Over the last decade, Kia has made massive strides in turning around the general perception of its brand image. While models like the Cadenza and the Quoris helped with their impressive design, build quality and refinement, the Stinger GT surprised everyone with its excellent performance credentials. However, things weren’t moving at the same pace when it came to its SUVs. While almost all its competitors were filling their portfolios with utility vehicles of different sizes and shapes, Kia has had just two offerings, the Sportage and the Sorento. Of the two, the Sorento was the only one that could be categorized as a family SUV. But despite being a stylish, well-built and polished car, the Sorento could not hold its own against some of the larger models from rival brands. In fact, while in Jordan back in 2014 to drive the then all-new Sorento, I asked Soon-Nam Lee, Kia’s Vice President of Overseas Marketing, if not having a full-size SUV in its line-up weren’t a disadvantage, especially in markets like ours. He told me one of the key initiatives Kia was considering to strengthen our product line-up was the introduction of a full-size premium SUV “in the not-too-distant future.” Barely four years later, at the 2019 North American International Auto Show, the South Korean carmaker officially launched the Telluride, its largest ever vehicle and first to seat eight passengers.

 

You may also like: Volkswagen Teramont review: Go big or go home

Photos: Stefan Lindeque

A handsome, urbane Kia is no longer surprising, but with the Telluride, Kia has outdone itself. It is the first Kia designed specifically for the US and is a product of the Kia Design Center in Irvine. The designers have managed to incorporate some curvilinear elements onto an otherwise boxy design, making the Telluride’s appearance a mix of rugged and elegant. This deliberate shift from rounded, flowing line effectively differentiates it from the other players in this segment and gives it a unique road presence. The wide footprint, long bonnet, the signature tiger-nose grille the LED headlights and taillamps all combine to add to the Telluride’s distinctive looks.

Step in and you’re reminded how far Kia has come from its days of below average interiors put together using tacky materials.  The Telluride’s cabin oozes luxury, with the top-spec models featuring Nappa leather upholstery and suede headliner, while the dashboard is also covered in double-stitched leather and faux-wood panels. The centre console sits lower than in most other SUVs, with a storage area and two grab handles reminiscent of the Volvo XC90 lending the front passenger compartment an air of added roominess. Headroom and leg room are generous in the second row as well, leaving ample space for a tall adult to sit comfortably behind a tall driver or front passenger. However, the same can’t be said about the third row, which isn’t the most spacious in this class. In our 8-seater test car, the third row could accommodate two adults, but legroom is at a premium for those with above average height. Its being an eight-seater depends on the size of the passengers, but for a combination of four adults and three kids, the Telluride’s cabin can be a perfectly happy place.

Settling down to the seating position is easy thanks to the multi-position adjustability of the front seats and steering wheel. While all controls are placed ergonomically and instrument panel visibility is optimum, parts of the head-up display cut off for taller drivers. Then there is the common problem of the display disappearing if you wear polarized sunglasses. But these are minor niggles in a cabin that is as upscale and comfortable as any in this segment.

 

You may also like: 2019 Honda Pilot review: Flight upgrade

Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The Telluride’s 3.8-litre V6 is a remarkably smooth operator, putting out 291 horsepower rpm and 355Nm of torque. The engine is mated to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, with a choice of four drive modes – Smart, Eco, Sport and Comfort in addition to two driver selectable settings, Snow and AWD Lock, for specific driving conditions. Featuring a strong, rigid body structure with a monocoque shell made of 59.4 per cent advanced high-strength steel, the Telluride feels more solid and planted than any other Kia model we have tested. Ride quality and cabin insulation are on a par with the best in class. The available active on-demand all-wheel drive system delivers 100 per cent power to the front wheels in Eco and Smart mode, 80 per cent to the front and 20 to the back in Comfort and Snow modes and splits the power 65:35 between front and back in Sport mode. Meanwhile, Lock mode delivers power evenly to all four wheels.

Being the brand’s flagship, it expectedly is packed with technology features including Blind Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Following Assist, Safe Exit Assist, Highway Driving Assist, Head-Up Display and Rear Occupant Alert among others. It also boasts 7 airbags including dual front advanced air bags, dual front seat-mounted side air bags, side curtain air bags with rollover sensor and driver’s side knee air bag.

With a bold exterior design, well-appointed interior, and loads of comfort, convenience, safety and utility features, the Kia Telluride has everything a potential buyer in the family SUV segment would be looking for. And with base model costing Dh119,000 and the fully loaded top-spec variant going for Dh170,000, Kia has priced it right too.