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Kia Telluride mixes fun with practicality

In the final installment of the four-part test of big honking SUVs, the all-new Kia Telluride goes a step beyond the competition in many aspects. Still, it can't compete for all-out spaciousness and towing.

The 2020 Kia Telluride takes a boxy approach to the three-row midsize SUV. It’s hard to keep from seeing an old International Travelall.
The 2020 Kia Telluride takes a boxy approach to the three-row midsize SUV. It’s hard to keep from seeing an old International Travelall.Read moreKia

2019 Buick Enclave Premium vs. 2019 Ford Expedition vs. 2019 Toyota Sequoia vs. 2020 Kia Telluride: When you need some space.

This week: 2020 Kia Telluride.

Price: $47,310 as tested. $210 for floor mats, $115 for cargo mat, and $450 for interior lighting. One big package is outlined below.

Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend says, “The rest of the midsize crossover segment better look out.”

Marketer’s pitch: “No holding back.”

Reality: On the down side, it’s not as beefy as the others, but on the plus side, it’s not as beefy as the others.

What’s new: The whole thing. It’s a new three-row SUV with a squared-off rugged look and the appearance of a vehicle ready to take on the toughest of terrains.

So how does this new beast work out?

Up to speed: The 3.8-liter V-6 provides 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It offers great performance from a standing start — 0 to 60 in 7.2 seconds, according to Motor Trend. The Kia is definitely losing this race.

But as my time in the Mazda3 reminded me, driving is about more than just starting from a red light as fast as possible; it’s about being comfortable accessing Interstate highways and passing before the left lane closes.

In those areas, the Telluride shines. We loaded the three-row up with the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and Sturgis Kids 1.0 and 4.0, and performance never seemed to suffer. (I only wish I could have arranged more passengers, but it was not to be.)

On the road: The Telluride’s handling impressed me right out of the starting gate. It runs rings around the Sorento — and all the other beasts we compared for this long, drawn-out test — for road handling and ride. The country road that leads out of our development features several uneven turns and dips, and the Telluride didn’t feel wobbly or bouncy over any of them.

A rare trip along 422 from King of Prussia to Reading was smoothed out by the Telluride suspension — BTW, folks commuting there really need to demand a new road; that stretch is horrible.

Handling was confident for a large SUV, and Sport mode didn’t offer sportiness so much as the feel of control. Smart mode also made for decent ride; Eco mode sapped a lot of the power.

For weekenders, the Telluride can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

High tech: The Telluride featured Kia’s Highway Driving Assist, which is a subtle form of lane-keeping that works pretty nicely. A small green steering wheel icon alerts the driver when the system is active, and then steering becomes much easier. (It can actually steer itself, but I wouldn’t recommend it.)

Shifty: The 8-speed automatic transmission worked flawlessly throughout the week of testing. Its shift capability is only through the shift lever, but it functioned nicely as well, although rowing is a bit of a pain.

Friends and stuff: We managed to visit with Sturgis Brother 1.0 and his better half and did a side-by-side comparison with his Durango. While the Durango offers four-wheel drive and more heavy-duty capabilities, the Telluride is more accessible from the street. It also offers more legroom for second-row passengers.

The middle-row captain chairs move forward and back for maximum passenger room. Headroom, foot room, and legroom are all quite nice. The Nappa leather seats offer heating and cooling in first and second rows, part of the $2,000 SX Prestige Package, which also adds head-up display, and rain-sensing wipers. (Boo! These never work right.)

Rear-seat passengers will be a little cramped, with tight knees, feet, and heads. I’d like to see three people sit comfortably side by side back there as well.

Driver’s Seat: The Telluride features many of Kia’s tried-and-true features, from the speedometer typeface to the function of the information systems. It’s clear and easy to operate.

Play some tunes: The infotainment system also resembles most other Kias, and the touchscreen functions well. Dials control volume and tuning, and big, unfussy buttons change the source and function easily.

The stereo performance is about an A-; songs sound clear and well-reproduced but don’t have that certain goose-bump inducement, which is more a luxury-brand item.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 21 mpg in week that included a lot of time on country roads in northern Pennsylvania (forgot my EZ Pass!) and a lot of stop-and-go traffic as well. Feed the Telluride whatever.

Where it’s built: The Telluride hails from the West Point, Ga., factory.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts its reliability will be a 3 out of 5.

In the end: Though the Expedition hauls the most and offers the most room, it’s really the next size up from the rest of the crowd. Its transmission makes me nervous, as Ford has a history of transmission woes.

The Sequoia does almost everything the Expedition does, and it will probably last half of forever, but it’s just so outdated.

If you don’t need the full complement of towing features and dirt-road capabilities, the Telluride will just be so much easier to live with on a daily basis.