The 2021 Kia Telluride is a terrific three-row crossover, because it’s great for shuttling families and looks more expensive than it is. Credit Kia’s ability to deliver an upscale experience and popular features at an bargain price for its largest model’s success—earning a spot on this year’s 10Best list as well as an Editors’ Choice award. The Telluride has few compromises and outshines its mid-size SUV competitors in all the important categories. While its standard V-6 powertrain could be more fuel efficient, and we wouldn’t mind if its driving behavior was sharper, there’s no denying that it exceeds its mission of moving people and their stuff better than anything in its class. The 2021 Telluride simply provides unrivaled levels of luxury and remarkable utility, which is why it’ll make you feel richer than your bank account might suggest.
What’s New for 2021?
Kia has gone light on changes for the Telluride’s 2021 update, with the biggest update being the new Nightfall appearance package. This gives it a stylish—dare we say sinister—look thanks to a blacked-out grille, 20-inch wheels, and various other accents. However, it’s only available with all-wheel drive on the top two trim levels. The Telluride’s other enhancements include a seven-pin trailer harness (previously a four-pin connection) and the key fob adds an “On” button for the remote-start system. The EX trim level also receives LED headlights as part of the Premium package. Black Copper and Sangria are new paint options on select models, too.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Under the hood of every Telluride is a naturally aspirated V-6 that makes 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Its engine pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission that feeds the front wheels in the standard format—all-wheel drive is also optional across the board. The top-of-the-line Telluride SX we tested sped to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. However, the big Kia didn’t feel as responsive to throttle inputs at lower speeds as did some of its turbocharged rivals. The Telluride’s ride is on the firm side, with harsh pavement sometimes throwing the three-row SUV off its intended path. A self-leveling rear air suspension is also available. Brakes are excellent and the steering is precise with a nice heft to its feel. The Telluride boasts 8.0 inches of ground clearance for off-road excursions, and it can tow up to 5000 pounds.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Unlike many rival three-row SUVs, the Telluride is only offered with a V-6 powertrain. The EPA estimates the front-drive version is the thriftiest, with ratings of 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. All-wheel-drive models drop to 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, which are slightly higher than V-6–powered competitors such as the Volkswagen Atlas and slightly lower than the Honda Pilot. The all-wheel-drive Telluride we tested on our 200-mile fuel-economy route returned 24 mpg highway—matching its government rating. The Atlas also earned 24 mpg while the Pilot got 27 mpg during our real-world test.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Regardless of people’s opinion about the Telluride’s bold outward appearance, its interior is undeniably upscale and comfortable. The build quality is excellent, the materials are attractive, and the desirable features are plentiful. Because the Telluride is several inches longer than the seven-passenger Sorento, its cabin is even more spacious, especially for those in the wayback seat. There is room for eight with a second-row bench seat or room for seven with the optional captain’s chairs. Along with ample interior storage throughout the cabin, we managed to fit four carry-on suitcases behind its third row and stuffed a total of 35 carry-ons with both back rows folded flat.