2020 Kia Telluride Review: Rugged Good Looks, Comfort for Miles

Kia redefines what’s possible with three-row crossovers, proving style and substance can coexist

Andrew Ganz

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The 2020 Kia Telluride SX certainly commands the open road, cruising serenely–even at 75 mph. Its septet of soft, leather-upholstered seats let friends and family sprawl out, chalking up comfort points with each conquered mile. The surefooted grip of the Telluride’s all-wheel drive instils confidence, especially when passing through a torrential downpour.

The biggest surprise with the Telluride that Kia lent me to review, though, is how effective this vehicle is at turning heads. Even in the parking lot of a big box store, the Snow White Pearl Kia attracted a “thumbs up” from a young boy in a shopping cart, his eyes fixated on the ruggedly attractive exterior.

Three-row crossover SUVs don’t generally attract attention, especially from toddlers. They more often blend into the carpool lane and sell well because of good crash-test scores, popular features for the money, and spacious interiors, packed with nooks and crannies designed to fit everything from juice boxes to cell phones.

Certainly, the 2020 Telluride does all of that—very well, in fact. That it does so with class and style is what sets it apart. While there’s not really a bad three-row crossover SUV on the market, Kia rises above the crowded playing field. If you’re looking for a crossover, the Telluride should be on your list.

Andrew Ganz

Elegant-but-durable styling

The Telluride is named after an upscale tourist destination that was once a gritty mining outpost, which somehow seems appropriate for Kia in general. This South Korean company falls under conglomerate Hyundai Group’s umbrella, and it wasn’t all that long ago that its vehicles were regarded as cheap—and not necessarily in a good way.

The brand’s transformation to world-class styling is nothing short of astounding, and the Telluride represents the pinnacle of Kia. Its boxy proportions eschew the sweeping lines seen on most rivals, giving the Telluride rugged looks more in line with a Chevrolet Tahoe or a Ford Expedition than more direct competitors like the Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder. Vertical headlights with LED accents up front flank a broad grille that adds visual width and rests below hood lettering spelling out the model’s name.

From the side, Kia deviates from convention with chunky details, such as a matte-silver line that runs along the window sills and reaches up toward the roof in the middle. The boldest lines come at the rear, where tall, skinny LED taillights bow inward at the top and appear to cascade toward the word “Telluride” in big bold letters.

Inside, the low dash pairs with narrow roof pillars to provide an excellent view out. The standard 8” screen won’t win any awards, though the available 10.25” upgrade is bright and crisp. Tellurides with leather upholstery have convincing fake wood inlays, but the painted silver on lower-spec versions is attractive enough.

Andrew Ganz

An interior that punches above its price point

The Telluride line starts at around $31,890 MSRP* and stretches to just shy of $46,600 for a fully-loaded model like our all-wheel-drive, SX test car. Considering some rivals start in the high $30,000s and top out north of $60,000, that’s not an unusually large stretch by modern crossover standards.

The Telluride’s base LX trim hits all the must-haves, plus a few more. The 8” touchscreen boasts intuitive software that responds quickly to taps and allows for Apple and Android users to plug in for CarPlay and Android connectivity. A half-dozen USB plugs mean that nearly every passenger can charge up, too. Opt for the Telluride EX and SX trims and Kia swaps in a brighter 10.25” display that’s about the same height but wider, allowing for more information to be displayed. Whether running the baked-in navigation, or external options (Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, etc...), the Telluride’s screen conveys plenty of data.

The standard synthetic leather upholstery has a tough, durable feel, and by its very nature, it should be much easier to clean than the cloth seats on most rivals. Spring for the optional leather, and the Telluride almost feels like a luxury car—though the cabin’s hard plastics trigger reminders of the non-luxury base price.

Front-seat passengers have excellent room. That’s echoed in row two, either with the standard three-seat bench, or the individual captain’s chairs. The third row offers enough space for two adults to sit in the outboard seats for short stints, or for three children to ride without (too much) complaint.

Andrew Ganz

Cargo space is at a reasonable 46 cubic feet with the third row folded down. Add in the second row, and space becomes downright ample at 87 cu.ft. Kia quotes 21 cu.ft. behind an upright third row, which should be just enough to squeeze in groceries or a stroller, though much of that space is above the window line.

Andrew Ganz

Safe, quiet comfort for the long road ahead

The Telluride makes use of a 291-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 that shuttles power to the front or, for $2,000 more, all four wheels. This big crossover weighs a lot, though—up to almost 4,500 lbs.—which saps performance. Acceleration is adequate on the highway, and the transmission is tuned for quick, in-town shifts.

The thick-rimmed steering wheel suggests sportier handling than the Telluride delivers, but that’s just fine given the big crossover’s main mission. The high-trim Telluride SX is loaded with sound deadening and insulated window glass, which means its plush ride is matched by little road and wind noise. Other versions are louder, but only by a hair.

Opt for all-wheel drive and the Telluride is ready to handle winter, if not a jaunt down a rocky road. Leave those treks to more dirt-dedicated SUVs. Instead, the Telluride eagerly awaits a long-distance road trip thanks to its excellent highway driving characteristics and hushed interior, and that’s before taking into account features designed to reduce driver fatigue and minimize the risk of a dangerous crash.

Adding to the Telluride’s road trip cred is a standard adaptive cruise control that can bring the Telluride to a halt, and then get moving again, even in traffic. The safety technologies that so many families value are standard features, so every Telluride on dealer lots is fitted with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control. A surround-view camera supplants a standard rearview camera on high-trim versions.

Choose value, vanity, or both

With just four trim levels and a choice between front- or all-wheel drive, picking a 2020 Telluride may come down to color and budget. Base Telluride LXs start at $31,890, or $33,890 with all-wheel drive, and come with synthetic leather upholstery, an 8” touchscreen, active safety features, and alloy wheels. For most buyers, that’s more than adequate. The Telluride S rings up another $2,400 and packs more flash, thanks to its 20” wheels, unique exterior trim, power moonroof, heated front seats, and a power driver’s seat.

The EX trim, which at around $37,290, lavishes with leather seats, a 10.25” display, automatic climate control, and a system that uses a microphone to project the driver’s voice to the rear-seat speakers.

Our test Telluride SX paired the flashier looks of the S with the EX’s features, and then some. Its Harman/Kardon sound system, LCD instrument cluster, and cooled front seats gave it an almost Audi-like feel. The optional Prestige Package ($2,300 MSRP) adds a head-up display, softer Nappa leather upholstery, a suede-like headliner, and cooled rear seats.

Andrew Ganz

Conclusion: A stylish, low-guilt, right-priced crossover SUV that shouldn’t be missed

Value for money isn’t a big selling point to little kids riding in shopping carts who stare at eye-catching vehicles, and that’s just fine. The Telluride’s bold styling provides immediate appeal matched by a comfortable cabin, a smooth ride, and excellent attention to detail.

Suddenly its rivals seem a little uninspired.


2020 Kia Telluride
Trim: SX AWD

Base: $43,790
As tested: $47,480

Selected Specifications:
Fuel Economy: 19/24/21 mpg (city/hwy/comb)
Power (HP): 291
Torque (lb.-ft.): 262
Seating Capacity: 8 (7 with optional second-row captain’s chairs)

Advanced Safety Systems:
Lane-Change Alert
Blind-Spot Monitors
Rear Cross-Traffic Alerts

Other Key Trims:


*MSRP does not include $1,170 destination charge.

Check out the 2021 Kia Telluride


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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.