2023 Kia Telluride Review and Test Drive

Kia's popular family-sized SUV adds new tech and more off-roading capability for 2023.

Christian Wardlaw | 
Jul 5, 2023 | 14 min read

Capital One

Arguably, no vehicle has done more to transform the Kia brand in the eyes of American consumers than the Telluride. Made in the U.S., styled to look rugged and upscale, equipped with three comfortable rows of seats, thoughtfully outfitted, and offering impressive technology, this midsize crossover SUV checks virtually every box. Now, the 2023 Kia Telluride gets a light makeover to improve its appeal even more.

Aside from minor styling, lighting, wheel, and paint updates, the big news pertains to the new X-Line and X-Pro packages available on the more expensive versions of the 2023 Telluride. Each increases the SUV's off-roading capability with a slight suspension lift and adds a hill descent control system, but the X-Pro takes things a step further with exclusive 18-inch wheels and all-terrain tires. In addition, the X-Pro comes with improved powertrain cooling that allows Kia to increase the towing capacity from 5,000 pounds to 5,500 pounds.

Kia adds a new steering wheel, restyled dashboard, and several fresh color choices to the 2023 Telluride's interior. New tech includes a larger 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and in higher trims, it marries to an equally sized digital instrumentation panel underneath a single piece of curved display glass.

2023 Kia Telluride in blue parked on dirt road.Christian Wardlaw

The new infotainment system makes navigation, access to a Wi-Fi hotspot, and Kia Connect services standard equipment for the 2023 model year. Digital key technology also debuts, transforming a compatible smartphone or smartwatch into the Telluride's key, and a 10-inch color head-up display is available.

The 2023 Kia Telluride model lineup includes LX, S, EX, SX, and SX Prestige trim levels. In addition, the X-Line package is available with EX, SX, and SX Prestige trim, and Kia offers the X-Pro package with SX and SX Prestige trim. At the start of the model year, base prices range from the mid-$30,000s to the mid- $50,000s, including the destination charge to ship the SUV from the West Point, Georgia assembly plant that builds it to your local dealership.

For this 2023 Kia Telluride review, I test-drove two versions of the SX Prestige in San Antonio, Texas, one with the X-Line package and one with the X-Pro package. Each one came with extra-cost paint and optional floor mats, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRPs) to $53,330 and $54,330, respectively, including the $1,335 destination charge. Kia provided the vehicles for this Telluride review and paid for airfare, lodging, and meals during the evaluation period.

2023 Kia Telluride in gray, side profile view.Christian Wardlaw

2023 Kia Telluride Review: The Design

Kia credits the Telluride's design for a big part of the SUV's success. Over dinner, Steve Hirashiki, Kia's SUV product planning manager, told me about the consumer behavior he observed shortly after the Telluride's debut for the 2020 model year.

For example, he shared a story about exiting a market as a new Telluride passed by in front of him and an unrelated woman pushing a cart full of groceries. Hirashiki said the SUV grabbed this woman's attention. She stopped, watched it as it drove by, saw the vehicle's name, and said quietly to herself: "Hmmm, a Kia." Then she continued into the parking lot and loaded her provisions into a Range Rover.

Hirashiki took this as a tacit endorsement of the Telluride's looks by someone with the means to buy a vehicle that costs twice the Kia's price.

Indeed, when the Telluride debuted, it made a big style statement. That continues with the 2023 Telluride, though I'm not a fan of the new bumper designs. In particular, the new silver trim in the front makes the SUV look like a grimacing teenager who just exited an orthodontist's office. However, the new Midnight Lake Blue paint color is terrific, joining Dawning Red and Jungle Green as the fresh hues for 2023.

The Telluride's interior gets a light makeover, too, most noticeably the more sophisticated dashboard design with its available 12.3-inch digital instrumentation panel and standard 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The curved panel containing them looks like Kia lifted it straight out of a BMW or Mercedes.

2023 Kia Telluride steering wheel and digital instrument display.Christian Wardlaw

A redesigned steering wheel, new trim, modified controls and finishes, and better-integrated air vents all give the 2023 Telluride a more modern look, and updated color themes include Terracotta, Sage Green, and Navy over Gray in addition to the Black, Mahogany, and shades of Gray carried over from last year.

As was true before, the top trims look and feel like luxury inside, with a single exception. Kia panels the lower portions of the cabin, the front seatbacks, and other interior elements in hard plastic. Given the Telluride's appealing design and compelling sense of style, it proves somewhat jarring even though it's typical in this size of a vehicle with a base price well under $40,000. In the Telluride SX Prestige, a simulated suede headliner helps to make up for it.

Though Kia has gone further high-tech with the latest Telluride, the company still believes in buttons and knobs, which helps to make the intuitive displays even easier to use. Some of the buttons have a silver finish, though, reducing their legibility. Nevertheless, Kia locates most of the controls where you expect to find them, so it's rather easy to operate this SUV.

In crafting the Telluride's cabin, Kia ensured all three rows of seats could accommodate adults, which isn't always the case. Both test vehicles had SX Prestige trim, equipping them with premium Nappa leather upholstery and a seven-occupant configuration with second-row captain's chairs. With the press of a button, the captain's chairs tilt and slide forward to clear a generous pathway to the Telluride's third-row seat.

2023 Kia Telluride back seat area.Christian Wardlaw

With SX Prestige trim, the front and second-row seats include heating and ventilation, and drivers also get a heated steering wheel. Triple-zone climate control ensures that your rear-seat passengers can adjust settings for their seating area, and a rear sunroof panel lets plenty of natural light in. Close the roof shade, raise the rear side window shades, and you can carry infants and toddlers without concern that sunlight will pierce their brand-new eyes.

During a half-day drive, the Telluride's front seats proved comfortable enough. However, despite the SX Prestige's power-adjustable thigh support bolster, they can feel firm and flat. A short visit to the second row found the same sensation. Still, there is plenty of legroom and thoughtful details like overhead air vents, USB ports embedded into the front seatbacks, and separate storage pockets perfect for stashing a smartphone.

A relatively wide pass-through between the captain's chairs grants access to the third-row seat. Or you can tilt and slide the captain's chair forward and step in that way. Once aboard, you'll find adequate third-row accommodations for adults for shorter trips. Kids will be happier for longer periods. Still, the Telluride's third-row seems to be more comfortable than what you'll find in most of this Kia's rivals.

Kia doesn't skimp on storage space in the 2023 Telluride. Between the deftly shaped door armrest trays, lower door panel bins, and the useful storage spaces in the center console, you should have no trouble finding places to stash your stuff. Second-row riders are not as lucky, and the cupholders located between the front seatbacks are a stretch for short arms. The Telluride's corporate cousin, the Hyundai Palisade, embeds them into the rear door armrests, putting them within easy reach of the kiddos.

2023 Kia Telluride with rear hatch open into cargo area behind the third row of seating, with left third-row seat folded flat.Christian Wardlaw

A hands-free power rear liftgate is available for the 2023 Telluride, and it is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it will recognize the key fob in proximity to the SUV and, after a few seconds, open without forcing you to hop around on one foot while futilely waving the other foot under the back bumper while your arms are full. That's especially dangerous in icy conditions.

The curse is that if you've packed the cargo area full of soccer balls and cleats and you're talking to other parents while standing near the back of the Telluride, it may start beeping to announce that the liftgate is about to power itself open, potentially disgorging its contents into the parking lot.

In apparent recognition of these pros and cons to the 2023 Telluride's "smart" liftgate, you can elect to turn it on or off through the infotainment system. Also, this year, the liftgate adds an automatic closing function so that you don't inadvertently wander off and leave it wide open.

As far as cargo space is concerned, the 2023 Telluride offers plenty of it. Behind the third-row seat, there is a competitive 21 cu-ft of cargo room, including a large storage compartment underneath the load floor panel. Fold the third-row seats flat, and you've got 46 cu-ft of cargo space.

If you use the power release buttons located in the cargo area to fold the second-row seats, the Telluride will swallow up to 87 cu-ft of cargo. And if you get a Telluride with the available rear load-leveling suspension, it won't even look like you've stuffed the SUV to the gills.

2023 Kia Telluride infotainment display and dual-zone climate controls.Christian Wardlaw

2023 Kia Telluride Review: The Technology

As a part of the Telluride's interior upgrades, the SUV now offers sophisticated dual 12.3-inch digital instrumentation and touchscreen infotainment displays under a single curved glass panel. The infotainment system is standard, but the sizable digital instrumentation panel comes only with SX and SX Prestige trim.

Standard infotainment features include Bluetooth support for two devices simultaneously, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a navigation system benefitting from over-the-air map updates. In addition, all but the base LX have a wireless smartphone charger, and with SX and SX Prestige trim, Kia throws in a 10-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.

2023 Kia Telluride head-up display at speed on highway.Christian Wardlaw

In addition to the upgraded instrumentation and infotainment systems, the new Telluride is available with Driver Talk and Quiet Mode features. Driver Talk broadcasts the driver's voice through the stereo speakers so that second- and third-row passengers can easily hear. Quiet Mode turns off the SUV's second- and third-row speakers while passengers sleep.

Kia also equips the SX Prestige with digital key technology, a camera-based rearview mirror, and a larger 10-inch head-up display (HUD) that shows more data to the driver. The full-color HUD is especially impressive, and when all of the Kia Drive Wise driving assistance systems are active, it provides a wealth of information, including blind-spot warnings.

Safety is in abundant supply. Under the Kia Drive Wise banner, the 2023 Telluride offers 18 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and safety features on every trim level.

The standard features list includes the technologies you've come to expect and some unusual ones. The more obscure items include intersection turning assist that attempts to prevent unsafe turns, adaptive cruise control that can automatically slow the SUV for curves based on navigation system data, and a safe exit assist system that warns occupants when it is unsafe to open a door and leave the SUV.

2023 Kia Telluride in blue parked on dirt, surrounded by dry brush.Christian Wardlaw

Additionally, an ultrasonic rear-seat reminder system is standard and monitors the Telluride's interior for movement for 24 hours after you lock and leave the SUV. In addition, Highway Driving Assist 1.5 (HDA 1.5) is standard, pairing the adaptive cruise control with the lane-centering system to semi-autonomously assist the driver when traveling on highways. Upgrade to SX or SX Prestige trim, and HDA 2.0 adds a lane-change assist function to the tech.

These upper trim levels also boast a camera-based blind-spot monitoring system (Blind Spot View Monitor), evasive steering assist, added forward-collision warning features related to crossing intersections and oncoming traffic, more parking assistance systems, and a surround-view camera with a 3D external view of the Telluride and its surroundings.

All of these collision-avoidance technologies, and more, came standard on the tested SX Prestige models. Heading north out of downtown San Antonio, I used all the driver assistance features and left them engaged in stop-and-go traffic through a construction zone. They exhibited accuracy, smoothness, and overall refinement, leading me to trust them while rarely, if ever, suffering irritation.

2023 Kia Telluride with hood up, displaying engine bay.Christian Wardlaw

2023 Kia Telluride Review: The Drive

Kia carries over the previous Telluride's powertrain, so the 3.8-liter V6 engine's specs are the same. It still makes 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive (AWD) is optional on some trims and standard on SX Prestige and any Telluride with the X-Line or X-Pro packages.

In addition to standard AWD with a low-speed Lock function that evenly distributes the power, the X-Line and X-Pro offer a subtle suspension lift, increasing ground clearance from 8.0 inches to 8.4 inches. That also translates into slight gains in approach, breakover, and departure angles. Hill descent control is standard with these trims, while only the X-Pro has 18-inch wheels fitted with all-terrain tires. Kia says it has also modified the traction control system to improve off-roading performance.

I drove a Wolf Gray Kia Telluride SX Prestige with the X-Line package during the first half of testing day. Compared with the standard SX Prestige, the X-Line adds AWD and the lifted suspension, unique 20-inch wheels in a black finish, black headlight and fog light bezels, an exclusive grille design, dark metallic exterior trim, and raised roof rails. Kia says this version of the Telluride replaces last year's Nightfall Edition.

Kia's prescribed route included city freeways, suburban highways, and rural two-lane roads, some of which had kinks and curves. Kia offers five driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Smart, Sport, and Snow), and I started the drive in Smart, which is supposed to automatically adjust depending on how you're driving the Telluride. However, I've found that Smart mode is actually best at producing a delay in powertrain response, so I switched to Comfort mode not long after starting my journey.

2023 Kia Telluride in gray, rear-quarter view.Christian Wardlaw

Based on previous experience with the Telluride, this SUV has plenty of power when a family of four is aboard. This Kia is also quiet on the highway and showcases a smooth ride quality while conveying just enough information about the road surface. While driving at a fast clip in the Texas Hill Country, the Telluride's handling proved predictable and easy to trust. I tried Sport mode for a few miles, and, predictably, it offers quicker powertrain response and heftier steering effort without dramatically altering the SUV's demeanor.

There is, however, a discernible difference between how the X-Line handles on its 245/50R20 all-season tires and how the X-Pro does on 245/60R18 all-terrains. With the latter, there is more road noise at speed and some added body roll in corners, accompanied by a slight loss of grip. You'd need to drive each version back-to-back to notice it, but the X-Pro trim feels less secure and sure-footed in corners.

The two presumably swap positions in the dirt, with the X-Pro the better performer. Kia set up an off-road course designed to showcase the Telluride's moderate off-roading skills, but only the X-Pro models headed into the Texas scrub, so I can't tell you if the all-terrains make a substantial difference or not. However, I can tell you that a Telluride X-Pro is more capable than you might expect, even if it easily puts a wheel or two into the air due to its lack of articulation at each axle. Plus, it offers a forward-facing off-roading camera to help you pick the path of least resistance.

As for the Telluride's efficiency, the X-Line averaged 24.1 mpg in mostly highway driving, beating the official EPA fuel economy estimate of 24 mpg on the highway. The X-Pro flipped that script, landing at 21.4, including half an hour off-roading plus a freeway drive back to San Antonio. That's slightly better than the 21 mpg EPA rating in combined driving.

2023 Kia Telluride in gray, front-quarter view.Christian Wardlaw

Is the 2023 Kia Telluride a Good SUV?

In my opinion, the 2023 Kia Telluride should be on your shopping list if you're considering a new, midsize, three-row crossover SUV. The changes Kia made for the 2023 model year make the SUV better, and while prices have crept higher since the first Telluride went on sale in 2020, it remains a good value in its segment.

Best of all, Kia doesn't need to sell people on this midsize SUV by promoting its excellent warranty coverage. Instead, the Telluride's inherent goodness sells the SUV, which remains in high demand and short supply. Kia's Hirashiki said the company plans to increase production by more than 20% in 2023 and, based on a day driving the new Telluride X-Line and X-Pro in Texas, they shouldn't have any trouble selling all 120,000 examples of them.

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