2021 Kia Telluride — Perhaps the best, affordable mid-sized SUV you can buy

By Jim Prueter

(February 17, 2021) Last year, Kia introduced its all-new Telluride three-row midsized SUV to rave reviews, multiple “best of” awards and consumers lining up with cash in hand to purchase. Motor Trend named Telluride its 2020 SUV of the Year. Perhaps even more prestigious, it took top honors as the 2020 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year.

Overflowing with attractive styling, a long list of standard equipment, technology and safety features, and seating for up to eight, we deemed it the best of the best in its class, all at a value price.

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 with a more aggressive look thanks to its blacked-out grille, 20-inch wheels, and several special trim elements. It’s only available with all-wheel drive.

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

Kia supplied us with the range-topping SX trim with all-wheel drive, starting at $44,090 excluding a $1,170 shipping and handling charge. Additional equipment includes 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 MSRP of $48,720.

The Telluride is the largest Kia ever offered, larger — much larger — than the hugely popular Kia Sorento. Telluride is eight inches longer and four inches wider, with a wheelbase that stretches nearly five inches farther. With room and seating for up to eight, Telluride is a few inches longer than Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander. It’s not quite Tahoe size, but it’s very close and on par with Ford Explorer.

The bold design is one which Kia itself describes as “boxy.” There’s no sloping, hatchback-like roofline to rob interior space. The back is as squared off as the front, with attractive, inverted L-shaped rear tail lamps that only serve to emphasize its boxiness and width.

Inside, we appreciate that practicality hasn’t replaced comfort. The instrument panel is wide, simplistic, with classy open-pore wood that resembles reclaimed driftwood. It’s adorned with brushed silver metallic trim and switchgear that looks expensive and well made. A 10.25-inch widescreen display sits atop the dash, while the steering wheel’s crisp buttons do nothing to dilute the luxury feel. There’s also a 630-watt, 10-speaker Harman-Kardon audio system, SIRIUSXM, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay Smartphone integration, wireless charging and six USB ports.

Other standard niceties that are certain to please include side window curtains on rear doors, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, front power tilt and sliding sunroof with a fixed rear sunroof, smart (hands-free) power rear liftgate, tri-zone automatic climate control, surround-view cameras and blind-spot view monitor, parking-distance warning, and second-row captain chairs that replace the bench seat.

Advanced safety features abound, including forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, rear-occupant alert with ultrasonic sensors that alert the driver when a child or pet is still in the vehicle. There’s also safe exit alert that prevents the doors from opening if an approaching vehicle is coming alongside the Telluride. This keeps kids from bolting out of the vehicle and into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Driver and passenger visibility is superb.

Power comes from a responsive 3.8-liter V-6 engine with 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft of torque, paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Four trim levels are offered in both front- and all-wheel drive.

Telluride is a supremely relaxing and comfortable to drive and/or ride in. The suspension soaks up bumps, potholes and other pavement imperfections efficiently and with a quiet cabin at all speeds.

We do note that the Telluride, even with its all-wheel drive configuration, is not designed for off-roading beyond the occasional gravel, sand dune or muddy trails and is best left for snowy road assistance. There’s a button the center console that allows the driver to lock the center differential to send equal power to front and rear wheels for snowy/slippery road conditions.

Seats are wide and comfortable and there’s ample leg, hip, shoulder and head room that will suit most occupants. The second row is especially spacious and generous, and seats can slide for/aft and recline for added comfort. There is also a one-button solution to move the second-row seats forward and out of the way, clearing a path to the low-perched third row. It’s best left for the kids to occupy. A USB port located on one side of each of the two front seats makes charging phones easy for second-row passengers, and they have their own climate controls, too.

The most amazing thing about the new Telluride is its absolutely impressive driving, handling, and ride character. Last year we declared it the most impressive SUV we tested all year, at any price point and we maintain that opinion for 2021. Although it shares significant components with equally impressive Hyundai Palisade. The vehicles are a toss-up, and one would choose on the basis of overall design preference.

The Telluride is a superb midsize SUV that’s roomy, has a large cargo hold, a long warranty, excellent predicted reliability rating, and bests anything in its class.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $32,190 - $42,490
Price as Tested: $48,720
Powertrain: 291-hp 3.8-liter V6 connected with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel Economy: 19-mpg city – 24-mpg highway – 21-mpg combined
Seating: 7 or 8

Where Built: West Point, Georgia, USA

Crash Test Results: The Kia Telluride has earned the highest overall 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a 2020 Top safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Competes With:
Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Traverse
Dodge Durango
Ford Explorer
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Palisade
Hyundai Santa FE
Mazda CX-9
Toyota Highlander
Volkswagen Atlas

Fab Features
Looks and feels far more expensive than it is
Loaded with advanced tech and safety features
Most impressive drive, ride and handling characteristics