Kia is not a luxury brand, but you wouldn’t know that after a ride in their new 2020 Telluride.
Kia has always been known as an affordable brand, always happy to provide transportation to the masses. Some might even call it a bargain brand.
The Korean company doesn’t have a luxury division, like many of its competitors, and has never referred to any of their offerings as anything pretentious.
But somebody obviously didn’t relay the brand image to the team that designed the three-row Telluride, the company’s largest offering.
Soon after it launched, the SUV started getting a lot of attention unexpectedly.
If there were advertisements, I must have missed them. If there was a grand review, I don’t know anything about it.
The buzz around the Telluride went from a murmur to a roar simply based on word of mouth.
Last week an independent jury of 50 automotive journalists named the Telluride the 2020 North American Utility of the Year.
The Telluride did so by beating out another SUV from a recognized luxury brand.
The Telluride is a seven- or eight-passenger SUV starting from $44,995.
There are four trim levels, starting with the EX. I drove the next model up, the SX, which has a list price of $49,995.
There is only one engine, a naturally aspirated 3.8-litre V-6 producing 291 horsepower and 262 pounds-feet of torque. Power is transferred to the ground via an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive. There are four drive modes — Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart. You can further customize the AWD system to Snow, Mud or Sand to conform to road conditions.
The powertrain is both powerful and smooth. It accelerates briskly to speed. But, more importantly, it felt relaxed, with both low engine noise and transmission shift points.
Along with low road and wind noise, the cabin is a serene sanctuary on the highway.
This is no canyon carver, but even in corners, there is minimal body roll.
Equipment-wise, even the base model has an impressive list of standard features. The SX adds premium items such as a Harman/Kardon sound system, imposing 20-inch wheels, dual sunroofs, a 360-degree camera setting and leather seating.
There is room for eight occupants when equipped with a second-row bench seat, or seven when configured with two captain’s chairs instead. The interior is comfortably roomy, with ample leg room for passengers and still room to carry suitcases behind the third row.
A 10.25-inch touchscreen (it’s more rectangular than square) anchors the centre console. The bright display showcases the comprehensive infotainment suite in the best light. It also serves as the screen for the 360-degree camera. Worth mentioning is the fact that the vehicle’s forward camera comes on when you put it in drive.
While this might be distracting for some, if you have ever nosed into traffic around large vehicles parked on either side, the ability to peek around the obstruction is priceless.
Engage the turn signal and another screen activates — the one between the speedometer and tachometer directly in front of you. The turn signal activates the camera imbedded in the outside mirror, giving you a wide-angle view of your blind spot.
The driver assistance suite builds on the safety aspects, with automated emergency braking (with pedestrian detection), lane departure warning and lane-keep assist.
On the highway you can feel the vehicle tugging to keep you in your lane. If you have built up enough confidence in the vehicle, you might be tempted to take your hands off the wheel — the vehicle senses this and will sternly tell you to grip the steering wheel again.
So far, the Telluride has the power and the equipment, but it really scores big in poise and attitude.
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the Telluride does attract a fair number of admiring stares. The designers nailed it with its tall and boxy shape. While it is priced to sell against Toyotas and Hondas, its overall look is more akin to a Range Rover or Cadillac Escalade (a smaller version anyway), especially in a dark colour.
The interior is equally inviting. Attention to detail, from the largest knob to the smallest (USB power plugs on the backs of the seats for the rear passengers), is simply over the top.
The Telluride is essentially a luxury vehicle in everything but name. It deserves its North American Utility of the Year award and its role in elevating the image of the whole brand. I know I will look at Kias in a different light after this.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Full-sized, seven to eight passenger three-row SUV, front engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.8-litre V-6, 291 hp at 6,000 r.p.m., 262 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,200 r.p.m.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Dimensions (mm): Length, 5,000; width, 1,990; height, 1,759; wheelbase, 2,900
Curb weight (kg): 2,018
Price: (base/as tested): $49,995/ $52,240 (includes $1,895 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Options: Metallic paint $250
Tires: 245/50 R20 on alloy wheels
Fuel type: Regular
Fuel economy (L/100km): 12.5 city/ 9.6 highway
Warranty: Five years/100,000 km new car and powertrain and five years/ unlimited km roadside assistance