2021 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD new car reviews

More often than not, three-row SUVs are the sort of thing people buy when they should get a minivan, but for some reason or another—usually something to do with ego and not wanting to be seen in one—don't buy a minivan.

Does that mean that all three-row SUVs should be cast aside? Perhaps not, if the Kia Telluride is anything to go by.

Introduced in 2019 for the 2020 model year, the 2021 model features a few new options, namely the Nightfall Edition appearance package that blacks out the trim, emblems and wheels, but is only available on select versions.

In total, four trims are offered, though all come powered by the same 3.8-liter V6 that's good for 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque backed by an eight-speed automatic (the same powerplant found in its cousin, the Hyundai Pallisade). It is up to the buyer, though, if they want that power sent too all four wheels, or just the front two.

What's the Kia Telluride like to live with for a few days? Read our impressions down below.

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Chris Tropea
Associate Editor

When I think of Kia, luxury is not the first thing that comes to mind, but after stepping into the 2021 Telluride that thinking has changed. At first glance, this three-row SUV is every bit as nice as an Audi or Lexus with its use of premium materials in its interior. The optional Nightfall Package that our test car was equipped with really makes this SUV look particularly tough as it blacks out all the trim and emblems, and even gets you a set of blacked-out 20-in. wheels.

Speaking of looks, the Telluride has to be one of the most unique looking SUVs on the road today, since there is no mistaking its amber daytime running lights for anything else in traffic. And, even though it is nearly identical to the Hyundai Palisade, the Telluride looks much better because of its unique grille and headlights.

Overall, I put a good amount of time and miles behind the wheel of this SUV, and it is really enjoyable to drive. During highway driving, the lane assist and radar-assisted cruise control are so good that it almost drives itself—even in heavy traffic. I averaged 22.3 mpg over a mix of highway and city driving, which isn’t too bad for an all-wheel-drive, three-row SUV. However, it is by no means a fast SUV, but the Telluride feels perfectly adequate with its 291-horsepower 3.8-liter, six-cylinder engine.

Out of all of the driving modes—you can pick from comfort, sport, smart, eco and snow—I found comfort to be the nicest all-around mode for my style of driving.

When I was running around doing photo and video shoots for future content, down I had plenty of room for the set of Race Ramps we were testing and all my camera equipment with the seats folded down. In fact, I probably even could have kept the middle row up and still had room with only the back seats folded down.

Long story short, if you need a family hauler and are looking for a premium experience in an SUV that is comfortable to drive, then the Kia Telluride is worth looking at.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

Yup, if you’re looking for a bigger SUV, this is one to put on your radar. Do looks matter? If so, this one nails it: great proportions and details.

Like the rest of the Hyundai/Kia/Genesis lineup, the interior merges all the latest with just the right amount of buttons. It’s both new and traditional at the same time.

The chassis feels composed–sorry, didn’t get to autocross it–and it makes enough power for the day to day. It’s not going to haul your horse trailer, but if looking for a bigger SUV for toting around the team, this could be the one. (Of course, that begs the question, why not a minivan instead?)

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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
1/6/21 11:52 a.m.

I'm only a little sad I didn't get to drive this, as it's on my shortlist of potential family haulers now that I have a kid in tow.

Sure, we only have the one kid for now and she's only a little over a month old, but who knows, maybe she'll have lots of friends someday (that will occasionally require three rows of seating).

iceracer MegaDork
1/6/21 5:47 p.m.

What is the "smart" position on the drive selector ?

nderwater UltimaDork
1/6/21 6:17 p.m.

In reply to iceracer :

Donno, not eligible to click it.



Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/7/21 1:44 a.m.

The Telluride is a knockout product. As far as minivans, part of the reason the Telluride is so good is because it's among the most minivan-ish of 3-rows!

mtn (Forum Supporter)
mtn (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/7/21 7:49 a.m.

This is one of four family hauler* SUVs that I really like - the others being Suburban, which is an entirely different animal, the Cayenne, which is $$$$, and the Rivian RS1 - which is $$$$ and not out yet. That is damn good company to be included in, even for a random internet posters musings. Probably the best looking new vehicle out there today. I'm amazed at how much better this one looks than the Palisade, too.


All that being said, I look at that picture with the cargo loaded, and I'm grateful that we went with the Sedona (not that the Telluride was released yet). With the car seat, Great Pyrenees, and my wife's inability to pack light, there just isn't enough space there. Still a good chance that a Telluride replaces the van in a few years, especially if there ends up being a hybrid or electric version.

nderwater UltimaDork
1/7/21 8:20 a.m.

In reply to mtn (Forum Supporter) :

Ditto that.  Stepping up from a crossover to a Sedona minivan was an enormous upgrade in practicality.  The extra utility comes in handy all the time.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
1/7/21 9:43 a.m.

In reply to iceracer :

I was hoping to find a more in-depth explanation, but I did find this from the press release:

  • Choice of four drive modes – Smart, Eco, Sport and Comfort – each using different settings for powertrain, drivetrain, and steering effort mapping to provide the desired driving experience.  In addition to the four regular drive modes, drivers can select from two different settings, Snow and AWD Lock, for specific driving conditions. 
  • Available active on-demand all-wheel drivehelps provide enhanced driving performance by actively distributing torque between front and rear wheels depending on road conditions and driver input. The system utilizes electro-hydraulic AWD coupling to precisely activate the multi-plate clutch plate, constantly redistributing the amount of power transferred to the front and rear wheels. During normal driving, power is distributed according to the drive mode selected. “Eco” and “Smart” modes deliver 100 percent power to the front wheels. “Comfort” and “Snow” modes deliver 80 percent power to the front wheels and 20 percent to rear. Sport mode splits the power 65-35 percent between front and back. “Lock” mode delivers power evenly to all four wheels
Duke MegaDork
1/7/21 11:22 a.m.
iceracer said:

What is the "smart" position on the drive selector ?

I would assume that lets the car decide for itself which of those modes it should use.


Boost_Crazy HalfDork
1/7/21 4:44 p.m.

We bought a Telluride for my wife at the end of 2019, so we’ve had it for just over a year. Still love it, it has been an excellent vehicle. It wasn’t even on our list when we were shopping for a three row SUV. Didn’t think to check with Kia, we stumbled across is and were shocked at how good it was. We were waiting for the then new Explorer to come out, but the Kia was better in every way that mattered to us, and an Explorer would cost at least $10k more to get is close in features. 

It is definitely the closest of the SUV’s to a minivan in room and comfort, but it’s still no minivan. This replaced out ‘14 Sienna. I’d does get much better real world mileage though, which is surprising. My wife is horrible with gas mileage, usually well below the ratings in everything she drives. She’s averaging 23MPG in the Telluride, averaged 18MPG in the Sienna. 

Jesse Ransom (FFS)
Jesse Ransom (FFS) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
1/7/21 4:59 p.m.

Despite myself, I think these look really sharp.

Sort of kicked off this train of thought that SUVs have been getting on far enough in their transition from "pretend adventure mobile" to "tall wagon" that in combination with a recent trend toward sort of architectural shapes, they remind me a little of early-20th-century luxury vehicles, back when that meant "expensive enough to be generally better" in styling, construction, size, capability...

I'd still rather have a car, but given that modern engineering has given us small living rooms that move smartly, maybe it's okay. I'll take mine with oak trim, please.

iceracer MegaDork
1/8/21 6:26 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

Looks like ECO and SMART are FWD  only

Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/8/21 10:17 p.m.

We were waiting for the then new Explorer to come out, but the Kia was better in every way that mattered to us, and an Explorer would cost at least $10k more to get is close in features. 

The Explorer honestly looks like an also ran in the current field despite being brand new. Good thing the Explorer didn't come out before the Telluride or you may never have realized what you were missing!   

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