By Dan Neil
NO ONE IS QUITE sure how it happened. Mistakes were made. An accident during the night seems to have caused an uncontrolled release of neurotoxins known to make people want to be parents. And now you are.
The 2020 Kia Telluride SUV, with optional seating for eight, is aimed at those who have been especially affected by outbreaks of whelping, weaning and child-rearing. While there are plenty of midsize, three-row family SUVs out there, the eight-seat option is a rarer thing. I count only five: Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Chevy Traverse, the Kia, and its mechanical clone, the Hyundai Palisade. So, in addition to being named North American Utility of the Year this week by a jury of automotive media, the Telluride takes home the Breeders' Cup.
The Telluride/Palisade twins were designed and engineered specifically for North America, surely Hyundai Motor Group's biggest export market, at least in terms of body-mass index. Size has been privileged. The Telluride's boxy outside encloses an airy 178.1 cubic feet of interior space, with hip, shoulder and elbow room comparable to sitting alone in a ski gondola. The seats are broad, soft and shallowly bolstered at the hips, making entry and exit easy. Even with the third-row seat-backs up, the Telluride reserves 21 cubic feet of cargo space, which is enough to carry a folded baby stroller, or one of those kneeler-wheelers, in case the gout is flaring up.
Even though they are built on opposite sides of the Earth -- the Palisade in South Korea, the Telluride in Georgia, U.S.A. -- the machines are virtually identical, down to millimeters. Both are propelled by a Singer-smooth, direct-injected 3.8-liter V6, paired with the same ghostly eight-speed transmission; both are built on the same platform/parts matrix (front-wheel or all-wheel drive) with the same strut-based front suspension and multi-link rear.
And both use the same AWD hardware and multi-mode traction mapping to go places. In Eco and Smart modes, 100% of torque drives the front wheels; in the default Comfort mode (and Snow mode), 20% is shipped to the rear axle; in Sport mode, up to 35%. If you really find yourself in the slush, there is an additional Lock mode, which splits torque 50/50, front and rear.
Motor Trend weighed top-spec versions of both SUVs and the results were within a pound of each other, 16 slim ounces. Now that is a triumph of global manufacturing.
At the helm: The Telluride's MacPherson strut front suspension and hydraulically assisted power steering give it a familiar carlike handle, light and direct, with confident line-tracing at highway speeds, not too busy -- more minivan than SUV. It will eat up highway miles and barely stir. The biggie 20-inch alloy wheels and tires -- always a potential fail-point in terms of road noise and ride quality -- were well hushed.
The Telluride's appetite for hot laps is roughly equivalent to my children's love of morning calisthenics. It has nicely tuned anti-roll bars front and rear to reduce body roll in corners, which is fine if you are banking into a long curve. But if you need to jig left-right real quick for any reason, the Telluride's knees lock. It's all about managing expectations, and you should expect anything as tall and dense as this (4,500 pounds, under 200 inches) to be as tossable as a Marshall double-stack.
Acceleration: With a well-placed kick the Telluride will lumber to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, accompanied by the distant-sounding whir and gnash of the V6 and eight-speed auto. But it's like prodding an elephant into an elevator. This thing is so much happier turning lazy revs in double-overdrive.
Like the Palisade, the Telluride starts under $32,000 and includes a long list of family-friendly nannying systems, including forward-collision warning/avoidance; rear-cross traffic and blind-spot collision avoidance; and distance-keeping cruise control with lane-following assistance. The tech buffet includes the standard 10.25-inch touch screen display (EX and SX trim), with navi; Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; the cabin intercom; and the so-called Quiet Mode, which keeps front passengers' entertainment choices from being heard in the rear seats. Also, six USB ports, five for charging and one for media. That should keep the spawn happy.
The SX trim adds the black-painted 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps and the Harman Kardon surround sound. Our tester had been blessed with the upholstery upsell (Prestige Package, $2,000), including stitched Nappa leather seat trim and head-up's instrument display.
Our tester priced out at $46,860 and about the only option missing was the eight-seat configuration, due to the heated/ventilated second row captain's chairs.
You know what else the two machines have in common? Appalling, well-nigh unforgivable fuel economy (EPA-estimated 19/24/21 mpg, city/highway/combined). I was seeing trip averages in the high teens. The feds' estimate $1,950 annual fuel costs ($2.70 a gallon times 15,000 miles) seems entirely too rosy.
Many factors contribute to the Telluride's poor showing at the pump, including the usual suspects: curb weight and drag. The SX AWD with all the trimmings weighs 4,482 pounds; the shape has the aero slipperiness of a beer delivery truck.
And let's be clear: Kia isn't spending any new money on engine efficiency here. The Atkinson-cycle (non-turbo) V6 and eight-speed automatic are legacy bits, as developed as they are going to get. Kia can make a profit with this package in North America because fuel prices remain relatively moderate and regulatory pressures (i.e., compliance costs) are low.
Sure is a nice-looking truck, though, isn't it? Check out all the brightwork, the flush-fitting metal trim around the grille, around the window openings, at the rocker panel and bumper fascias. All seven of your kids will love it.
2020 KIA TELLURIDE SX AWD
Base Price: $43,790
Price, as Tested: $46,860
Engine and Drivetrain: Atkinson-cycle direct-injected 3.8-liter, DOHC 24-valve V6; eight-speed automatic transmission; on-demand all-wheel drive with low-traction modes
Power/Torque: 291 hp at 6,000 rpm/262 lb-ft at 5,200 rpm
Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase: 196.9/78.3/69.3 (inc. roof racks)/114.2 inches
Curb Weight: 4,482 pounds
0-60 mph: 7.2 seconds (Motor Trend)
EPA Fuel Economy: 19/24/21 mpg, city/highway/combined
Cargo Capacity: 21/46/86 cubic feet (behind 3rd/2nd/1st row seat backs)
Write to Dan Neil at Dan.Neil@wsj.com
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 17, 2020 09:36 ET (14:36 GMT)
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