Sometimes—as fans of cars and people who consider themselves read-up on the happenings of the automotive industry—we forget the general public isn’t on the same page as us. By now, those of us who are plugged in know that the South Korean automakers have been kicking absolute ass when it comes to delivering cars people want to buy at prices they’re willing to pay. It’ll take a bit longer before the less enlightened will think to utter “Kia” in the same sentence as “Toyota.” But if Kia keeps up on delivering quality stuff like the 2023 Kia Telluride, it’ll only be a matter of time.
One of the hottest-selling things on the automotive market right now is a mid-size SUV with three rows of seats. Make it attractively styled and reasonably affordable and you’ve got a winning formula—to the point where Kia could not make enough Tellurides to keep up with demand.
If the Telluride’s existing popularity is anything to go by, all Kia has to do is not mess anything up with this 2023 refresh. Contrary to popular belief, lightning can and often will strike twice in the same place, and Kia’s currently standing outside with a lightning rod raised higher than anyone else.
2023 Kia Telluride Review Specs
- Base price (SX X-Line AWD as tested): $37,025 ($54,120)
- Powertrain: 3.8-liter V6 | 8-speed automatic | front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 291 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
- Seating capacity: 7 or 8, depending on trim
- Ground clearance: 8.4 inches
- Curb weight: 4,378 pounds
- Behind second row: 46 cubic feet
- Behind third row: 21 cubic feet
- Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
- Off-road angles: 17.7° approach | 23° departure
- FWD: 20 mpg city | 26 highway | 23 combined
- AWD: 18 mpg city | 24 highway | 21 combined
- Quick take: The facelifted Telluride gives established luxury brands a run for their money through consistent quality, comfort, and style.
- Score: 8.5/10
Positioned above the smaller Sorento SUV, the three-row Telluride is Kia’s biggest SUV. It first went on sale in 2019 and just recently underwent a refresh for the 2023 model year, which brings an updated front and rear fascia and interior, and two new trims—X-Line and X-Pro—meant for light off-roading.
The exterior changes are admittedly very minor. The headlight signature is now two vertical lines and no longer amber, and there are new grille and wheel designs. However, the Telluride still maintains its handsomely blocky styling, which I suspect will help it age quite well. The X-line test car I drove had raised roof rails, trim-exclusive 20-inch wheels, and body-color door handles. As an added bonus, the Wolf Gray-painted exterior was fantastic at hiding road grime.
Curved, dual 12.3-inch displays are perhaps the biggest change to the interior. Before, the Telluride had that ugly screen-tacked-on-top-of-the-dashboard look; now, it’s much cleaner and far easier to read. Furthermore, the HVAC vent shapes have been streamlined slightly. Second-row passengers can settle into either a three-person bench seat or two individual captain’s chairs, and third-row passengers get a three-person bench as the only option.
The powertrain goes unchanged: a 3.8-liter naturally aspirated V6 is the only engine available and is paired with an eight-speed automatic which sends power either to the front wheels or all four wheels, depending on which trim you select.
Driving the Kia Telluride
Curiously, despite its 8.4 inches of ground clearance, I didn’t need to climb that far up to get into the Telluride. In its highest setting for a shortie like me, the seat wasn’t a huge step up, something that made ingress and egress thoughtlessly simple. For the slower and around-town stuff, the Telluride has that lumbering quality that’s common to comfort-oriented SUVs. All experienced feedback is soft: gentle brakes, light steering, cushy suspension, smoothly imperceptible transmission shifts. It’s not slow, though; there’s plenty of power from the V6 to get it moving. Not once did I feel like I couldn’t pass or merge safely. The tester’s 360-degree camera made parallel parking a breeze and visibility—owing to the big and upright windshield—was clear and unhindered.
Where the Telluride really shone was on the highway. There, the transmission parked itself in eighth gear and the engine spun quietly in the background. Decent NVH cut down on road and wind noise, and the car became a big and comfortable rolling house that treated my passengers to excellent legroom and top-notch naps. A sense of security emanated from the Telluride, like it was content to cruise and not much could upset it while it performed this task. There is an “eco” mode for more efficient driving, which is what I used during most of my loan. I did most of my driving on highways, and by the end of my trip, the car’s trip computer reported an average of 22.8 mpg.
And because it’s a Kia/Hyundai product, the Telluride came equipped with the automaker’s excellent Highway Driving Assist system. With radar cruise control on and lane-keeping activated, all I had to do was keep my hands on the wheel and an eye out while the car did the rest. It watched all the other cars in neighboring lanes and smoothly adjusted its speed to fit with the flow of traffic.
The Highs and Lows
“This is like a Range Rover!” were my dad’s first words when he climbed into the passenger seat. Indeed, the test car was covered in plush tan leather, brushed metal accents, and what appeared to be open-pore wood. The whole thing was incredibly upscale to the sight and touch, and it was with a certain smugness that I reminded myself that I was sitting in a Kia. The interior layout was intuitive and accommodating, and the wide, single-slab screen offered clear and easy-to-read displays. As with the Kia Sorento I tested earlier this year, the second row offered lots of room and relaxing seats. All in all, this is not a place you’d mind spending a few hours in as the miles fell away.
Though the Telluride technically has a third-row bench seat, it’d be a pretty tight squeeze if you wanted to truly fit three adults back there. You could do it, certainly, but after I climbed back there myself, I thought my parents’ 2018 Chevy Traverse has a bigger and more accommodating third row.
Kia Telluride Features, Options, and Competition
Base LX-trim Tellurides come with the V6, the eight-speed transmission, front-wheel drive, the 12.3-inch touchscreen, cruise control, a suite of driver safety features, and can seat eight passengers via a second-row bench seat. MSRP for those starts at $37,025. The test car came in the upper-tier SX X-Line AWD trim—which includes 20-inch black alloy wheels, X-Line exterior styling, a tow mode, and self-leveling rear suspension—and had a starting MSRP of $53,120. After options such as the Wolf Gray exterior paint ($495), Terracotta Interior Color Package ($295), and carpeted floor mats ($210), total vehicle MSRP came to $54,120.
As for the competition, the Kia Sorento ($31,285 starting MSRP) has more powertrain options, you can get the Dodge Durango ($40,090 starting MSRP) with a V8, the Honda Pilot ($39,375 starting MSRP) is roomier, the Mazda CX-9 ($40,025 starting MSRP) is more stylish but offers far less interior room, and it seems like everyone has the Toyota Highlander ($37,755 starting MSRP). There’s a reason why the Highlander and Pilot are perennial favorites (price, space, reliability, you name it), but if you’re looking to break free of what the masses are doing, the Telluride offers a nice alternative.
Unfortunately, the Telluride does appear to lag behind its competitors when it comes to efficiency. That big V6 just can’t compete with the smaller engines in the Highlander and Pilot.
I’d hoped that with the Telluride refresh, Kia would also give us a few different engine options. Perhaps a weaker but more efficient four-cylinder or a hybrid or plug-in hybrid option like the Sorento’s got. But, no. The only engine available is the aged V6 which gets belowish-average gas mileage for an SUV of this size and weight. Recently, however, Toyota added a four-cylinder engine to its Highlander lineup, so it’s possible that Kia could do the same in the future.
Value and Verdict
Price-wise, the Telluride is a pretty good deal against the competition. It's priced below basically every single competitor that I listed, and the only reason the Sorento is cheaper is because it’s a tiny bit smaller (and has a rather pitiably sized cargo area). Even optioned out the wazoo, as the test vehicle was, I still felt like it justified the asking price. Indeed, it did feel like a $50,000 car. The interior was certainly on par with some of the BMWs and Lexuses I’ve driven.
Look, if you can get your hands on a 2023 Kia Telluride, do it. It’s a marvelously comfortable and attractive vehicle that gets around with good ground clearance and all-wheel drive. While its third row may be a little smaller than other three-row SUVs and it could use a more efficient engine, the fact remains that it’s Kia’s third best-selling vehicle (behind the Forte and Sportage). With this refresh, Kia left much untouched because it knows a good thing when it sees one. So do all of you, apparently.
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