Back in 2019, Kia introduced the world to the Telluride, a full-size, three-row SUV that was big, bold, and boxy, conveying the kind of presence associated with the original SUVs. Our question was whether the latest 2021 Kia Telluride SX AWD lives up to the buzz that the original Telluride generated in 2019.
On paper, the Kia Telluride seemed to check off all the boxes, providing comfortable seating for up to 8-people, a powerful 291 hp 3.8L V6, available active on-demand all-wheel drive, and a low starting price of just $32,190. But would prospective buyers be able to look beyond the Kia badge and appreciate this SUV for what it brings to the table?
If people had any doubts, the numerous awards the Telluride has received certainly took care of that. Motor Trend named it their 2020 SUV of the Year; Car and Driver placed it on their 10 Best list; NACTOY awarded it the 2020 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, and U.S. News & World Report named it the Best 3-Row SUV for Families for two consecutive years. Needless to say, I had to drive the 2021 Kia Telluride for myself and see what all the hype was about.
2021 Kia Telluride Review: Unapologetically Big & Bold
Big and bold is the best way to describe the 2021 Kia Telluride. While many automakers try to make their SUVs more sporty looking (often at the expense of functionality), Kia designers instead opted for a simplistic, refined look that leans into its true purpose as a large people hauler. Maybe I’m crazy, but from some angles, I was getting a bit of a Range Rover vibe.
Though I’m a big fan of the Telluride’s styling, one thing that has always bugged me about the vehicle was the sheer amount of chrome it had. Thankfully, for 2021, Kia has introduced a new Nightfall Edition package ($1,295) that addresses this, replacing all of the shiny stuff with gloss black elements that give the vehicle a more aggressive yet sophisticated look.
Exclusive Nightfall Edition exterior elements include a newly designed black radiator grille, unique 20-inch black wheels with black lug nuts and center caps, gloss black roof rails, gloss black greenhouse trim/lower door side molding, gloss black skid plates, gloss black front bumper side air-duct garnish, gloss black emblems (including unique Kia logos), LED headlamps and fog lamps with black inner bezel, and body-color door handles.
Spacious and Luxurious Interior With Plenty of Tech
The interior of the 2021 Kia Telluride SX AWD is surprisingly nice, with an abundance of premium materials that give it a decidedly upscale feel. There’s double-stitched, quilted Nappa leather trim upholstery, matte-finished wood, brushed metal finishes, heated and ventilated first- and second-row seats, a leather-wrapped, tilt and telescoping steering wheel (which is heated), a 630-watt, 10-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, and more.
My Telluride test ride also had second-row captain chairs, which were sweet. The third row is usable in a pinch, but it’s really best suited for small children.
Kia also packed the Telluride with tons of technology, including a 10.25-inch color touchscreen, the aforementioned Harman/Kardon sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (sadly not wireless), a head-up display, wireless smartphone charging, six USB charging ports (two in each row), 360-degree parking cameras (very handy for a car this large), and more.
Kia also went big on the safety front, most notably with their Kia Drive Wise Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems, which includes all of the usual suspects like Forward Collision Warning, Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist-Rear, Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Parking Distance Warning, and Surround View Monitor.
One notable feature was the Blind Spot View Monitor which uses a system of cameras to display a live camera feed of your blind spot in the central digital portion of the gauge cluster when your turn signal is activated. Another neat feature that you’ll appreciate on long trips is Kia’s Highway Driving Assist, which uses radar to interpret lane markings so the vehicle can control steering, acceleration, and braking to automatically adjust its distance from the vehicle detected ahead.
Lane Following Assist monitors lane markings to help keep the Telluride centered in its lane when Smart Cruise Control is activated. Though it’s not quite on the level of Tesla’s “full self-driving” or GM’s Super Cruise, it’s still very good at what it does, and I used it quite a bit.
Impressive Handling & Adequate Power
On the road, the 2021 Kia Telluride SX AWD was quite enjoyable to drive, with adequate power on tap and impressive handling for a vehicle of this size. Under the hood is a 3.8L V6 engine that puts out 291 hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, which is good for a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 15.4 seconds. Given its weight (4,460 pounds), I felt it could have used a bit more muscle, as it wasn’t super responsive to throttle inputs at speed, especially with a bunch of people in the car.
Handling-wise, the Telluride drives more like a car or small crossover than the large SUV that it really is. Turn-in was crisp, ride quality was on the firmer/harsher side, and body roll was kept to a minimum. Drivers can choose from four drive modes (Smart, Eco, Sport, Comfort), each with different settings for powertrain, drivetrain, and steering effort. I found the steering to be on the tighter side regardless of which mode I was in, though the 20-inch wheels on my tester might be to blame for that.
Mileage is about what you’d expect for this segment, delivering 19/24 mpg city/hwy for the AWD models. I averaged right around 20 mpg during my week with the 2021 Kia Telluride SX AWD. For a large, three-row SUV with a 3.8L V6 under the hood, that’s par for the course.
2021 Kia Telluride SX AWD Lives up to The Hype
Having spent a week with the 2021 Kia Telluride SX AWD, I can now see why some dealerships have a 6+ month waiting list for this SUV because they offer tremendous value through and through. Kia may have been late to the full-size SUV segment, but it’s clear that they did their homework. And they really knocked it out of the park with the Telluride.
The 2021 Kia Telluride has a starting price of $32,190, while a fully-loaded example like the one I test drove will set you back $47,550. In terms of bang for the buck, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better value SUV out there. So if you’re in the market for a full-size SUV and this 2021 Kia Telluride review doesn’t have you convinced, you should definitely test-drive the Telluride and see what all the fuss is about.