Making cars is hard. We know it’s hard because of how many shit shows make it to showroom floors. Teslas that fall apart when it rains too much. Hyundai electric cars that catch on fire. Every first-year Ford. And then, in the eye of this tornado, sits the Kia Telluride. We know that making it was hard, but for it to be so handsome, practical, and desirable out of nowhere makes it all look easy.
Full Disclosure: Kia let me put a startling number of miles (859) on this $48,720 Kia Telluride, driving to the Finger Lakes and back, with some dirt roads and at least one tractor path in the middle. It burned 36.7 gallons of gas along the way, and not a person who saw it didn’t remark on how big it is.
The Kia Telluride is a big three-row crossover from Kia. It looks like a luxury SUV, and we’ve said before that it’s not any worse than a luxury SUV even though it costs half the price. This was a lie. The Telluride comes with heated and cooled seats, but you can’t run them on hot and cold at the same time. That is the mark of true luxury.
There is very little that stands out about the Telluride that is not the Telluride in and of itself. It’s a big, well-shaped box. Every time you look behind you, there is more car. I had all the seats folded down to fit three bicycles in the back and I swear there was an echo.
There is one somewhat interesting bit of tech on the Telluride: Kia’s driver-assist suite that steers for you. I turned it on, marveling at how even Kia has something not unlike the tech you get in a Tesla. I was wrong. This is very much not like driving a Tesla, and feels actively less safe than having the assist off. The Telluride wandered around its lane and wasn’t comfortable with a moment of your hands being off the wheel. I was driving around steering the car with the car sometimes also steering but not how I wanted it to. I will wait until Level Four autonomy comes around and until then I’m steering for myself everywhere but in a traffic jam.
Also it has some really wonderful cameras for viewing around the corners of the car, but it doesn’t really make it any easier to park.
The Telluride captures a feeling of spaciousness I hadn’t experienced since riding around in my buddy’s dad’s 1980s Chevy Suburban. The people sitting next to you are far away in the Telluride, the back of the car is in another state.
In actuality, the Telluride is meaningfully smaller than a new Suburban, or even a Dodge Durango. It’s the same story compared to the current crop of minivans out there like the Toyota Siena, Honda Odyssey, or Chrysler Pacifica.
It’s roughly the same size as other mainstream three-row crossovers like the Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander. It does the same job as those cars, it just doesn’t look like ass. Inside and out, the Telluride is well-trimmed and simple. It’s not a luxury car, but it makes you feel like you’re in one. Not all Kias are like this. When I drove a Seltos, it was nice, but it still signaled that I was driving an economy car. It was a car to use, to use and use up, fully.
In the Telluride, I worried about marring the wood trim, scuffing the leather seats. I cared for this car. The Telluride made me care.
The gas mileage is bad. It’s just not bad enough to care. The Telluride’s MPG isn’t any worse than similar vehicles on the market. Anything that’s not a hybrid these days is stuck in the 20-somethings range of mpg. The Telluride gets 19 city, 24 highway, and I saw right around 23 over some 800-odd miles of mixed driving.
The only way you see a meaningful gain in economy is to go for a hybrid. Even then, a four-cylinder hybrid Highlander with 35 mpg city and highway only saves you about $850 in gas a year, per FuelEconomy.gov.
I will also add that while it is easy to spot other Telluride drivers on the road, they will not wave back to you if you wave to them. There is no Telluride Wave. There is no Telluride solidarity.
I will take “casual” in this case to mean driving the Telluride around as a commuter car. Consider it driven alone or with one other person, running errands, doing the same sort of job any car could do. In these circumstances, the Telluride is annoying. It is annoying when you have to park it and it is annoying when you have to thread past someone else double-parked. The Telluride is big enough that you do ask yourself if some trips are short enough to walk, just so that you don’t have to park.
I will take “aggressive” in this case to mean driving the Telluride as a big ol’ SUV. Consider it driving across a rain-soaked and unplowed field to pick up a spontaneous third bicycle, like a covered truck. Here, the Telluride feels light and small, high off the ground but not tall like it’s on stilts. In truth, the Telluride weighs around 4,300 pounds. A full-size SUV could weigh half a ton more, but not feel any more spacious or capable. A Honda Pilot would do the same job at the same weight, but it will also look like a Honda Pilot. I would find myself in a Telluride.
I will say that in the case that you expect yourself to be hauling seven or eight people in a Telluride, also take a look at the Honda Odyssey. It won’t get better mileage than the Telluride, and it probably won’t rush up to trailheads with as much aplomb, but it will have a lot more kid-focused features. Also a vacuum.
The Telluride’s brief of “be a Highlander that’s not ugly” is, after all that, maybe not the most difficult job and the Kia pulls it off. It’s a visibly nicer vehicle than anything else that it goes up against, looking distinctive and charming, with a well-put-together interior and smooth drive to match. It makes you wonder what everyone else has been doing for years that the Telluride appeared out of nowhere and did it better.