The Telluride is our pick for the best three-row SUV in its class.
In a world teeming with SUVs of all shapes, sizes and styles, the 2021 Kia Telluride is an automotive all-star. With driving refinement and interior appointments that wouldn’t be out of place in a luxury car, handsome styling and plenty of versatility, this three-row hauler is easily one of the segment’s best.
LikeLuxury car appointmentsGreat driving refinement refinementSpacious cabin
Don’t LikeUseless lane-keeping assistObviously fake wood trim
With a welcoming front end, curt backside and elegant flanks accentuated by interestingly stepped brightwork surrounding the side glass, Kia’s Telluride SUV is seriously attractive. To my eyes, it’s far prettier than its sibling, the equally compelling if more interestingly styled Hyundai Palisade.
Increasing its curb appeal (if you embrace the darkness, that is), my top-of-the-line SX-trim tester is fitted with the $1,295 Nightfall Edition appearance package, an options group that’s available on several models. As its name suggests, the Nightfall gets a number of blacked-out elements, including 20-inch wheels, roof rails, skid plates, emblems and the grille, as well as some slightly darker greenhouse trim. Overall, the look is attractive if a bit too monochromatic for my taste.
What is right up my alley, however, is the Telluride’s gorgeous interior. From the materials and textures to the layout and build quality, everything’s top-notch — the phony wood trim being the only exception. The premium graining on the soft plastics is lovely, the buttons and switches feel solid and operate with Mercedes-Benz-like slickness and all the controls are easy to reach and use, meaning there’s no fumbling around to figure out how you engage the auto brake-hold feature or lower the fan speed. My tester is also fitted with the $2,300 SX Prestige package, which brings goodies like a head-up display, Nappa leather seating surfaces, heated and ventilated second-row seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers and more to the table, helping make an already upscale vehicle feel even more premium.
The Telluride earns high marks for its overall comfort, too. While its front seats could use more contouring to be truly coddling for long-haul drives, they’re still good. The second-row buckets in my tester are road-trip approved, however, adjusting in multiple directions, providing excellent comfort for adult passengers thanks to their elevated lower cushions and being hospitable in all seasons, courtesy of the aforementioned heating and ventilation functions. Ensuring everyone’s mobile devices remain fully juiced, this Telluride has two USB type-A outlets in the sides of the front seatbacks as well as a 12-volt socket and a 110-volt household outlet at the bottom of the center console. There are even a couple USB ports servicing the third row. No, you can’t get a proper rear-seat entertainment system, but Kia tells me one is in the works.
The interior is nicely designed and luxurious.
Providing easy access to the Telluride’s back bench, those second-row buckets tilt and slide at the push of a button, leaving a pathway large enough for limber adults to clamber through. Average-sized grownups should also be reasonably comfortable in this Kia’s third-row seat, which is quite hospitable and offers decent amounts of room for both legs and heads.
If you need to haul cargo instead of just passengers, the Telluride has you covered. With 21 cubic feet of space behind the third row, it offers more room than the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer or Toyota Highlander. Space behind the second- and first-row seats is very similar for all four of these vehicles, though the Explorer does have a miniscule advantage in total cargo room. Fold all its seats down and the Telluride offers an impressive 87 cubic feet of junk-hauling space.
Next up, let’s talk tech. Advanced driving aids like rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality and rear cross-traffic alert are all standard across the Telluride range. Lane-keeping assist is included, too, but it’s pretty much useless, doing almost nothing to keep this Kia from wandering like a vagabond.
These 20-inch wheels are part of a new Nightfall appearance package.
On the infotainment front, lesser models feature an 8-inch dashboard touchscreen, though my SX tester has a generous 10.2-inch display that’s both bright and easy to reach. Kia’s latest infotainment system isn’t necessarily my favorite offering, though it’s still excellent, simple to use and responsive. Zooming in or out on the navigation map and swiping through menus is speedy and smooth. No matter the variant, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included with every Telluride.
Putting it all in motion, just one drivetrain is offered in this three-row hauler. The Telluride uses a 3.8-liter gasoline-burning V6 that delivers 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Smooth and hushed, this engine is matched exclusively to an ivy-league intelligent eight-speed automatic transmission. Seriously smart, this gearbox is as close to perfect as you’ll ever find in a mass-market vehicle, being quick-witted, silky smooth and eager to downshift even as you gently squeeze the accelerator pedal to call up a bit more speed.
This Kia is no featherweight, clocking in at 4,482 pounds, but the performance it provides is quite impressive, at least when empty and without a trailer in tow. Driven normally, the Telluride has no trouble keeping up with traffic or overtaking dawdling Sunday drivers. Nail the accelerator and it scoots, the engine ramping up quickly, aided by that ever-resourceful transmission. Hauling a full load up the side of a desert mountain in the heat of July might be an issue, but driven on flatlands without any passengers or luggage, the Telluride delivers excellent performance.
Even fully loaded, the Telluride is a great value.
Like any SUV worth its salt, all-wheel drive is available, a feature that’s optional across the entire Telluride range. As you’d expect, it does degrade fuel economy, but only by a couple miles per gallon. This example is fitted with the traction-enhancing feature and it’s rated at 19 mpg city, 24 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. In mixed driving, I’ve averaged 21.1 mpg according to the trip computer, a better-than-expected figure given how liberal I was with the accelerator pedal.
As for ride quality, it’s as supple and refined as this Kia’s upscale interior, which also remains unnervingly hushed, even at highway speeds. The Telluride shrugs off large bumps with ease while smaller imperfections are almost completely filtered out. This SUV’s handling is benign and predictable, but nothing to sing about.
The Telluride is nicer and better designed than probably any of its major rivals, and in certain ways, it feels like a step above some so-called luxury vehicles. And what’s more remarkable than all that is the pricing. Including $1,170 in destination fees, a base LX model starts at 33 grand and change, though my nicely equipped SX all-wheel-drive tester checks out for $50,180, though that still feels like a bargain. In short, Kia absolutely nailed it with the Telluride.