For the past decade or so, Kia has been challenging the auto industry with aggressive pricing and styling as well as displaying a penchant for deft marketing that has lifted the South Korean automaker’s profile and made it a contender for the attention on of car buyers across the United States.
Now with the development of the Telluride, Kia has pushed beyond the compact car and utility vehicle segments into the heart of the American market with a midsized sport utility vehicle that crisp styling, neatly integrated technology and solid performance into a versatile vehicle that can be put to any number of uses from commuting, to carrying children around the neighborhood to making a big impression whether its left at the curb or with the valet.
Overview: The 2021 Telluride also is another marker in Kia’s ascent from budget carmaker to producer that can charge $50,000 plus for the top-of-line model of its flagship vehicle.
(Kia reshapes brand, teases seven new BEVs, and new line of what it calls PBVs.)
Exterior: Kia’s introduced a special edition of the Telluride called the Nightfall for 2021. After looking at the ute’s bold exterior trim, including a special grille with a special black finish and exclusive Kia logos, it’s easy to see why.
The treatment creates a striking face for the vehicle that is easily recognizable in traffic. The grille has been complemented by 20-inch wheels, LED headlights, fog lamps and tilt and sliding sunroof.
The rear liftgate also is nicely styled with the lines down the side of the Telluride giving the vehicle additional character. The overall result is a vehicle with a sleeker-than-average silhouette with a bold, aggressive stance creates and entirely new image for Kia.
Interior: One of the strengths of the Telluride SX Nightfall that I drove for a week was its interior. The cabin is spacious, offering excellent visibility from the driver’s seat. At the same time, while the Telluride is wide, the controls for features such as the heating and cooling and the heated seats, which are not on the steering wheel, are close to the driver’s hand.
The center stack is topped off by a 10.25-inch screen with excellent graphics for entertainment and navigation as well a heated steering wheel.
The sound system is excellent, and the interior is furnished with a nice selection of materials, including a headliner made of premium material that gives the vehicle a luxurious feeling.
The 12-way seat is trimmed in leather and there are grab handles tucked in the cabin for passenger to latch onto when the Telluride is driven over rough terrain.
(Kia readying first dedicated battery-electric vehicle.)
Powertrain: The 2021 Telluride SX Nightfall is powered by a 3.8-liter, 6-cylinder engine with direct injection that is coupled with an 8-speed automatic transmission and an active, on-demand all-wheel drive with five separate drive modes for different kinds of terrain or road conditions.
The combination works quickly and efficiently and the combined fuel-economy rating from the Environmental Protection Agency is 21 miles per gallon while it gets 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Technology and Safety: Kia does well at integrating technology in its vehicles and the 2021 Telluride comes equipped with a full range of safety, driver assistance and connectivity features. The list includes forward-collision avoidance, blind-spot alert, lane-keeping assist, smart cruise control, parking distance warning and rear-occupant alert.
It is also equipped with Bluetooth, satellite radio and Kia’s UVO connectivity link as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There is also a wireless phone charger and a smart key.
Rain-sensing windshield wipers add a layer convenience while multiple airbags protect occupants from frontal- and side-impact collisions as well as a Harmon-Kardon sound system.
Driving impressions: For part of my test drive, I took the 2021 Telluride out on some muddy roads that were also covered with snow and it performed admirably as the as the all-wheel-drive system kicked in instantly when the road got particularly slippery.
The steering was very good, and the brakes had plenty of stopping power when needed even on a slick surface. The entire drivetrain also seemed nicely balanced so the shifts, going up or down hill, seemed to come at the right moment from the transmission.
In addition, the V-6 engine delivered more than enough power out on the highway or in city driving thanks to the ample torque that the engine seems to deliver instantly when pushing down on the throttle.
(Kia caught testing flagship all-electric Imagine SUV.)
Wrap Up: Once you get beyond the fact that you are paying $50,000 for a Kia, the 2021 Telluride SX Nightfall is an impressive vehicle. The interior is plush, the technology is top drawer, and the vehicle performs well out on the road and on varied surfaces, including dirt and snow.
It is also very versatile, and it has ample room for seven passengers and sporting gear or luggage or even heavier cargo in the pinch. Kia’s stylists also have worked around the edge and corners so that the vehicle stands out from the other SUVs in big, crowded field with a long list of tough competitors such as the Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse and the Ford Explorer.