Yes, I mean you literally can’t go into your local Kia dealer and buy a Telluride. It’s a North America market only model, it’s not even sold in South Korea as it’s made in the US so buying one in New Zealand is going to be difficult. That’s a shame because the Kia Telluride does so many things well. So why write a review on it? Well, for starters I’ve been curious about this car since it was launched in 2019. It was received with critical acclaim and demand for these cars meant cars on the used market have held their values remarkably well.

I wanted to see what all the hype for what’s basically a family hauler was about. After spending a week or so with the Stinger, Kia USA very kindly swapped it out for the top of the line Telluride SX with the Prestige Package. From a 5-hour drive back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas to driving it around central LA, I did more with the Telluride than most would.

What’s In The 2021 Kia Telluride Range?

The Telluride is the biggest car Kia has ever made, so it’s no surprise they had to build it in a country as big as the US. It’s bigger than the Sorento SUV and Carnival minivan. That said, even in America this is only classed as a ‘midsize SUV’ rivalling the likes of the Ford Explorer, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, and its Hyundai twin, the Palisade. 

Prices in America start from US$32,720 ($45,900 approx) for the base trim LX while the range topping SX trim starts from US$42,690 ($59,000). My test car came with pretty much every option you’d want including the Prestige Package which adds Nappa leather seats, heated and ventilated seats for the first and second row, premium headliner, heads-up display, and AWD. 

There’s only one engine available, a naturally aspirated 3.8-litre petrol V6 mated to smooth shifting 8-speed auto. With 213kW and 358NM of torque it’s adequate but definitely could use some extra boost. 

First Impressions Of The 2021 Kia Telluride SX?

It’s a good looking thing in a sort of butch, boxy way. There’s been comparisons between this and the Volvo XC90 and even the Rolls Royce Cullinan, both of which are considerably more expensive than this so that’s no bad thing. While most SUVs are faceless, gormless generic looking things that blend into the background like an afterthought in a video game, the Telluride stands above the rest by having a bold and distinctive look. I especially like the amber daytime running lights which step away from the usual white LEDs that we see on so many modern cars. 

This test car comes with the optical Wolf Grey paint and goes well with the Nightfall Edition package which blacks out all the exterior trim. The blacked-out grille with the new Kia script sitting proudly in the middle makes it look crisp and modern. While the front is certainly the most distinctive, the side is pretty much what you’d expect from something like this. The taillights are also rather unique and look especially good at night. 

What The Inside Like On A 2021 Kia Telluride SX?

This is where the Telluride excels. The fit and finish is closer to that of cars costing much more. The Prestige Package is a must to make it feel more premium inside with the Nappa leather and upgraded headlining. Speaking of the roof, the double sunroof really adds to the ambience giving the cabin a more airy feel. All these premium options go well with the soft touch plastics and matte finish wood trim throughout the interior. I especially like the silver switches on the dash which remind me of something you’d find in a car hailing from Stuttgart. Also, bonus points to Kia for sticking with hard buttons for the HVAC controls and infotainment. No one wants or needs to go through a dozen different menus and sub menus to adjust the AC or switch to the map.

The seats are also very comfortable offering excellent support and cushioning. In this spec both the front and middle row are ventilated and heated. Luckily with this car all the controls are within arm’s reach. The heated and ventilated toggle switches are perfectly placed on the top of the Jesus handles on the centre console. Speaking of the centre console there’s a lot of storage and cubby holes here, most important of which are the American sized cup holders. Every seat gets its own cup holders with USB plugs, while the second row benefits from a 110V plug. Second row USB plugs are neatly placed in the back of the front seats. The third row should only be used for adults in emergencies or on short trips. When not needed they can be folded easily with straps on the back. It only takes a couple of seconds to lower and raise. Even with the third row stowed up, luggage space is the proper size, 601L to be exact.. With them stowed away there’s a whopping 1304L of luggage space.

Fantastic array of features include an excellent Harman Kardon sound system. Kia’s infotainment system is also brilliantly intuitive with easy to navigate menus while CarPlay takes up the whole screen feeling like a natural fit. The HUD is informative while the blind-spot camera is one of my favourite features in this car. It comes on when you hit the indicator stalk and a camera feed comes up on the digital display in between the gauges. There’s no fluff or frills, just effective simplicity. That said, the one little gimmick I liked was what Kia calls ‘driver speaker’ which lets you speak into the passengers in the third row via the speakers in the back. They’re also able to communicate back to you. It’s quite fun to use on unsuspecting passengers. 

What Does The 2021 Kia Telluride SX Drive Like?

The engine is adequate if a bit coarse when pushed, and it could benefit from turbo boost or hybrid assist. That might also help the fuel economy, while not terrible, wasn’t great either. That said it did what it needed to do without any issues. The 8-speed auto is the perfect companion for it making for smooth changes when left to its own devices. On a long road trip or just driving around town you won’t be wanting for more. 

Should the mood strike you and for whatever reason you want to take it out on some twisty roads then you might want to go get a Kia Stinger instead. But if you really do feel compelled to test the limits of the Telluride around some mountain roads you’ll find it’s quite a wallowy boat of a thing. It’ll lean around corners like it’s a tower in Italy and the steering is supposed to be more light and easy to use than communicative and sporty. The 8-speed auto won’t give you direct changes like you’d get in a dual-clutch. But hey, that’s not really the point of this thing. 

Instead this thing makes for an excellent road trip car. The drive back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas went by effortlessly. The ride and refinement is what impressed me the most. Despite the questionable road surfaces in America the Telluride managed to iron them out for the most part. NVH levels were similar to that in cars with premium badges, it’s brilliant. You get the choice of five different drive modes; Comfort Sport, Smart, Eco, and Snow. Comfort was the default setting and really there’s no need to change it unless you plan on hypermiling it in eco or going on the aforementioned mountain roads, but why would you? It’s far happier to do the former and will return better than expected fuel economy. I got around 10.7L/100km. While it’s not exactly a Prius, it isn’t bad considering this is a large (by New Zealand standards) SUV with a naturally aspirated petrol engine.

Around town the Telluride, despite its size, proved to be easy to drive around. Doing errands in this is a breeze. The boxy design means it’s easy to place and there’s pretty much no blind spots thanks to the visibility you get from those massive windows. Even if you find yourself seeing a blind spot there’s more than enough cameras to help you out in a pinch. 

It does so many things so well it’s hard to fault. The compromise here is there’s no compromise. Kia has knocked it out the park with the Telluride and I didn’t expect I’d like a family SUV this much. If the Stinger showed the world the potential of the Kia brand, the Telluride is the execution of that potential.

If you blindfolded a random person and drove them around in it (please don’t do this) they’d be forgiven for thinking they were in some premium European car. In true Kia fashion it represents amazing value and it’s a shame the Americans are keeping it for themselves. Though, funnily enough, Kia can’t even make enough of these to keep up with demand with some dealer stocks getting marked up by 30-40%. I could see this being a huge seller for Kia in SUV-hungry Australia and New Zealand markets. I mean, this test car came with a towing package for crying out loud. 

What’s The Competition For the 2021 Kia Telluride SX?

Brand/ModelEnginePower/Torque, kW/NMFuel, L/100km0-100 K/phPrice
Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol235/4008.56.5$116,900
Lexus RX350L3.5-litre V6, petrol213/3589.67.9$109,700
Kia Telluride3.8-litre V6, petrol213/35511.27.2$71,300 (approx)
Nissan Pathfinder Ti 4WD3.5-litre V6, petrol190/3258.58.7$70,290
Toyota Highlander Limited3.5-litre V6, petrol218/3509.57.3$69,990
Mazda CX-9 Takami2.5-litre turbocharged petrol170/4208.88.1$67,895

What’s The Pros and Cons Of The 2021 Kia Telluride SX?

• Handsome design
• Interior design and quality          
• Practicality and ease of use
• Tech and features         
• Comfortable refined ride         
• Represents incredible value
• It is rather large         
• Not available in right-hand drive
• V6 is crying out for turbo, hybrid assist, or even a diesel option.

2021 Kia Telluride SX – Specifications

Vehicle TypeSUV
Starting Price$59,000+ (est)
Tested Price$71,300+ (est)
Engine3.8-litre V6 petrol engine
Transmission8-speed automatic transmission
0 – 100 kph, seconds7.2
Spare WheelSpace saver
Kerb Weight, Kg2,033
Length x Width x Height, mm5000 x 1990 x 1759 mm
Cargo Capacity, litres (3rd row/2ndr row)601/1304
Fuel Tank, litres71
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – Combined –  11.2L / 100km
Real World Test – Combined –  10.7L / 100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Turning circle11.8m
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
ANCAP Safety RatingsN/A
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Words cannot begin to describe how much I love cars but it's worth a try. Grew up obsessed with them and want to pursue a career writing about them. Anything from small city cars to the most exotic of supercars will catch my attention.
2021-kia-telluride-sx-car-review-the-ultimate-family-hauler-you-cant-buyThe Telluride is the perfect representation of what Kia is capable of today and how far they’ve come in the last two decades. It represents incredible value offering fresh, handsome looks, an incredible well finished and highly equipped interior, premium level refinement, and so much practicality you won’t know what to do with the space inside. It’s a hugely impressive car and the demand for these in the US is no surprise to me. It’s a shame buyers in correct-hand drive countries won’t be able to buy these. Even with its V6 that requires a bit of encouragement to get going and the large size, a car as good as this will easily find fans in New Zealand as well.  


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