By Derek Price
Now entering its second year of production, the Kia Telluride feels like it’s basking in the glow of its own success.
Not only was it named Motor Trend’s SUV of the Year, a Car and Driver “10 Best,” North American Car of the Year and the SUV of Texas last year, but it also became one of the few huge automotive sales hits of the pandemic.
Kia is selling Tellurides as fast as it can build them. Dealers have started referring to it as the “Sell-u-ride,” according to Automobile magazine.
If you want to know why, just drive one.
This is the nicest, most well-rounded and feature-packed SUV you can buy today, dollar-for-dollar, along with its nearly identical sibling, the Hyundai Palisade.
It starts around $32,000, but you wouldn’t know that from sitting inside it. With roomy seating for eight and a beautifully designed, tightly constructed cabin, it feels much more expensive than it is — especially so on the top-end trims.
The supple leather and sweeping, screen-filled dash in my tester made it look and feel like an $80,000 luxury sedan, but it was priced under $50,000, even after pricey Prestige Package upgrades including Nappa leather and a head-up display.
The driving feel, though, is what really sells it.
Unlike most SUVs this large, the Telluride doesn’t have a hefty, truck-like weight when it changes direction. It feels light and nimble, easily maneuverable in parking lots and under precise control on winding roads.
It still manages to soak up bumpy surfaces with aplomb, though. Its suspension does a great job making highway miles effortless and serene, aided by excellent cabin insulation that keeps the road and wind noise almost unnoticeable at fast speeds.
Power comes from a 3.8-liter V6 engine. It makes a V8-like 291 horsepower, yet it still delivers a reasonably thrifty highway fuel economy rating of 26 mpg on front-wheel-drive models and 24 on the AWD versions.
An eight-speed automatic offers crisp, fast, predictable shifts.
The Telluride comes standard with blind-spot sensors, automatic emergency braking and an outstanding set of infotainment features. An 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay comes standard, along with Smart Cruise Control and Lane Following Assist that work exceptionally well to let the car control itself for short periods of time.
The optional Highway Driving Assist takes it a step further, using GPS data to help control the car on well-marked divided highways. The driver is still expected to keep their hands on the steering wheel and attention on the road at all times, though.
Changes for 2021 are understandably modest. A new Nightfall Edition adds the option for a trendy blacked-out look. A remote start button was also added to the key fob, and the trailer connection changed from four to seven pins.
Other than that, the Telluride keeps being its amazing self as it continues in its second year of selling like hotcakes.
Pricing starts at $32,190 for the LX trim and ranges up to $42,490 for the impressively luxurious SX. You can add all-wheel drive to any trim level for an extra $2,000.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD ($44,090). Options: Premium paint ($495), SX Prestige Package ($2,300), towing package ($795), carpeted floor mats ($210), cargo cover ($155). Price as tested (including $1,170 destination charge): $49,215
Wheelbase: 114.2 in.
Length: 196.9 in.
Width: 78.3 in.
Height: 68.9 in.
Engine: 3.8-liter V6 (291 horsepower, 262 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 19 city, 24 highway
Why buy it?
For the money, this is the best SUV for sale today. It combines handsome looks and excellent driving manners with a spacious, three-row cabin and an outstanding feature set. Its popularity is no surprise to those who’ve driven it.