Kia Telluride — Award-winning crossover

2021 Kia Telluride Nightfall Edition

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(July 22, 2021) The mid-sized three-row Telluride crossover SUV has been a huge hit for Kia from the standpoint of awards, favorable press reviews, and — more importantly — excellent sales. Customers are flocking to Kia stores to check out and purchase the Telluride since its inception almost two years ago as a 2020 model


In its first model year Telluride won Motor Trend's prestigious SUV of the Year award, Kelley Blue Book named it The Best New Model for 2020, and — maybe even more prestigious — it took top honors as the 2020 North American Utility of the Year. It's even getting accolades as a used car. Autotrader recently named it one of its 10 Best Used Cars of 2021.

On the sales front, Kia sold 45,438 Tellurides for the first six months of 2021, twice as many as sold in the first six months of the 2020 pandemic year.  

For the 2021 model year, Telluride is almost exclusively a carryover vehicle. The biggest change is the new Nightfall Edition on EX and SX trims with stealth-black elements for a more aggressive look thanks to its blacked-out grille, 20-inch black wheels, and several special trim elements. It’s only available with all-wheel drive.

Other tweaks for 2021 include minor enhancements like a remote engine start button on the key fob, LED headlamps standard in the EX Premium Package, and two new exterior colors.

Prior to 2020, the Sorento had been Kia's only three-row entry in the hot mid-sized crossover sweepstakes, but the Telluride trumps the Sorento in both interior volume (178.1 cubic feet vs. 154) and maximum cargo space with 87 cubic feet of storage compared to 73. In fact, the Telluride has more interior volume than virtually any competitor including the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and the 2020 Ford Explorer.

As with most Kia products these days, the Telluride is a handsome vehicle — unique and stylishly appealing with a more squared off appearance than many of its competitors and with just the right amount of character lines and body jewelry. The Kia-style grille is fashionable without resorting to the big mouth look of so many of the newer rides. The big black 20-inch wheels on our test vehicle helped give it a very macho look from the side.

Under the hood is a healthy 3.8-liter V-6 making 291 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 263 foot-pounds of torque at 5,200 rpm routed through an 8-speed automatic transmission. This sounds like an ample amount, but considering the Telluride weighs in at 4,354 pounds in all-wheel drive configuration, it takes a lot of horses to get the job down. And it does get the jobs of passing, merging, hauling and towing accomplished in a fist-rate fashion. For the numbers people, this translates into 7.1 seconds from 0-to-60.

In addition to its ability to haul up to eight passengers in bench-seat configuration, the Telluride sports a very useable 5,000-pound towing capacity with a 1,261-pound maximum payload while getting an EPA-rated 19 mpg in city driving, 24 on the highway and 21 combined on regular gas in AWD configuration. If you don't need AWD, you will gain a bit of mileage — 20 city, 26 highway and 23 combined in front-wheel drive.

The bottom line is that the Telluride feels good behind the wheel with excellent road manners and great outward visibility. Kia says it has created a strong, torsionally rigid body structure resulting in a big vehicle that is agile and fun to drive on all manner of roads including the winding and twisting variety.

There are four driving modes available including Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart. AWD has a snow setting and an AWD lock setting which delivers power evenly to all four wheels. As you might expect, we went straight for the sport setting, which changes the transmission shift points and it did give the big crossover a bit more performance feel. While it helped on the twisting roads we found Sport a bit too intrusive for everyday driving, and reverted to Normal when we weren't all about driving fast and hard.

Seating can be ordered for seven or eight people with adequate room in the third row for adults — at least for short trips. You can order two comfortable captain's chairs in the second row — that would be our preference — but if you absolutely need the maximum passenger configuration, Kia has a second-row bench seat available.

The Telluride comes in four well-equipped trim levels — LX, S, EX and SX.  Standard equipment on all models includes 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors, selectable drive modes, five USB charge ports, an eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a six-speaker stereo with satellite radio.

Standard advanced safety features include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and a drowsy driver warning system. Also standard across the lineup is adaptive cruise control.

The luxurious SX trim comes with LED headlights and foglights, dual sunroofs, power liftgate, 10.3-inch touchscreen, front parking sensors, an upgraded driver information display, interior ambient lighting, driver-seat memory functions, the second-row captain's chairs, a surround-view parking camera system, and an excellent 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system. It also receives a blind-spot camera system, automatic high beams and a low-level automated highway driving system.

Our test vehicle was the top trim SX Prestige package edition with all-wheel drive, starting at $44,090 excluding a $1,170 shipping and handling charge. Additional equipment included the $2,300 SX Prestige package with Nappa leather seat trim, heated and ventilated second row seats, head-up display, and rain-sensing wipers. It also came with the optional self -leveling towing package ($795), carpeted floor mats and a cargo cover for a total price of $48,720.

2021 Kia Telluride


Base price: $34,015 as driven, $48,720
Engine: 3.8 liter V-6
Horsepower: 291 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 262 foot-pounds @ 5,200 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 114.2 inches
Length: 196.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,354 pounds
Turning circle: 38.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 21 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 87 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 18.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 19 city, 24 highway, 21 combined
Also consider: Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer

The Good
• Healthy V-6 engine
• Spacious interior
• Full range of safety features
• Long-term warranty

The Bad
• AWD is a pricey $2,000 upgrade

The Ugly
• Only one engine available