“Unmet needs” were the target for Kia designers when they set out to create a big, bold and boxy 3-row SUV for the American market.
Those needs are met with the Kia Telluride, a mainstream vehicle with a base price of $32,000 that can be ramped up to offer new levels of luxury and convenience for a fraction of the price of established premium brands. In doing so it claims a 2020 Wards Best Interiors award.
Our loaded $47,255 test vehicle is not inexpensive, but it has features and materials on par with luxury cruisers costing twice as much. Two examples: heated and cooled second-row seats and a luxuriant headliner material Kia modestly calls “premium cloth headliner trim.” It strongly resembles Alcantara, a super-premium synthetic suede that typically graces Bentleys and Lamborghinis.
Judge Tom Murphy was thoroughly impressed with the interior craftsmanship and attention to detail, calling out the brushed metallic trim and switchgear, matte finish wood-like trim, meticulous stitching and dune brown leather seats “that look and feel as warm as a cowboy’s saddle.”
Other judges were impressed with the rich, mocca interior as well. Product strategists tell us consumers of big SUVs tend to be conservative when it comes to interior colors, but Kia chose to offer more than the usual number of nontraditional hues to reel in more nontraditional buyers.
Consider us hooked. In addition to six shades of black and gray, there are three shades of brown, from light butterscotch to dark espresso and our favorite, dune brown.
To create a quieter cabin, sound-absorbing windshield glass is standard. Front-door windows on higher trim levels also get the special glass.
Like most high-end 3-row vehicles, the second row is modeled after airline business-class seating, with plenty of legroom.
However, Kia designers added several common-sense features we’ve rarely seen anywhere, such as middle-row USB charging ports located at chest level on the front seatbacks, making it more convenient to plug in than bending over and reaching to the bottom of the center console where they are typically located. Other nice surprises are the second-row pockets (see photo below) to hold charging phones, as well as lighted USB charging ports on the outboard sides of the third-row seats. We counted six USB ports overall.
"Six USB ports is as many as I’ve seen among all the competitors," notes Judge Jim Irwin.
Kia product strategists tell us the last-row seats typically are designed with small children in mind, but Kia’s research shows teenagers prefer the third row over the second for more privacy, creating a need for more charging ports and additional legroom. The Telluride’s second-row seats slide back and forth several inches, allowing fullsize occupants in both rows enough legroom to sit comfortably.
The idea that teenagers want to locate themselves as far away as possible from parents in the front seats strikes us as a revelation so obvious, we’re surprised every vehicle with three rows is not designed with this in mind.
And when there are no passengers in the back rows, they fold flat with the touch of a button to create a capacious cargo area of up to 87 cu.-ft. (2.5 cu.-m).
"The cargo area is huge behind the third row. That has to be a major buying point," says Judge Christie Schweinsberg. "So often 3-row vehicles have little space behind the seats."
Up front is a luxurious and expansive instrument panel that commands your attention with a 10.25-in. (260-mm) touchscreen and beautiful soft-touch materials and satin finishes.
There are large buttons and knobs on the center stack for everyday infotainment and HVAC functions. The touchscreen offers Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and sophisticated natural language recognition for voice commands.
A large head-up display also puts key information directly within the driver’s line of sight. Meanwhile, large analog gauges and a conventional gear shift lever give the cockpit the personality of a rugged SUV.
A full list of advanced driver-assist systems rounds out the interior features menu.
“Kia deserves every accolade it’s gotten for its Telluride fullsize SUV,” says judge Murphy. “From the massive flat load floor, dual sunroofs and stellar infotainment system to the heated and ventilated second-row seats, microsuede headliner and third-row USB charging ports, the Telluride is an excellent value.”