2021 Kia Telluride Review

Is this the pound-for-pound mid-size crossover SUV champion?

Brian Armstead
  • Competitively priced
  • Comprehensively equipped, even in base trim
  • Compares well with luxury brand products
  • Difficult to see the writing on the center-stack buttons during daylight
  • Rugged styling may not be as elegant as some competitors
  • May make your Range Rover and G-Wagon jealous

The 2021 Kia Telluride is a mid-size, 3-row, crossover SUV with seating for up to eight passengers. Now in its second year of production, the Telluride is marketed as rugged, free spirited, go-anywhere sport utility. Available with a single V6 powertrain with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the 2021 Kia Telluride starts at around $32,000.

Telluride Exterior

At first glance from side and rear views, the Telluride looks like a nice blend of features from upscale competitors. But look at it head-on, and it’s all Telluride. With a wide grille, large, rectangular amber Daytime Running Lights, and available LED fog lights, the look is all business. 

The Telluride’s rugged good looks are enhanced by a palette of eight colors in the new for 2021 Nightfall Edition package ($1,295). Colors include Snow White Pearl, Everlasting Silver, Gravity Gray, Ebony Black, Sangria, Black Copper and Dark Moss – plus Wolf Gray, a newly introduced exterior hue exclusive to the Nightfall Edition. Read on for more details about this special package.

Telluride Interior

Like all Kia models, Telluride is well-contented on all trim levels. Depending on trim, choose from the features you and your family need. Fold-flat second and third row seats open up 87 cubic feet with both rows folded, 46 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 21 cubic feet of luggage space behind the third row.

The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel houses controls for phone, driver information display, cruise control, media mode and volume, and more. The touchscreen in either size is positioned above the central stack, a “floating” design. It does not fold away, and is easily reachable by driver and front passenger.  

At night, cool ambient lighting (in 64 selectable colors, available only on SX trim) is inlaid in the doors, dash and footwells. The lighting creates a more upscale environment and looks great. 

With top-line SX trim, you can choose from several optional goodies, including the $2,300 SX Prestige Package, which includes premium Nappa leather trim, premium headliner, head-up display, heated and ventilated 2nd-row seats, automatic rain-sensing wipers, and a 110-volt power inverter. 

We had one quibble with the trim on the center stack. Below the 8.0-inch or 10.25-inch telematics screen is a row of silver buttons used to select map, navigation, radio, media, home and other functions. The way they’re made, it’s difficult to see the writing on the buttons during daylight hours, making choosing the right one difficult. The buttons are backlit at night, and are easier to see. 

2021 Kia Telluride

Telluride Powertrain

All Telluride models are powered by Kia’s 3.8-liter V6 (291 hp/262 lb-ft of torque). Each trim level is available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). The Telluride is rated at 5,000 pounds towing capacity.

Available AWD features Torque Vectoring Cornering Control, which can help give you added control during off-road expeditions. A lockable center differential channels 50% of torque to both axles.  AWD drive modes include Comfort, Eco, Sport, Snow and Smart and vary the amount of torque sent to each axle, with Eco and Smart modes for example sending 100% to the front axle. 

2021 Kia Telluride

Telluride Driving Experience

We drove the top trim level SX AWD. The Telluride offers great interior room for seven or eight depending on trim, and even third row occupants have good legroom and great headroom. 

Up front, the Telluride is large-people friendly. Our tallest driver and passenger (six feet, nine inches) had decent legroom and plenty of headroom, even with the standard dual-panel glass sunroof.

Our tester was outfitted with all-season tires mounted to standard trim 20-inch wheels. If you live in severe winter weather climates, winter tires are a wise option. The Telluride lacks high-low range and other options some advanced 4WD systems provide, like Hill Descent Control. Ride quality can be best described as “firm,” but if all-out comfort is your goal, trims with 18-inch wheels offer a more compliant ride. For an even better ride, choose the $795 Towing Package which includes a self-leveling rear suspension (more compliant than standard rear suspension). On all trim levels, the interior is quiet, and the V6 engine offers good acceleration. 

The V6 AWD is a bit thirsty, managing just 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21mpg combined. Fuel economy is marginally better with FWD models – 20 city/26 highway/23 combined. The Telluride is engineered to run on regular (87-octane) fuel.

2021 Kia Telluride

2021 Kia Telluride Trim Levels and Pricing

Telluride is well-equipped at every trim level, following in Kia tradition.

  • LX (starting around $32,000 FWD/$34,000 AWD) – Base LX trim offers front and rear skid plates, 18-inch alloy wheels, 8.0-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and more.
  • S (starting around $35,000 FWD/$37,000 AWD) – Add a power sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels, LED interior lights, 10-way power driver’s seat, 7-passenger seating with 2nd-row captain’s chairs, heated front seats, and more.
  • EX (starting around $37,500 FWD/$39,500 AWD) – Add power folding outside mirrors, smart power liftgate, Driver Talk, Quiet Mode, 10.25-inch touchscreen, wireless phone charger, leather seat trim, ventilated front seats, and more.
  • SX (starting around $42,000 FWD/$44,000 AWD) – Top trim level adds dual sunroofs, LED front fog lights, 10-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio, stainless-steel interior trim and more.

Add a $1,170 Destination charge to all trim levels.

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a Telluride on Kia’s official web site.

2021 Kia Telluride

Telluride Best Features

We never thought we’d be excited about USB ports, but the Telluride has them built into the upper insides of the front seats, meaning second row occupants can easily practice the ABC or Always Be Charging, rule. There are also three power outlets standard.

Driver Talk allows the driver to communicate with all three rows without shouting via the vehicle’s speakers, and Quiet Mode mutes second- and third-row audio so sleepy passengers can rest, while the driver and front passenger can still enjoy audio choices in the front row only.

2021 Kia Telluride

What is Our Favorite Version of the Telluride?

The new for 2021 $1295 Nightfall Edition package could be named the “Skyfall” Edition, because it’s got that serious flavor like vehicles in James Bond movies. The blackout trim and wheels raise the “murdered out” factor. During our test drive, we got a ton of compliments from 18-29 year-olds, a demographic that is media savvy (67% are active on Instagram), and often share their favorite vehicles on social media platforms. The Telluride is hot, and the Nightfall Edition mated to SX trim is scorching. 

2021 Kia Telluride

Telluride Notable Safety Features

The Kia Drive Wise suite of standard and available Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) is comprehensive, helping to warn the driver or correct potentially dangerous inattention to impending collisions or unintended travel off the main roadway.

We’re all pretty used to a complement of airbags standard on our new vehicles, but the Telluride raises the bar by equipping all trims with a driver’s knee airbag (to prevent submarining under the seatbelt in severe collisions), dual front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags for all three rows.

Standard Safe Exit Assist Can alert the driver or passengers opening their door not to exit the vehicle when the system detects approaching traffic. When detected, a chime sounds. The system can intervene to lock the rear doors when the vehicle is equipped with the available Power Child Lock. 

2021 Kia Telluride

Who Should Buy a 2021 Kia Telluride?

Families looking for an SUV with style and a high level of equipment but without a premium price tag will recognize the Telluride as a smart buy. 

While Telluride’s AWD isn’t exactly a go-anywhere feature, buyers who want a vehicle to serve as base camp for their adventures will appreciate its roominess, flexible interior, and capability.

Anecdotally, we know people who own high-end luxury cars who have purchased Telluride models as their daily drivers, without even considering the “snob factor” that comes into play at the premium of the SUV market.

The 2021Kia Telluride is made in America. It’s built in West Point, Georgia, alongside the Kia K5.

2021 Kia Telluride

CarExpert’s Take on the 2021 Kia Telluride

In its second year on the market, the Telluride remains a red-hot seller for the brand from South Korea whose mantra is “Give It Everything.” In any trim level, the Telluride is the pound-for-pound mid-size crossover SUV champion. Try to find an SUV that offers the size, safety, performance, comfort and convenience and low price of entry the Telluride offers. Even if you check most of the option boxes on the top SX AWD trim, you are still south of $50K for the final tally. Add a terrific 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty that brings buyer peace of mind to the purchase equation.

The 2021 Kia Telluride is a very solid buy.

2021 Kia Telluride

Kia Telluride Competitors to Consider

  • Ford Explorer
  • Honda Pilot
  • Hyundai Palisade
  • Mazda CX-9
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Volkswagen Atlas


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Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8.8
Ride Comfort 8.3
Safety 8.5
Fit for Purpose 8.7
Handling Dynamics 8.3
Interior Practicality and Space 8.8
Fuel Efficiency 8.1
Value for Money 8.8
Performance 8.3
Technology Infotainment 8.6