2021 Kia Telluride

2021 Kia Telluride Review: Still The King Of Three-Row Crossovers

by Morgan Carter

Big, bold, and still the best three-row family SUV you can find for under $50k, the Kia Telluride is back again for the second year of dominance in the American market. After debuting to rapturous success in 2020, little has changed from a winning recipe in the three-row midsize segment. Utilizing a unibody construction, it handles like a car but has all the space needed for a large family, with room for up to eight occupants, a large cargo hold, oodles of technology, and of course, the automaker's penchant for reliability and style. The Telluride does all this and more, thanks to its 291-horsepower V6 engine, comfortable cabin, and long list of available tech and safety features. With a modest price tag and competitive fuel economy figures, it's no wonder that the Kia Telluride SUV is among the most popular family cars in the USA, regularly beating out the competition that comes in the form of the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Mazda CX-9.

Read in this review:

2021 Kia Telluride Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Telluride?

Still fresh and shiny off its debut last year, the 2021 Kia Telluride SUV sees almost no noticeable changes. A few new colors are added to the palette: Black Copper is available from the S upwards, while Sangria is now no longer withheld from the SX. The top two trims also gain access to the Nightfall Edition Package, which gives the exterior a bolder overhaul with larger wheels and package-specific exterior elements, including front and rear bumpers and the exclusive Wolf Gray paint. Less obvious changes to the new Kia Telluride SUV include adding a remote engine start button to the key fob and an upgrade to the trailer towing harness from four to seven pins.

Pros and Cons

  • Capable and efficient V6
  • Loads of space across three rows
  • Respectable cargo capacity
  • Comprehensive list of safety equipment
  • Excellent warranty plan
  • Very few customization options
  • A bit ungainly on the road
  • Turbocharged rivals offer better fuel economy

2021 Kia Telluride Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
LX
3.8-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
Other
$31,990
S
3.8-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
Other
$34,390
EX
3.8-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
Other
$37,390
SX
3.8-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
Other
$42,190

2021 Telluride SUV Exterior

Pioneering a bold new design language for the brand, it stands proud among the more humdrum rivals in the segment. Still, that did not stop Kia from offering up the new Nightfall Edition Package to make it an even bolder SUV. The LX and EX ride a little easier on 18-inch wheels, while the S and SX show off larger 20-inch variants. A power sunroof is equipped to the S and EX, while the top-tier model receives dual sunroofs. The base-level headlights can also be upgraded to LED clusters, and fog lights are standard only on the SX.

2021 Kia Telluride Front View CarBuzz
2021 Kia Telluride Rear View CarBuzz
2021 Kia Telluride Front Angle View CarBuzz
See All 2021 Kia Telluride Exterior Photos

Dimensions

Despite seating up to eight passengers, it is not a massive machine. Its overall length of 196.9 inches sees it falling directly between its primary competitors, the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Palisade. The 114.2-inch wheelbase means that the cabin is large enough to accommodate its high passenger load. Height varies between 68.9 and 69.3 inches, the latter figure on the top three trims, which come equipped with roof rails. Narrow parking bays may be a tight fit, however, with its width of 78.3 inches. Depending on how you spec your trim, it weighs between 4,112 and 4,482 pounds. Although it does not have the best approach and departure angles, the crossover handles a little mild off-roading with its eight-inch ground clearance.

  • Length 196.9 in
  • Wheelbase 114.2 in
  • Height 68.9 in
  • Max Width 78.3 in
  • Front Width 67.2 in
  • Rear Width 67.6 in

Exterior Colors

A total of nine color options are offered across the range, although not every hue is available to every trim. The base LX can be had in Snow White Pearl, Glacial White Pearl, Ebony Black, Sangria, Gravity Gray or Everlasting Silver paint, with all but the last two costing an additional $495. If you want the new option, Black Copper, then you'll have to upgrade to at least the S trim and still add $495 as a premium paint. Dark Moss is also added at this level but at no cost. The final exterior color available is the $495 Wolf Gray, but you have to outfit your EX or SX with the Nightfall Edition Package and the Prestige Package.

  • Glacier White Pearl, Late Availability
  • Snow White Pearl, Build Out: 07/31/2020
  • Ebony Black
  • Sangria
  • Black Copper
  • Wolf Gray, Late Availability
  • Gravity Gray
  • Dark Moss
  • Everlasting Silver

Kia Telluride Performance

Considering how hefty the vehicle is, we certainly would not mind seeing it equipped with a slightly more potent powertrain, but the naturally aspirated V6 is hardly a disappointment. While many manufacturers are phasing out their six-cylinder setups in favor of turbocharged four-pots, traditionalists will still enjoy what the SUV has to offer. Sure, it won't be breaking any land-speed records with a modest 7.5-second 0-60 mph sprint time, but it never feels underpowered. And, once you reach top speed, it cruises along quite comfortably. The family hauler is available with either front- or all-wheel-drive, but both setups have a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 lbs, despite the weight difference. Genuine 4WD off-roaders have the benefit off-road and when towing, but lack the comfort of the Telluride.

2021 Kia Telluride Rear Angle View CarBuzz
2021 Kia Telluride Wheel CarBuzz
2021 Kia Telluride Egine Bay CarBuzz

Engine and Transmission

For the new year, the powertrain goes unchanged, which is not necessarily bad. The V6 engine displaces 3.8 liters to produce 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. We would still like to see a turbocharger added at some point, but the current setup supplies enough power to move the hefty crossover. The Hyundai Palisade shares the same powertrain, and neither is likely to change it unless the Honda Pilot upgrades its slightly weaker V6 configuration. You also cannot choose an alternative to the eight-speed automatic transmission, but you can swap out the standard front-wheel drivetrain for an all-wheel-drive variant - not to be confused with off-road-focused 4-wheel-drive systems - at around $2k more.

The AWD has no real effect on the engine's performance, and the Korean vehicle does a pretty good job of getting around town without a problem. It takes a little patience to accelerate or overtake more athletic SUVs on the highway, but we can hardly fault it as a commuter-centric vehicle.

  • Engine
    3.8-liter V6 Gas
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    FWD, Other

Handling and Driving Impressions

While it may be designed to haul the family around town or cross-country safely, the Telluride is no slouch on the road. Light steering in Comfort mode lends the crossover to city living, but flip the switch to Sport, and it tightens up a bit to give a bit more feel. Regardless of the setting, it delivers a smooth ride, with most minor road abrasions going unnoticed by passengers. It can even go off-road, when necessary, while still retaining much of its poise.

It never feels quite as big as it is, handling remarkably gracefully despite its large dimensions. Still, it's no sports ute, and enthusiasts will have more fun behind the wheel of a Mazda CX-9. The engineers definitely had a goal in mind when they designed the Telluride: to deliver a comfortable driving and riding experience for the entire family. And it certainly delivered on that, feeling smaller than its bulk would imply.

Kia Telluride Gas Mileage

Since nothing mechanical has changed on the latest iteration, all economy stats carry over, too. This is a blessing since the frugal auto has managed to stay competitive with its leading rivals. In its standard FWD configuration, the midsize vehicle is estimated to achieve 20/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined by the EPA. Swapping to the heavier AWD configuration sees gas mileage figures take a minor hit, dropping to 19/24/21 mpg. The almost identical Palisade falls a tiny bit short in comparison, managing 19/26/22 mpg, while the popular Pilot has marginally better mileage at 20/27/23 mpg. Filled to the brim, the 18.8-gallon tank sees it across 433 miles before running dry, but real-world testing of the 2020 iteration revealed that 400 miles is a more realistic figure.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    18.8 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 20/26 mpg
* 2021 Kia Telluride LX FWD

Kia Telluride Interior

While not a premium vehicle, the Telluride boasts an attractive, middle-class interior that holds up quite well against pricier rivals. There is enough room for three rows of seats, and the slightly tighter third row is not out of the ordinary for the segment. All the appointments are comfortable, with a choice of several upholstery options and added features like heating and cooling. The features, of which there is an impressive number, are all laid out with ease of access in mind - from the touchscreen infotainment interface to the various charging ports and conveniences. Overall, the design is appealing and the packaging is superb.

2021 Kia Telluride Steering Wheel CarBuzz
2021 Kia Telluride Central Console CarBuzz
2021 Kia Telluride Front Seats CarBuzz
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Seating and Interior Space

SUVs with a 3rd row are renowned for passenger capacity, but not necessarily for actual space in the rear-most bench. This is where the 3-row Kia Telluride sets itself apart from the rest of the competition. All three rows are genuinely usable, although the first two naturally receive the lion's share of the head- and legroom. Access to the Kia Telluride's 3rd row is easy, too, thanks to a one-touch slide and fold feature for the second row, while swapping out the middle bench for captain's chairs on the upper trims makes this even simpler, although it reduces capacity from eight to seven. The front seats are manually adjustable on the base LX, while the rest of the models boast 10- or 12-way power-adjustability. Heating/cooling are available for both the first and second rows.

  • Seating capacity
    8-seater
  • Front Leg Room 41.4 in
  • Front Head Room 40.9 in
  • Rear Leg Room 42.4 in
  • Rear Head Room 40.2 in

Interior Colors and Materials

Considering its price, the Telluride presents shoppers with an almost premium-level interior, built using quality materials and impressive engineering. Sure, there are some hard plastic surfaces, but they are not obtrusive and add a certain level of rugged charm to the otherwise modern and subdued interior. Even the cheapest LX offers comfortable leatherette, although black is the only color choice. One step up, the S adds Gray to the mix, although the material remains unchanged. The upper trim levels swap out the faux leather for the real deal and add Butterscotch and Espresso Brown to the interior color palette on the SX. As part of the SX Prestige Package, Nappa leather in Black, Gray, or Dune Brown is applied and comes complemented by a premium headliner.

Kia Telluride SUV Trunk and Cargo Space

Fitting eight passengers inside the cabin is not all the crossover has going for it in on the family front. You need a decent amount of space in the rear, too, if you intend to take the family on a road trip or even do some domestic chores around town. Once again, the midsize SUV impresses with its practicality, outshining even the similarly configured Hyundai Palisade. In standard configuration, the Korean auto accommodates up to 21 cubic feet of cargo, which is more than enough for your weekly shopping or a few carry on bags for a quick getaway. If you're packing up the household of five away for a longer vacation, folding down the third-row frees up 46 cubes. And for truly heavy-duty requirements, all the rear seats can be folded flat to create an 87-cubic-foot area. The cargo floor is also a dual-level item for added practicality.

For smaller items, there are a variety of little spaces provided throughout the cabin for your convenience. The glovebox is quite spacious, as is the center armrest storage cubby. Each row has a pair of cupholders, and each of the four doors has a usable pocket. The control console also houses a small storage bin for loose change or mobile phones, while an overhead storage compartment caters to sunglasses.

2021 Kia Telluride Rear Passenger Seats CarBuzz
2021 Kia Telluride Open Trunk Lid CarBuzz
2021 Kia Telluride Trunk Space CarBuzz

Telluride Infotainment and Features

Features

The manufacturer seems to be trying to make a statement that you do not have to spend big to get the most bang for your buck, with even the affordable LX boasting some pretty impressive tech. Among these features, you will find keyless entry and push-button start, with remote engine start, three 12-volt power outlets, air conditioning, and a one-touch sliding second row. The driver-assist features are abundant, too, with forward collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and parking distance warning all coming standard. Upgrade through the trims, and you get access to a power sunroof, power-adjustable front perches, climate-controlled front and middle rows, three-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a surround-view camera. Extra power outlets and a head-up display are made available through the optional packages.

Infotainment

As a car designed with family in mind, it comes with a comprehensive infotainment suite. The LX and S get an eight-inch touchscreen display programmed with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth, paired with a six-speaker sound system. A total of five USB ports help to keep everyone's devices charged. The EX is equipped with a larger 10.25-inch screen and adds an extra USB port and wireless charging functionality. At the top of the range, the SX swaps out the basic six speakers for a premium ten-speaker Harman Kardon unit. Every trim also gives the option of installing a rear entertainment system, and from the EX, a rear-seat communication system amplifies the driver's voice through the speakers. On these trims, the rear speakers can also be disabled in what the manufacturer terms 'Quiet Mode'.

Kia Telluride Vehicle Problems and Reliability

The latest rendition of the Telluride SUV has not yet suffered any recalls, so we hope that any problems were ironed out after the two recalls issued in 2020 - one for faulty seatbelts and the other for inoperative brake lights. That said, the SUV boasts a high reliability rating of 81 out of 100 from J.D. Power. A superb warranty also covers it. The bumper-to-bumper plan is valid for 60,000 miles/60 months, while the drivetrain boasts a much longer 100,000-mile/120-month plan. The roadside assistance plan covers unlimited miles over five years.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    10 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles

Kia Telluride Safety

Safety reviews of the Telluride return favorable results, with the NHTSA awarding it an overall rating of five stars. The IIHS gives the SUV top marks of Good in every category save for headlights, granting models with LED headlights the coveted Top Safety Pick award in 2020.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

Family and safety seem to be the name of the game, with even the base-level outfitted with a host of advanced driver-assistance tech. Many more expensive vehicles expect you to pay extra for many of the features that Kia offers for free. These include blind-spot detection, forward collision warning and avoidance, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, lane following assist, rear cross-traffic alert, a rearview camera, and parking distance warning. The standard airbag setup includes dual front, driver's knee, front side, and side curtain airbags for a total of seven. Kia's Safe Exit Assist system prevents occupants from inadvertently opening the door into the path of approaching traffic.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Kia Telluride a good car?

It certainly made a splash in 2020, and we do not expect the ripples to die down any time soon. Every aspect of the midsize SUV seems to come together to deliver an excellent package at a very reasonable cost. You get a capable V6 engine that still manages to be economical, plenty of passenger and cargo space, a decent list of standard features, and plenty of driver-assist tech, even on the base configuration. If you want near-luxury comfort and style levels, the top-tier trims still come in a lot cheaper than premium SUVs. When you take into account the vehicle's appealing warranty plan and impressive ratings, it is not hard to see why it is so popular. But the lack of updates may see the 2021 Kia Telluride lose a few points against its top rivals like the Honda Pilot.

🚘What's the Price of the Kia Telluride?

Comfort and performance conjure images of massive debts but do not have to cost you an arm and a leg, even when you're hauling eight people around town. The Telluride is a prime example of an affordable, well-packaged family sport-utility vehicle, with the base LX going on sale for a mere $31,990 starting MSRP. From there, each upgrade is a modest bump in the Telluride's cost, with the S coming in at $34,390 and the EX at $37,390. The cost of a new Kia Telluride in its top-tier SX trim is a little higher, though, at $42,190. Each offers an available AWD drivetrain for an additional $2,000, although the SX charges $100 less. This pricing excludes tax, licensing, registration, and a $1,170 destination charge.

2021 Kia Telluride Models

Four grades comprise the Kia Telluride models list for 2021: the LX, S, EX, and SX. Standard features across the board include the V6 engine with 291 hp and 262 lb-ft, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either FWD or AWD.

The S rides on 18-inch alloy wheels and comes outfitted with standard halogen headlights. It is a little more impressive inside with a comprehensive safety suite, including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and forward collision avoidance. It also has an eight-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a six-speaker sound system.

The S trim gets larger 18-inch alloy wheels and a sunroof. The manual seats become power-adjustable, and the second-row bench is swapped for two captain's chairs. The front seats gain heating, too.

Moving to EX trims, specs revert back to 18-inch wheels and a second-row bench. However, it receives a power liftgate, automatic climate control, climate-controlled seats for occupants up front, and a bigger 10.25-inch touchscreen. The synthetic leather is also upgraded to genuine leather.

The top-spec SX sports 20-inch wheels again, along with twin sunroofs and LED headlights and fog lights. Inside, captain's chairs are installed once again, and the front row gains extra adjustability levels. A surround-view camera is equipped, and the sound system is switched out for Harman Kardon setup with ten speakers.

See All 2021 Kia Telluride Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

There are not many ways to alter your purchase, at least in any meaningful way. Most options you pick on the configurator will see your trim changed rather than adding the requested features to your current configuration. A few elements can be tailored, though, including LED fog lights ($450), a rear entertainment unit ($1,500), and a Towing Package for the EX/SX ($795). The two apex trims also receive their own unique upgrade packages. The EX Premium Package ($1,695) adds 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, and second-row captain's chairs. The SX Prestige Package ($2,300) adds Nappa leather upholstery, a premium headliner, climate-controlled second-row seats, a 110-volt power outlet, and a head-up display. Both the EX and SX also offer the Nightfall Edition Package ($1,295), which sees them get an exterior makeover with custom front bumpers, grilles, window surrounds, and exterior badging, along with LED fog lights and headlights.

🚗What Kia Telluride Model Should I Buy?

Of the various 2021 Kia Telluride models available, the base LX is remarkable value for money. It accommodates eight, and comes with plenty of tech to keep them all safe and secure. The infotainment is a little lackluster with only six speakers, but smartphone integration is standard. Upgrading the EX is undoubtedly an option, especially with the larger infotainment screen and desirable comfort features, such as tri-zone climate control, leather seats with heating, and a wireless charging pad. This still keeps the price under $40k, too. The top-tier SX is very nearly luxurious, thanks to the upgraded sound system and available Nappa leather, but it may not be as appealing with its higher total price.

2021 Kia Telluride Comparisons

Hyundai Palisade Hyundai
Honda Pilot Honda
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Kia Telluride291 hp20/26 mpg$31,990
Hyundai Palisade 291 hp19/26 mpg$31,975
Honda Pilot 280 hp20/27 mpg$32,250

2021 Kia Telluride vs Hyundai Palisade

Neither the Telluride nor its cousin, the Hyundai Palisade, have seen any extensive changes for the new model year, so what was true last year remains the same. The Palisade even shares similar pricing to the Kia Telluride. The Kia is slightly more practical with marginally more trunk space, more passenger room, and better fuel economy, despite sharing an engine with the Palisade. It's also a little more affordable, since the Hyundai puts more focus on delivering a more opulent interior with better standard features. But, to be honest, there is not much separating these two cars, and which one you pick will primarily come down to taste and brand loyalty. Neither offers a genuine 4x4 system, but all-wheel-drive is available on both. Overall, the Telluride is slightly better value for money, in our opinion.

See Hyundai Palisade Review

2021 Kia Telluride vs Honda Pilot

Before the Kia SUV came along, the Honda Pilot was the cool kid on the block. Last year, Honda saw its market dominance challenged, and it has not made much of an effort to regain its advantage. If anything, it has only made a few changes to bring itself more in line with the Telluride rather than surpass it in terms of value. The Honda is slightly pricier at $32,250, yet it provides a relatively small 16.5-cubic-foot trunk compared to the Hyundai's 21 cubes. It has a lot of standard features, though, and gets nearly equal ratings as the Telluride. So, what it really comes down to is which vehicle ticks more boxes as a family car. If you're looking for the perfect family vehicle, the Kia Telluride remains the SUV to beat, thanks to its superior levels of real estate for both passengers and their things.

See Honda Pilot Review

Kia Telluride Popular Comparisons

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$31,990 - $44,090
Price Range (MSRP)
Kia Telluride