Considering the amount of time that we spend around here, sifting thanklessly through the latest and greatest in automotive news headlines, it would be dishonest if we acted like it wasn’t sort of a ‘mixed bag’. Walk through our offices, take a poll, establishing each employee’s automotive preferences and you’ll find little overlap. Collectively, we are diverse in our preferences, and in our passions. The upside, of course, is that our readers gain a wide array of well-balanced insights. The downside, however, is that we inevitably end up covering topics that don’t necessarily interest everyone. But every once in a while something comes along and blindsides us, tripping our proverbial trigger and reminding us why we love covering this industry. Enter the 2020 KIA Telluride.
If you’re anything like us, you’re just as surprised by our admission of excitement over a KIA offering but, even in an oversaturated segment, the three-row crossover made an impactful impression at January’s North American International Auto Show and has kept our attention ever since. The fact that it was a faithful continuation of the 2016 teaser that KIA had served up, only served to confirm that they knew they were on to something from the very start.
That said, let’s take a hard look at the luxury-inspired 2020 Telluride, in the hopes of justifying our disappointment in knowing that our human hands only have two thumbs, and we’re unable to stick more of them up in support of KIA.
While no formal release date has been communicated by KIA, the 2020 Telluride will most likely hit dealer floors sometime in the late summer / early fall. Slated to be served up in court trim levels (LX, EX, S and SX) the crossover, if positioned (as expected) above the Sorento will be priced to start somewhere around $35,000 MSRP.
Designing the Telluride
So (setting aside any precedent established by the Stinger) what sort of mindset would compel an automaker primarily known for subtle, unassuming design to get so stylistically ambitious?
According to Kurt Kahl, senior design manager at KIA’s Design Center in Irvine CA, “I tell people that our team designed the Telluride to be the kind of vehicle we would want to own. Pretty much the entire design team here is into adventure sports. We live to ride bikes, surf waves, hike trails. [So] Something that would work with my lifestyle. Something big enough to take all my gear. Something with three rows for my wife and I to take friends out for a fun night.”
Understanding that the SUV segment caters to more than just the outdoor excursionist that exists inside some of us, Kahl’s explanation helps to explain some of the differences in design theory that help to set the Telluride apart from its more prominent competitors.
Admittedly, I’ve never really been drawn to the SUV aesthetic (even less so, to downsized – and sometimes neutered – crossover offerings). But, like a handful of models that have come before it, the Telluride makes a liar of me.
First things first, let’s talk about the size. With a 197-inch length, 114-inch wheelbase and 69.3-inch (floor-to-roof) height, the Telluride is big; in fact , it’s longer than any other class-competing SUV. And the visual width of the Telluride is furthered by the widest-to-date interpretation of KIA’s tiger-nose grille, complete with distinctive brushed-metal detailing that follows an even more widening horizontal theme.
But the width of the Telluride never feels bulky. In fact, KIA’s decision to offset the width with vertically-stacked LED head and taillights, expansive (visually-beneficial) windows and narrow pillars helps to emphasize the vehicle’s competitive height. Factor in the distinctive smoothness of the Telluride’s reflective and texture-less body panels, and KIA has managed to achieve something genuinely unique and evocative of luxury styling.
Targeting a luxury experience, the Telluride boasts incredible choices in terms of both design and quality of materials. Referencing their goal to create a new benchmark, KIA has been inarguably successful. Even at the base trim level, where a fabric interior takes the place of aspirational double-stitched Nappa leather, the lightly-textured material is soft and welcoming. Complimented by the tasteful refinement of the brushed-metal and matte-wood areas, every facet of the Telluride’s cabin is evocative of the aspirational vehicles which helped to inspire it.
And of course, the option of the available dual-sunroof helps to further enhance the spacious interior, making it feel even more open and airy. Whether you choose to configure it for the full eight passengers or the seven accommodated by the 2nd-row captain’s chairs, the Telluride delivers comfort with little-or-no compromise. Thoughtful design, including sound-absorbing materials, anti-noise pads and insulated glass help to minimize road, wind and engine noise, making the cabin about as peaceful as one could ask for.
Climbing under the hood, one might expect to find the conservative four-cylinder that proves all too common in the crossover segment. But KIA’s determination to deliver the confidence and refinement of a V6 only serves to compliment the Telluride’s design. Paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the 3.8-liter direct-injection V6 serves up 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, while empowering a properly-equipped model with up to 5,000 LBS of towing capacity. Optional, is KIA’s Electronic All-Wheel Drive. If chosen, the availability of four distinct drive modes helps the Telluride to feel that much more capable, and unrestricted.
Considering the Telluride
Giving credit where it’s due, the 2020 KIA Telluride succeeds by playing to established strengths and building further upon them to create something with even wider appeal. As ‘no-brainer’ as that strategy might sound, it’s often overlooked by automakers who turn a blind eye to features that customers love, in order to keep things fresh in a new or next-gen offering.
Keep in mind that we didn’t even get into the Tellurides array of advanced safety equipment, driver-assistive features and in-cabin technology. Impressive, even as part of the greater whole, they help to accentuate the countless thoughtful choices made in constructing this luxury-inspired offering.
Bottom-line, KIA has managed to merge the strengths of their branded design philosophy with a clear awareness of what their lineup was missing. The desire to create an accommodating SUV that combined athleticism and luxury proved an admirable goal. But more importantly, their loyalty to the intent is clear in the execution.
Well done, KIA (please don’t gauge our enthusiasm based on our lack of additional thumbs).