Still Punching Above its Weight

2023 Kia Telluride SX X-Pro in blue, parked on dirt outdoors in San Antonio TX.

Photo: Steven Ewing

Normally, “best-in-class” is just a stupid marketing phrase when it comes to cars. Then I get in a Kia Telluride and I’m like, alright, fine, I get it. That’s because every time I drive a Telluride, I wonder why anyone would ever buy any other midsize SUV. It looks rad, drives well, comes packed with creature comforts and it’s even (relatively) affordable. Hell, I’d take one of these over plenty of luxury SUVs. The Telluride is a benchmark defined.

Heading into 2023, the Telluride gets a couple of little updates that only bolster its inherent goodness. A new X-Pro off-road trim, better cabin tech and a longer list of safety systems are the main highlights of this mid-cycle zhuzh. But the best thing about the Telluride has nothing to do with what’s changed — it’s all about what hasn’t.

(Full disclosure: Kia put me up for two nights at a trendy hotel in San Antonio, TX, that vaguely smelled like Axe body spray so I could drive the 2023 Telluride with a group of journalists. Kia also let me take a Telluride to Buc-ee’s so I could experience this beacon of Americana in all its glory. Of course, I paid for the souvenir beaver hat myself.)

Close-up photo of the driver's side headlight on a 2023 Kia Telluride SX X-Pro painted blue.

Photo: Steven Ewing

Here’s your 2023 Telluride spotter’s guide: Look for the new daytime running lights. I’ll admit I’m a little pissed at Kia for ditching the old Telluride’s amber headlamp outline in favor of dual white vertical LEDs. And I know I’m nitpicking here, but come on, the Telluride looks really cool, and amber lights are just better.

The X-Pro updo makes the Telluride slightly more butch thanks to less than half an inch of suspension lift and 18-inch wheels wrapped in 245/60 Continental TerrainContact all-terrain tires. Kia added a less-impressive X-Line model to the Telluride’s roster for 2023, too, and while it has the same ride height increase and visual tweaks as the X-Pro, it comes with 20s and basic all-season tires. The X-Line isn’t really any more rugged than a normal Telluride, and it doesn’t even look that different. But hey, cool roof rails, I guess.

Blue 2023 Kia Telluride SX X-Pro on an off-road course, with its left front wheel in the air as it crawls out of a ditch.

Photo: Steven Ewing

Driving on a manicured off-road course through what I can only describe as half quarry, half wild animal sanctuary, the Telluride X-Pro shows its strengths — and its weaknesses. The little hike in ground clearance means you can drive over slightly more stuff, but the Telluride doesn’t have any underbody protection at all, so you’ll hear lots of expensive-sounding scrapes, and you might damage something vital if you come down hard on a rock. Retuned traction control settings and a new hill-descent function give you a little more surefootedness on dusty trails, but really, the X-Pro is not an off-roader. Sure, it’ll get you to the trailhead, but if you want to go any further, buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Three blue 2023 Kia Telluride SX X-Pro vehicles drive in a line on a dirt path in San Antonio, TX.

Photo: Steven Ewing

On the other hand, those all-terrain tires come with a bonus on-road benefit: The taller sidewalls improve the ride quality. Kia did a great job tuning the Telluride’s suspension across the board, but the X-Pro is particularly comfy. Yes, the knobby tread pattern is a little louder than the stock all-seasons, but not annoyingly so. Crank the tunes and you won’t even notice.

Driving a Telluride X-Line with the 20-inch wheels is also pretty serene. Body motions are nicely controlled; the Telluride isn’t tippy while cornering and is steady and confident when I have to hit the brakes to avoid rear-ending the bro in the lifted Silverado who cut me off (ah, Texas). Even the steering is surprisingly engaging, with a nice, weighty feel. Compared to the Telluride, rivals like the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas are just so freaking dull.

Close-up image of the left front wheel and tire on a blue 2023 Kia Telluride SX X-Pro

Photo: Steven Ewing

Kia didn’t touch the Telluride’s powertrain for 2023, so it uses the same naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V6 as before. This engine’s 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque are fine, and the 8-speed automatic transmission is silky smooth. It’d be neat to see Kia swap in a smaller-displacement turbocharged engine with more low-end torque, or offer some kind of electrified option, especially since so many of the Telluride’s competitors have these powertrain choices. But Kia already can’t build enough Tellurides to keep up with demand, so the sole V6 engine clearly isn’t a problem. The 23-mpg combined EPA fuel economy rating (with front-wheel drive) isn’t out of line among midsize SUVs, either.

Active safety systems are in high supply, with forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control coming standard on every Telluride, as well as Kia’s Highway Driving Assist that combines those last two. A more robust Highway Driving Assist 2 suite is available on some of the more loaded trims, though it really only adds automatic lane-changes to its list of can-dos.

The interior of the 2023 Kia Telluride SX X-Pro, shown with caramel brown leather upholstery and a detailed view of the steering wheel and center console.

Photo: Steven Ewing

The coolest tech upgrade is found inside the Telluride; get a load of that new curved display. Every Telluride has a 12.3-inch center screen with embedded navigation and a Wi-Fi hotspot, though, annoyingly, this software still doesn’t support wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto — something Kia incorporates on smaller touchscreens in its other models. At least there are both USB-A and USB-C ports up front, and an available wireless charging pad with integrated cooling. All Tellurides have a digital gauge cluster, too, but only the more expensive grades have reconfigurable screens with a choice of designs.

Everything else about the Telluride’s interior carries over unchanged, which is fine, because it’s outstanding. The chairs are plush, there’s plenty of head- and legroom in all three rows, and the Telluride is hella capacious, with 87 cubic feet of space with the back rows folded. Go for an SX Prestige and you get soft leather seating surfaces, a faux suede headliner, real metal controls and open-pore wood trim. You might balk at a Telluride SX Prestige with an MSRP above $50,000, but this Kia is better than luxury SUVs from Acura, Buick, Infiniti and more. Seriously, can you imagine buying a Cadillac XT6 over this?

View of the 2023 Kia Telluride SX X-Pro's dashboard and steering wheel from the driver's vantage point.

Photo: Steven Ewing

Even on the base end, the 2023 Telluride is a great value. Its $37,025 starting price (including $1,335 for destination) is right in line with the competitive set, but the Kia looks better than everything else in its class and has a longer list of standard amenities. The cheapest way to get into an X-Line is on an EX model, at $46,820, and the X-Pro option becomes available at the SX level, for $51,220.

Kia is currently in the process of making room for increased Telluride production, and given the continued strong demand, that’s definitely a smart move. Sales show no signs of slowing down, and why would they? The original Telluride set a new standard for midsize SUVs, and the 2023 model only furthers that achievement.

A blue 2023 Kia Telluride SX X-Pro parked at the top of a steeply sloped pile of dirt at an off-road course.

Photo: Steven Ewing

2023 Kia Telluride SX-P X-Pro AWD Specs

Engine type

Regular Unleaded V-6

Transmission/Drive

Automatic w/OD