2023 Kia Telluride: First Drive Review

© Kia America 2023 Kia Telluride
Since its introduction three years ago, the midsize 3-row Telluride has become one of the most popular models in the Kia lineup. Part of the crossover’s success is its boxy, bold design that is more like rugged, truck-based SUVs of years past. Avoiding extreme changes that might upset its winning formula, the 2023 Kia Telluride receives exterior design updates, a refreshed interior and additional trim levels. The new X-Line and X-Pro have more off-road capability, including standard all-wheel drive as well as additional upgrades over other trim levels.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience Exterior Design
Exterior design updates for the new Telluride include revised taillights, front fascia and vertical headlight design with standard LEDs, along with a new grille, bumper and rear fascia. Telluride also receives new side sills, revised door trim, new wheel designs and three new exterior colors: Midnight Lake Blue, Dawning Red and Jungle Wood Green.

© Kia America Interior Updates
The 2023 Telluride features a redesigned dashboard with new trim, revised air vents and a new steering wheel, as well as available curved dual 12.3-inch display screens with a gauge cluster and navigation. New technology includes a standard Wi-Fi hotspot and an optional digital key supporting compatible iPhone, Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy smartphones. The new Telluride also offers a larger multicolor head-up display.

© Kia America Model Lineup
The 2023 Telluride comes in five trim levels: LX, S, EX, SX and SX-Prestige. The first four levels are either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, with AWD standard for SX-Prestige. Buyers can opt for a new X-Line Package on AWD versions of EX, SX and SX-Prestige, with X-Pro available on the SX AWD and SX-Prestige AWD. The Telluride LX starts at $35,690 followed by S at $37,590, EX at $41,290, SX at $45,490 and SX-Prestige AWD at $50,390. AWD can be added to LX, S, EX and SX for $2,000. Prices do not include a destination charge of $1,335.

© Kia America Telluride X-Line and X-Pro
Pricing for Telluride EX X-Line AWD starts at $45,485 followed by SX X-Line AWD at $48,884 and SX-Prestige X-Line AWD at $51,785. Telluride SX X-Pro AWD is priced at $49,885 with SX-Prestige X-Pro AWD topping the range at $52,785. Prices do not include a destination charge of $1,335.

© Kia America Telluride X-Line and X-Pro
The 2023 Kia Telluride adds X-Line and X-Pro for more off-road capability with standard all-wheel drive and additional upgrades over other trim levels. The 2023 Telluride X-Line replaces the Telluride Nightfall Edition and includes a unique grille design, bridge-type roof rails, body-color door handles, exclusive 20-inch wheels and X-Line badging. Inside, the X-Line has exclusive color packages with X-Line embossed on the front seats. Telluride X-Line has higher ground clearance than other trim levels for improved approach and departure angles. The X-Line also adds a Tow mode for improved trailering performance, featuring shift logic, sway control and an upgraded traction control system.

© Kia America Telluride X-Pro
In addition to the Telluride X-Line upgrades, the X-Pro adds 18-inch black wheels, 18-inch Continental all-terrain tires and X-Pro badging. Inside, X-Pro is embossed on the front seats and a 110-volt inverter outlet gets added in the cargo area. Towing capacity increases from 5,000 to 5,500 pounds.

© Kia America Under the Hood
The 2023 Kia Telluride continues to be powered by Kia’s Lambda II 3.8-liter direct-injection engine producing 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, mated with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The driver can choose from four drive modes: Smart, Eco, Sport and Comfort with different settings for powertrain and steering effort. When equipped with available active on-demand all-wheel drive, Snow and AWD Lock are additional choices.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience Exterior Updates
Subtle exterior updates do not change the overall look and distinctive styling of the Telluride, which has been popular and well received. The headlight redesign eliminates the rectangular yellow daytime running lights (DRLs) that became a signature element of Telluride design (as well as the easiest way to quickly identify a Telluride on the road). The new design features two vertical white lights as DRLs in each light assembly.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience First Drive
Kia gave us the opportunity to drive the 2023 Telluride in Texas Hill Country outside San Antonio; our test vehicle was the Telluride SX-Prestige X-Line. The SX-Prestige has an upscale feeling thanks to its two-tone interior, quilted leather seats and new curved dash screen with two 12.3-inch color displays. During vehicle operation the interior is noticeably quiet, isolating both road noise and engine sound from the cabin. An acoustic windshield is standard equipment for all trim levels, and the Telluride SX-Prestige also includes acoustic front door windows.

© Kia America Driving Dynamics
One reason for the Telluride’s success is its driving dynamics, which thankfully have not changed with the 2023 updates. The impressive chassis and suspension tuning provide a firm, controlled ride that is neither too rough nor too harsh. The steering has appreciable feedback; in terms of cornering, the Telluride turns in well without much body roll and tracks consistently, even on rough surfaces. And even though Telluride is a big crossover and not a sports car, it remains great fun to drive on winding roads, which we happily confirmed in Texas Hill Country.

© Kia America Powertrain
The Telluride drives well, the 3.8-liter V6 engine provides ample power for accelerating from stops or passing at highway speeds; the crossover has the right level of power to be competitive in the midsize segment. Transmission shifts are smooth; drivers can choose to shift manually with the gear shift lever, but there are no paddle shifters behind the steering wheel — even on top trim levels. During our drive we switched back and forth between Sport and Comfort modes, preferring the throttle response of Sport while attempting to capitalize on the fuel economy offered via Comfort mode.

© Kia America Off-Road
For the press event, Kia constructed an off-road course on a private ranch in Hill Country. The course included a variety of terrain, obstacles and challenging sections to showcase the capabilities of the new X-Pro edition. The additional ride height and all-terrain tires of Telluride X-Pro contribute to Telluride’s off-pavement capabilities.

© Kia America Off-Road Course
Climbing and descending steep hills, traversing terrain at steep angles and navigating obstacles that occasionally put one or even two wheels into the air, the X-Pro’s all-wheel-drive-system does a great job of transferring torque to wheels that have traction. Although Telluride does not offer a low range or locking front or rear differentials for more technical off-roading, a center differential lock ensures torque delivery to both axles at low speeds.

© Kia America Right for You?
In today’s market, SUVs are the family vehicle of choice and three-row versions are a competitive segment. Since its premiere three years ago, Telluride sales have been strong alongside Kia’s other three-row vehicles, thanks to its bold styling, more interior room, upscale options, a more useable third row and great driving dynamics. For shoppers seeking a crossover with those appealing attributes, the Kia Telluride could be the optimal choice.

© Kia America Rating: 8.5
Pros: Bold exterior styling; impressive driving dynamics; usable third row.
Cons: No shift paddles even for top trim; loss of signature DRLs.
Bottom Line: Kia’s largest crossover continues with strong styling, great driving dynamics and upscale interiors.

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