First Drive: 2023 Kia Telluride

Exquisite detailing, like the diamond-quilted Terracotta leather seats, imparts the 2023 Kia Telluride with a luxury vibe.

Among the most popular jewelers in Palm Beach is the one that sells costume jewelry that looks anything but fake. Cubic zirconia never looked so good.

It proves that no matter your income bracket, everyone loves something that appears more expensive than it really is — like the 2023 Kia Telluride. 

Debuting in 2019 for the 2020 model year, the three-row Kia Telluride quickly banished any remaining reputation that Kia had earned from its early years in the U.S. market. Looking far pricier than it is, the Telluride’s popularity means that as many as 80% of Kia Tellurides are sold before they arrive at dealerships.

Sales skyrocketed to 93,705 units last year from 58,604 in 2019. For 2023, Kia is increasing production capacity to 120,000 units, as the Telluride’s days-to-turn remain among the industry’s lowest.

Overview

Small details lends a brawnier looks to the 2023 Kia Telluride.

For first major update since it launched for 2020, the 2023 Telluride gets a refresh, although its design is so good, you wonder why the company bothered.

Kia also adds two off-road-oriented X-Line and X-Pro trim levels to a bewildering trim level walk that starts with LX, and rises through S, EX, EX X-Line, SX, SX X-Line, SX Pro, SX Prestige, SX Prestige X-Line and SX Prestige Pro trim levels.

Front wheel drive is offered on LX, S, EX and SX trim. All-wheel drive is available on all trim levels. X-Line adds the essential off-road upgrades, including an added 04 inches of ground clearance, unique grille design, raised roof rails, 20-inch wheels, improved approach and departure angles, a tow driving mode, and upgraded traction control.

The X-Pro gets all of that and exclusive 18-inch wheels, an extra 500 pounds of towing capacity, and a 110-volt outlet in the cargo area.

Exterior

Kia is trying to lend its largest SUV a more authentic off-road aura. So for 2023, it revised the Telluride’s grille, fascia, lower body side moldings, rear fascia and taillamps, added clear-lens LED headlamps and foglamps, while revising its wheels. The design updates have traded its touch of panache for a bit of backwoods brawn. In the process, some elegance has been lost, although that’s purely on the outside. 

Interior

A redesigned instrument panel and dual touchscreens masterfully update the 2023 Kia Telluride’s interior.

That’s not the case inside, where its premium allure has only increased, thanks to the addition of dual 12.3-inch screens, one for the instrument cluster, the other for the center-mounted multimedia display that resides in a redesigned instrument panel.

Housed under a single sheet of glass in a long horizontal form, it lends an updated contemporary vibe to the cabin. The steering wheel has the typical array of controls for cruise control and such, and they prove useful. Front side glass is insulated, which helps quiet its cabin.

The Terracotta interior hue augments the Telluride’s fashionable glamor, as does the test vehicle’s quilted leather. Surfaces are padded and appropriately premium. If you prefer 8-passenger seating, you’ll have to settle for an LX or EX model; all others come with second row captain’s chairs for seven-passenger seating. 

Cargo capacity is 21 cubic feet, expanding to 46 cubic feet with the third row folded and 87 cubic feet with second and third rows stowed. Payload capacity on our SX-Prestige X-Pro AWD test car was 1,395 pounds, but lighter, less expensive front-wheel drive models rate as high as 1,795 pounds. 

Powertrain

The 2023 Kia Telluride’s profile remains unchanged.

A 3.8-liter V-6 is standard, and produces 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel and all-wheel drive is offered, depending on model. Integrated into the driveline are four driving modes: Smart, Eco, Sport and Comfort, each providing a unique powertrain, drivetrain, and steering experience.

All-wheel-drive models have five. Eco driving mode delivers up to 20% to the rear wheels, while Comfort mode can send 35 percent. Sport, Smart and Snow modes deliver up to 50% of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels while AWD Lock splits it evenly among all four wheels. 

Towing is rated at 5,000 pounds; 5,500 pounds on X-Pro models.

Safety and Technology

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the 2023 Kia Telluride. The similar 2022 Kia Telluride received five stars overall from NHTSA, although frontal crash safety and rollover were rated at four stars. The IIHS rated the 2022 Telluride “Good” in all categories except side crash protection, which it rated “Marginal.”

The 2023 Telluride X-Pro models wear a unqiue grille texture.

While the Telluride has the usual array of driver assistance systems, but there are a couple new ones for 2023, including Kia’s first rear-view camera mirror. It provides a rear view using the car’s rear camera, handy when the rear view is blocked by people or cargo. It can be disorienting at first, but is easy to adjust to. 

Other tech features are not as welcome. One is common to all Kia and Hyundai, products. It’s a chime and graphic that nags you the nanosecond the car in front pulls away. Given that you might be waiting for the car in front of you to pull into a parking space, this is an annoying electronic nag.

More ominous is the optional Highway Assist 2, which uses the vehicle’s sign-reading system to keep the car travelling at the posted speed limit when cruise control is functioning. Most will not appreciate this Nanny state intrusion, as driving the posted speed limit on some big city interstates can cause an accident.

New tech features include a standard wi-fi hotspot. Downhill Brake Control, aka hill descent control, is another welcome addition for added downhill traction, on road or off. There’s also an optional multi-color head-up display as well as a digital key that’s iPhone, Apple Watch, and Samsung Galaxy compatible. The multimedia display remains a paragon of ease to use.

Driving Impressions

The 2023 Kia Telluride’s off-road upgrades are modest, but welcome.

The 291-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 and 8-speed automatic respond swiftly and smoothly, supplying the requisite shifts quickly but smoothly, like a silent servant. Speed comes on fairly quickly in Sport mode, and the vehicle does feel livelier when poking the throttle, but the car feels far more content in Comfort mode.

Yes, driveline becomes a bit more laconic in Comfort mode, but it’s ideal when carrying a full load of passengers, particularly since the ride turns a bit more jittery when in Sport mode. Credit the self-leveling rear suspension.

While Kia tries to position the new Telluride as more off-road capable, its upgrades seem modest. While you can lock-in all-wheel drive, there’s no low-range gearing, although approach and departure angles are better. But it’s hard to imagine using this for true boulder bashing. It’s more of a really good soft-roader, ably transporting you to your campsite.

The seats feel a little flat, with modest side bolsters, but prove comfortable and supportive. Partially thanks to insulated side glass, the cabin is fairly quiet, unless your children are fighting, your spouse is yelling and/or your dog barking.

2023 Kia Telluride SX-Prestige X-Pro AWD Specifications

Dimension L: 196.9 inches/W: 78.3 inches/H: 70.5 inches/Wheelbase: 114.2 inches
Weight 4,522 pounds
Powertrain 3.8-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive
Fuel Economy 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined
Performance Specs 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque
Price Base price: $52,785; As tested: $55,120 including $1,335 destination charge
On-Sale Date Available now

Wrap Up

The Kia Telluride remains popular enough that Kia didn’t have to do anything to maintain its sales momentum. The refresh maintains most of its best traits, while its interior and tech updates are notable improvements. And if you’re waiting for your Kia Telluride to arrive, like other Telluride buyers, you’ll find it worth the delay.

2023 Kia Telluride­ — Frequently Asked Questions

Why is there a shortage of Kia Tellurides?

High demand along with supply-chain and semiconductor chip shortages have constrained production. Kia spokespeople say that as much as 80% of Kia Tellurides are sold before they reach dealerships.

Is Telluride selling over MSRP?  

According to Edmunds.com and CNN, the Kia Telluride has the second-highest markup above MSRP, averaging $2,183. That’s a lot considering the average Kia costs $36,000. Only Land Rover has higher markups, according to the September 2022 report.

Will Telluride hold its value? 

Yes. According to Kelley Blue Book, the Telluride retains 47% of its resale value after five years of ownership, this is highest among midsize SUVs. It was awarded a Kelley Blue Book Best Buy in 2020 and 2021.