Kia moves beyond the value play with a three-row crossover that drives better than it needs to.

On specs alone, you wouldn’t guess that the Kia Telluride is 10Best material. It’s a family SUV of normal size with normal power and a normal price. But then you climb in and say, “This costs less than $50,000? How?” One tester pointed out that between the Telluride and the Cadillac Escalade (base price $77,490), only one offers ventilated second-row seats—and it’s not the Escalade.

But the Telluride’s appeal goes deeper than its 10-yard-long equipment list. The big Kia is a pleasure to drive, with the 3.8-liter V-6 churning out smooth power and its quick responses belying its proletarian 291 horsepower. The ride is sedate and the body control taut, erring toward sportiness. We can also say, based on our long-termer, that this Kia is blissfully free of reliability foibles that might squelch our enthusiasm. And when equipped with all-wheel drive, the Telluride is even pretty adept off-road thanks to a button on the center console that locks the front-to-rear torque distribution at 50/50.


Out on a trail or the road, this SUV is better than it needs to be. That description comes up a lot with the Telluride. The styling, the interior quality, the value—it’s all the handiwork of a company that knows its badge is, at best, a neutral factor in the purchase decision. So the vehicle has to be really good. In the case of the Telluride, you get the experience of a luxury SUV without any pretense or badge-snob affectation. It’s inconspicuous consumption perfected.

Of course, Kia would probably love it if its brand had more clout. And someday, it will, if it keeps building vehicles like this. In the meantime, we’re enjoying this interstitial period, when Kia is on a hellbent mission to earn respect and knows exactly what it needs to do to get it. Drive a Telluride and you’ll see what we mean.