May 25, 2024

2023 Kia Telluride First Drive Review: An established hit adds more to the menu

6 min read

SAN ANTONIO — The Kia Telluride, along with its mostly-same-beneath-the-skin counterpart, the Hyundai Palisade, quickly caught our attention when it launched as an all-new nameplate for the 2020 model year. This new three-row SUV was a heavy hitter from the beginning, with good looks, sensible pricing and a wealth of content that bettered other brands. It quickly became popular, with thousands upon thousands of shrewd customers eagerly and intelligently spending their hard-earned dollars to put a Telluride in their driveways. Kia America Executive VP/COO Steve Center claims it’s internally referred to as the “Selluride.” 

Three and a half years later, we haven’t broken our gaze from this well-rounded ute. Heck, it still feels pretty new to us. That didn’t keep Kia from fiddling with it, though, giving the Telluride a mid-cycle refresh for the 2023 model year. 

Usually, we’d say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But even if the Telluride has been aging well, newer (and cheaper) vehicles in Kia’s lineup have been getting updated and upgraded features not available in what is effectively the brand’s flagship. So that’s what we get for 2023. It’s pretty much the same vehicle we know and quickly fell in love with, but with fresh content to choose from, along with two new semi-ruggedized trim packages, and some visual updates thrown in for good measure.

Under the surface, the 2023 Kia Telluride remains largely unchanged. It still has a single powertrain option: a hard-working, naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V6 peaking at 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. That’s put to the wheels — either the fronts or all four, depending on how you spec it — via an eight-speed automatic transmission. So, yes, driving the 2023 Telluride is going to feel familiar if you’ve driven any Telluride at all. The V6 is suitably powerful without being particularly quick (or slow), and the transmission stays out of the way. You still have the various selectable drive modes to eke out either more throttle response (Sport) or range from your tank (Eco). There’s a Comfort mode to split the difference, a Smart mode that does the thinking for you, or a Snow mode for, well, snow. 

The first differences discerning consumers will notice will be the exterior visual updates. Up front, the 2023 Telluride gets a new front fascia featuring a revised grille, headlight and LED accent lighting. The Telluride’s old signature yellow ring of accent lighting is gone. The rear fascia is updated, too, along with the taillights. Each trim level gets new wheel designs, and there are three new available exterior paint colors: Midnight Lake Blue, Dawning Red and Jungle Green.

Inside, Kia has played with the dash design, including the vents and trim panels, in order to accommodate the same dual display found in the EV6, Sportage and Niro. The combination of 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 12.3-inch infotainment screen joined under a single curved glass panel is standard on the SX and SX Prestige. That infotainment screen is actually standard and includes navigation on all Tellurides – it’s the analog instrument cluster found in lower trims that differs. In the EX trim and up, the rearview mirror becomes an impressively crisp and clear digital camera display with the flip of a lever — great for when you’re loaded up with cargo. The wireless charging pad has been made slightly bigger to accommodate a newer, larger generation of cellphones. Each row of seating gets USB-C charging ports. Even the steering wheel gets a fresh look. The higher trims, at least, continue to stand tall enough to peek over the luxury fence, combining thoughtful design and high-quality materials.

The new X-Line and X-Pro packages take these visual flairs up another notch. The X-Line replaces the Telluride Nightfall Edition, and is available as an upgrade to the EX, SX and SX Prestige trim levels. It gets a unique 3D mesh grille, body-color door handles, unique 20-inch wheels, raised roof rails and, of course, “X-Line” badging. There’s X-Line embossing on the backrests of the front seats. All-wheel drive is standard here, but arguably the best part of the deal is a 0.4-inch increase in ground clearance, for a total of 8.4 inches, which also improves approach and departure angles. The suspension is tuned a bit The traction control settings have been upgraded, and it also gets a Tow mode that adjusts powertrain settings for better towing performance.

The X-Pro makes things even more interesting. Only available for the line-topping SX and SX Prestige trims, the X-Pro includes everything from the X-Line but swaps in 18-inch black wheels wrapped in Continental all-terrain tires, and the suspension is tuned for “additional compliance.” It gets “X-Pro” badging and seat embossing, plus an extra 110-volt plug in the cargo area. Finally, its tow rating bests the other Tellurides by 500 pounds, at 5,500, thanks to an upgraded fan for improved cooling.

Driving the X-Pro on the road, if there was a difference from the extra modicum of ride height, the suspension  tuning or taller sidewalls, it was too subtle to report on from this single drive. It was still the familiar-feeling ride that leans more toward comfort than sportiness, soaking up bumps nicely. We did get to take it off-road, and while we can’t really compare it to the standard trims in this arena, it was surprisingly capable, even when one of the wheels would lift from the ground when crossing ditches and large ruts. The all-terrains found grip well, and the traction control works quickly to find even more footing when it’s needed. Turning on the parking camera helped to see the trail ahead when it dipped out of sight, and the downhill braking control made for calm descents of steep hills. We wouldn’t hesitate to take this down some old logging trails or unmaintained county roads, but, honestly, we wouldn’t hesitate in the regular versions, either. Maybe we wouldn’t delve as deep into the woods. Nevertheless, we’re fans of semi-ruggedized versions of mainstream SUVs, even if it’s as much for the appearance as the actually slight increase in capability.

Some of the 2023 tech updates might make a difference for you, even if the mechanical aspects of the drive are largely unchanged. The driver assistance suite has been updated with new standard features, and the Highway Drive Assist 2 system is standard in SX and up. HDA2 upgrades the standard version with better logic for when cars cut you off or encroach on your lane, and it uses machine learning to learn how you like to drive with cruise control activated. HDA2 also has improved forward collision avoidance, and evasive steering for oncoming traffic when you’re changing lanes. While we couldn’t test those, we could test HDA2’s semi-automated lane change assist, which takes a cue from your turn signal to find an open spot in that direction and steer you safely into the next lane. It’s smooth in operation, but takes its sweet time. We still performed most of our lane changes completely manually while relying on our mirrors, blind spot warning and camera feed on the instrument cluster (a combination that won our 2020 Technology of the Year).

And, as ever, the Telluride drives a hard bargain. It starts at $37,025 (including $1,335 in destination) for the base LX with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive adds $2,000 across the board, except in SX Prestige or any of the X-Pro and X-Line trims, in which it’s already included. X-Line adds $2,195 on top of the price of the EX AWD, and $1,395 to SX AWD and SX Prestige. X-Pro adds another $1,000 on top of that. The most expensive trim, the SX Prestige X-Pro, costs $54,120 before options (which are limited to things like special paint colors, a tow hitch, carpeted floor mats, bumper appliques and the like).

The Kia Telluride still offers a lot, for a lot of people, and the refresh only makes it more appealing. Kia sold 93,705 Tellurides in 2021, up from 75,129 in 2020 and 58,604 when it launched in 2019. Don’t expect Telluride sales to slow down anytime soon. Kia doesn’t. In fact, it’s expanding Telluride capacity to 120,000 units a year. And that’ll be 120,000 very happy customers.

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