Update: Since this first drive was published in April 2019, we have finished testing. See the complete Kia Telluride road test.

Kia’s newest SUV joins an incredibly crowded—and growing—market as Americans continue to turn away from cars and embrace SUVs of all sizes and shapes to get around.

But as we’ve seen from other automakers, not every new entry comes ready to compete. Kia seems to have gotten it right with the Telluride, which so far seems to be a formidable contender for any family considering a three-row SUV. We don’t think there’s a lot of “wow” here, but we were impressed overall by its competence, high level of standard features, and easy drivability.

The Telluride competes against the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander, among others.

We’ve already put a thousand miles on the Telluride, and here are our first impressions. 

2020 Kia Telluride front driving

What we bought: 2020 Kia Telluride EX AWD
Powertrain: 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $39,090
Options: $720 (Snow White pearl paint, carpeted floor mats, cargo tray)
Destination fee: $1,045
Total cost: $40,855 

What We Like . . . So Far

It seems clear that Kia took family traveling needs as a focus when it came to designing the Telluride. Let’s take the second row as a prime example:

  • There’s a USB port on one side of each of the two front-row seats, making charging phones easy for second-row passengers.
  • The rear climate controls are located on the ceiling above the second row; that’s an easy reach for adults, but it also keeps the controls away from immature hands that might want to play with them. Second-row passengers can set their own temperatures and fan speed, and can decide whether the vents blow from the ceiling or near the floor.
  • If the kids need to get back to the third row, a one-button solution is on each side of the Telluride. It lowers the seatback halfway, then pushes the seat itself forward, making a path to the rear. It’s pretty slick.

That second row also supports good posture, our testers found, with seats high enough off the floor to provide adequate thigh support, which isn’t always the case for the Telluride’s competitors.

The controls up front continue Kia’s track record of having buttons and knobs that are easy to see and use. Our Telluride has the 10.25-inch touch screen, which is easy to operate and quick to respond. If drivers choose Apple CarPlay (which comes standard, along with Android Auto), the navigation screen is impressively large. Note, though, that it can be a reach, particularly for tall drivers who sit farther back.


So far, the driving experience has been good. The powertrain is smooth, quick, and punchy, and we found that the ride absorbs bumps easily. There is some body lean when taking corners, but it wasn’t as pronounced as in the Subaru Ascent, a natural competitor.

The materials used in the interior are good, with a mix of soft-touch surfaces, imitation wood, and some chrome touches.

Even though the Kia is a large vehicle, visibility is good, thanks to the large windows, making parking maneuvers easy.

Finally, there’s plenty of cargo space in the back, particularly with the third row down. Speaking of which, the second-row seats can be lowered by pressing a button in the rear cargo area when needed. That’s great when the cargo is just a bit too long to sit behind the second row.

2020 Kia Telluride interior

What We Don’t Like

Overall, there isn’t a lot to complain about with the Telluride.

As with many SUVs, the third row is primarily for kids, but the Telluride’s was competitive with its peers. The bench sits low to the floor, meaning there’s not much thigh and knee support, and the seats themselves are thin.

There is a row of faux metal buttons under the infotainment screen, which we found hard to read because of their lack of contrast. That might be a little off-putting, and we’re a little concerned about how they’ll age. Plus, the audio system’s tuning knob may be in a different area code from the steering wheel.

The hood is very high, and was difficult for some of our drivers to see over and determine where the bumper is when parking. And the grab handles between the front seats—meant, we think, to suggest ruggedness—cut into the knee space for some drivers. 

What We’ll Keep an Eye On

We’ll see how the Telluride does on fuel economy in testing at our Auto Test Center in Connecticut.

As mentioned above, handling is not the Telluride’s strong suit in everyday driving. We’ll see how it fares in our avoidance maneuver, meant to simulate an emergency swerve around an object in the road.  

2020 Kia Telluride rear

CR’s Take

It’s early yet, but so far, the Telluride seems like a strong contender in this class. It’s a very good value, with tons of standard safety and convenience features included at a price of about $41,000. That’s certainly not cheap, but compared with others in this class, we think it's a pretty good deal, especially when you consider that advanced safety features come standard on every trim of the Telluride. These features include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, blind spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning with braking.

See the complete Kia Telluride road test.