2019 Kia Telluride first drive: Open wide for the Telluride
Everyone knows that crossovers are the only things people are buying nowadays. Soon, the entire planet will be covered in them. The last sedan will have been buried in a brief but touching ceremony in Detroit, its carcass and platform long-ago transferred to a vehicle of similar wheelbase but with one inch more ground clearance and a hell of a lot more interior volume. It’s what the people want.
So given that marketplace, Kia is smart to introduce the 2019 Telluride. Yes, this move is much smarter than when Kia introduced the even bigger and now long-forgotten V8-powered Borrego in 2009. That rare and ancient SUV was a victim of both poor timing –- the economy crashed at almost the exact same time it debuted -– and a heavy and roughriding body-on-frame construction. The Telluride is better than that, at least by the standards of what buyers want nowadays.
Kia's Telluride rides on a tight-and-tidy Sonata unibody chassis, like its platform twin the Hyundai Palisade. The Telluride features a unique and stylishly appealing exterior, with a grille that stands out in a nice way in this age of grilles that look like they want to eat both you and your house pets. And the interior is slathered in metal and wood so good you’ll never guess they’re not metal and wood.
The Telluride comes in your choice of front- or all-wheel drive but with just one engine, a gasoline direct-injected 3.8-liter V6 making 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. That’s more displacement than rivals Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot, but the Highlander’s 3.5-liter V6 beats it in horsepower by four ponies. I guarantee you no one’s going to notice that four-point deficit unless soccer moms (or dads) decide to have a once-and-for-all drag race out of the Montesorri parking lot. But then you get into curb weights and power-to-weight ratios and reaction times and hey, she cheated, she redlighted, man, didn’t you see it?
One place where the Telluride shines is interior volume -- it has 178.1 cubic feet of room, more than any other midsize SUV on the market. It’s more than 20 cubic feet larger inside than the two competitors mentioned above and more even than the Chevy Tahoe. Seating inside can be ordered for seven or eight, depending on whether you go for a bench seat or captain's chairs in the second row. All the back seats fold flat to open up enough space for a big stack of 4x8 sheets of plywood, the metric of practicality now among large vehicles. Flipped back up, all rows provide room enough for real adults to sit in them, even the third row.
Crossover shoppers nowadays are in love with electronic, infotainment and safety features and the Telluride won’t disappoint them. There are more acronyms inside the Telluride than on a government RFP. Along with standards like Lane Keep Assist, Automatic Emergency Braking, and Smart Cruise with Stop & Go, there are some new ones like Safe Exit Assist, which uses rear sensors to prevent you or your rear-seat passenger from opening the traffic-side door if there’s a car or a bike approaching; and Rear Occupant Alert to let you know if you left your schnauzer in the car by accident.
In a brilliant stroke of irony, Kia took us to a spot in Colorado right under a geologic promontory called the Palisade (Telluride’s Hyundai platform-mate) and had us drive from there to – duh – Telluride. The obviousness of this routing was forgivable since it went right through some of the most beautiful country in the world, so I wasn’t going to complain.
At first I tried out Kia’s take on semi-autonomous Level 2 driving, called Highway Drive Assist. I tried it out for a couple miles before finally going insane and switching it off. This isn’t Kia’s fault. These systems should either drive for us or they should not drive for us, but right now we are in a purgatory where technology is not allowed to do what itcan do and therefore it does nothing really helpful. Again, not Kia’s fault -- all manufacturers struggle to balance what government regulations allow with what systems can obviously do.
Next, I switched the drive mode to Sport, since there were some fairly nice twisty roads coming up. Sport seemed to be the best of the four driving modes available, allowing reasonable feel through the steering and the best response from the throttle and brakes. My driving partner complained that it was “too touchy” in Sport mode, but what does he know? For something that weighs between 4,112 and 4,482 pounds (the Telluride, not the co-pilot) it didn’t feel bad. Body roll was not intrusive and not once did I get the front wheels to squeal on pavement. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough.
Another thing that impresses about the Telluride is the noise level; it’s really quiet in there. No road noise, wind noise or engine noise. Or almost none. Well-done Kia!
When my co-pilot took over I crawled in back and tried out the second- and third-row seats. The second row was captain's chairs and they were about as comfortable as you could ask for. This Telluride was a loaded SX with Prestige Package, heated and ventilated seats, premium nappa leather, USB ports galore and my own personal moon roof. The third row was maybe the best of these things I’ve sat in. My ridiculous 6’1” gangling frame fit, despite my tunafish-like torso. From way back in the wayback I had the driver try out the Quiet Mode, which cut the second- and third-row speakers in this trim level’s 630-watt, ten-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system and, indeed, I coulda slept back there. But I didn’t because this drive was way too scenic.
We rolled into Telluride just after noon, and one kid actually pointed to the big letters on the leading edge of the hood and we could see him mouth the word, “Telluride,” thus making the whole program worth it.
On the drive back we took a couple-mile detour on a dirt road. The Telluride has eight inches of ground clearance and, in our SX model, it also had all-wheel drive, so you could feel fairly confident going around in the dirt and extending your adventuring beyond what you might try in a sedan, for instance. The dirt road was freshly graded, wide and flat, so, naturally, I switched off traction control and tried a few Scandanavian flicks. While the back end did slide around maybe three inches when really pushed, it was hard to make such a sedate crossover flail.
All too soon we were back under The Palisade and handing the Telluride back to Kia, the better for the experience.
The midsize crossover/SUV class is pretty dang big. Kia lists 17 entries from the Dodge Durango to the Volkswagen Atlas as competitors. A lot of them are body on frame, but I’d say you could cross-shop a Telluride with the aforementioned Pilot and Highlander, as well as the Mazda CX-9 and Subaru Ascent, all fine competitors to the Kia and maybe all on the sportier side of the segment.
Telluride pricing ranges from $32,735 to $44,535, including destination. With the Telluride you get a stylish exterior with more room inside than anyone else offers. Plus, it’s named after a cool location. So take your Chevy Monte Carlo or Biscayne down to your Kia dealer and trade it in. Then drive to Colorado.