At the exact moment I wheeled the 2020 Telluride into my in-laws’ Eastern Washington driveway, the trip odometer read 2858.4 miles. The four-day drive spanned the continent, from Brooklyn, New York to Washington state’s far-flung farm country, with more than 45 hours of wheels-on-pavement drive time. The trip was a real white-knuckler, tinged with the urgency and paranoia only a pandemic could bring.
You can read all about that trip and its myriad foibles in the June, 2020 issue of Road & Track (which should have arrived in your mailbox by now). More specifically, I want to talk about the machine that conveyed me, my wife, and our cat and across the country safely: the 2020 Kia Telluride.
The Telluride is a three-row, unibody SUV that will cause Lexus shoppers fits. Its interior quality matches the midsize luxury SUVs from Japan (and most of the Germans), and betters them all when price is factored. Our top-of-the-line tester begs $46,860 from your wallet. Every penny felt defensible from the Telluride’s cockpit. The driver’s seat is supple, trimmed in soft leather, infinitely adjustable. A crisp ten-inch touchscreen anchors a simple, logical infotainment suite. Physical buttons flourish along the compact console. Materials lining the cabin feel upscale. There’s wireless phone charging, heated and ventilated front seats, acoustic glass to cut road noise, and probably a dozen USB ports. If the Stinger was a shot over the bow of Japanese luxury, the Telluride is something far greater: a direct hit.
On the first morning of our trip, I wheeled the Telluride out of Brooklyn and picked up Interstate 80 at the Pennsylvania border. The Telluride settled into an easy gallop, having conquered New York’s cracked pavement in sublime comfort. The SUV’s 3.8-liter, naturally aspirated V-6 hummed along the interstate, nearly silent, aided by a seamless 8-speed automatic. While the engine produces just 291 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 262 lb-ft at 5200 rpm (not huge grunt for a 4300-lb ute by 2020 standards), it’s a reminder of the playful joys of natural aspiration.
The Telluride shined on America’s interstates, with easy road manners and that smooth, quiet, efficient V-6 mill. By the end of our trip, I calculated 23.8 mpg. For a crossover with a curb weight cresting two tons, equipped with a luxurious and isolated cabin, that’s impressive.
Other high points: The captain’s chairs in our top-of-the-line Telluride SX were brilliant. I can’t think of another time I’ve written about a second or third row in a review, unless the seats filling those rows were rigid as The Iron Throne. I’m a tall-ish human, but the Kia’s second row is a happy place to be. Headroom, legroom, knee room—the Telluride’s first two rows have clearance and comfort in spades.
And we did more than drive the thing cross-country; my wife and cat and I slept in the Telluride’s cargo area on the trip (avoiding contact, social distancing, long story). The third row seats fold flat. The second row chairs do, too, but you’ll need some luggage to fill out the gaps between the seats and create a seamless surface. Arranged thusly, there’s room for a queen-sized memory-foam mattress pad, some food, and luggage. That allows comfort and isolation from the elements. If your version of camping leans toward #vanlife, this is a great option. (Consider a roof rack though, so the front seats don’t double as food storage).
But my favorite of the Telluride’s myriad features was “Glenda.” Let me explain. Some cocktail of relief and fatigue gripped our minds on the interstate just outside NYC. I set the Kia’s cruise control to cut the edge off the journey and noticed the steering wheel constantly nudging our Telluride back to the lane’s center.
This cruise control wizardry is described by Kia in alphabet soup acronyms, but their net effect is miraculous: autonomous driving you actually want to use. My wife and I named Kia’s invisible hand Glenda. It’s catchier than Highway Collision Assistant or Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance, and the name rolled off our tongues like a song when spoken with phony Oklahoma drawls. (I blame the accent on repeated viewings of The Tiger King.)