rear doors from opening with oncoming traffic.
Buyers in this segment, which includes Explorer, Traverse, Pathfinder and Highlander, should be duly impressed by the numerous subtle pieces that make the Kia special. There are USB ports at every seat, with small pockets to hold electronic devices on the front seatbacks. The controls up front are clearly visible, easily accessed, and intuitive to operate, while the materials employed look and feel more premium than what Kia buyers might expect. SX trim brings two sunroofs, side sunshade curtains, a 110V inverter and quilted Nappa leather seating with a 12-way driver’s seat that even has leg extender support. Naturally, there is a heated steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, keyless access and ignition, plus brilliant headlamps.
Families that use their three-row crossovers will generally find themselves on roads like Route 4, heading to camp, heading out for recreational pursuits no matter what the season. The Kia’s chassis delivered a quiet and controlled ride. Steering feel and overall handling were enjoyable to experience, not the numbing monotony offered by some rivals.
Three fill-ups returned a solid 23-mpg average — right in the hunt for this class and right on top of the EPA ratings of 19/24 mpg. Maximum tow rating is 5,000 pounds, also smack on what the competition offers.
Refined and polished, the Kia Telluride doesn’t feel like a newcomer in this segment. The collection of quality features, impressive safety and driving electronics, as well as the comfort and space afforded users, adds up to a family crossover that feels like a winner no matter how lengthy your list of wants is.