2020 Kia Telluride Yearlong Review Verdict: All Good Things Come to an End

Like the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And our long-term 2020 Kia Telluride S was definitely a good thing.

The end. Verdict done.

What’s that you say? You’d like a little more information to understand my simple, easy conclusion? Fine.

Our three-row Kia came to us a winner. Throughout my 10-year MotorTrend tenure, I’ve seen the sometimes rapid growth of the SUV of the Year field. The competition is always hard to win and hotly contested, yet the Kia Telluride won the 2020 SUV of the Year award with relative ease. It has also won every comparison test it has taken part in since. Like Ron Burgundy, the Telluride is kind of a big deal.

So what is Kia’s formula for total Telluride dominance? Why was it such a pleasure to live with for a year?  Well, it looks great, drives and rides well, and is practical and comfortable to boot. Like I said, simple and easy.

More than with any previous test vehicle I have spent a year driving, people complimented the Telluride constantly. Gas stations, parking lots, campgrounds—it seemed like everywhere I went, someone would come up to me and talk about how good the Telluride looked. Some of them had no idea it was a Kia and were genuinely shocked when they found out it was. And I agree. The Telluride is handsome, as most modern Kia products are. It pulls off the right amount of rugged boxiness while stirring in just enough sporty urban styling to appeal to a wide range of people.

Considering most of my time with the Telluride fell during the pandemic, the 20,583 miles we put on the odometer is impressive. With no daily commutes and few vacationing opportunities, many long-term vehicles in the past year have spent more time sitting than we’d like. Our Telluride, however, became a go-to for MotorTrend staffers looking to take long road trips with their family bubbles. Its three rows of seating and ample cargo space were definitely factors in its popularity, but it’s also just a nice vehicle to drive long distances. The seats are comfortable, and it’s both quiet and decently economical. Over our 20,000 miles we had an observed fuel economy of 21.2 mpg. That’s not bad considering our previous long-term VW Atlas, a direct competitor, managed only 20.3 mpg over the year I spent behind the wheel, but it still fell short of the 23 mpg EPA rating for combined driving.

Outside of the Telluride’s competency as a road tripper, it’s nice to drive in general. Part of my personal route to the office takes me along the coast through a “slide zone,” where the shifting earth has created sudden drops and tight, off-camber turns. I just call it “the roller-coaster road.” One particularly dramatic drop leads to an immediate tight, uphill left-hand turn. Vehicles like the Atlas will drop down the first hill, compress the suspension, and sort of pogo and bounce laterally as you make the uphill left. The wheels never leave the ground, but it also doesn’t feel like you’re completely in control through the full turn.

Driving along this stretch of road in the Telluride is a different experience. Sure, the initial drop compresses the springs, but as you rise up the other side toward the turn, the suspension movement has already been controlled. There is no side-to-side, back-to-front movement. It feels solid and unflappable.

So that covers the looks good and drives well sections. What about practicality? It’s a three-row SUV, so it’s practical by default in many ways. The Telluride might not be the class leader in overall size, but most of the time I used it as a large two-row SUV with a ton of rear cargo room. A few MotorTrend staff members did borrow it for its third-row capabilities and reported the sliding second row and reclining third row made for a very livable rear seat. I enjoyed the sliding second-row seat and rear ceiling-mounted vents, which helped keep my dog cool and comfortable during long outings.

The Telluride never experienced any mechanical issues, and the only downtime it saw was a couple of weeks in a body shop after being sideswiped on the freeway. In total we spent $120 on regular maintenance, which included the normal inspection, air filter, oil change, and tire rotation. That betters virtually all competing three-row SUVs we’ve had in our long-term fleet: The aforementioned Atlas cost $167.69 for two services, a 2017 Mazda CX-9 cost $322.35, and a 2016 Honda Pilot rang up $378.35 in routine maintenance. Only a 2019 Subaru Ascent came out ahead on this front—that being because all services were covered free of charge by Subaru—but the Ascent also spent a lot of time in and out of the shop for a host of other repairs.

Certainly, our year behind the wheel can’t be all rainbows and unicorns, though, right? Of course not. But a lot of our gripes were minimal. We absolutely should have ordered our Telluride with the optional $2,000 all-wheel-drive system. Would we have enjoyed driving the high-spec SX version more than our modest S model for the year? Of course, but the simple addition of AWD to our Telluride would have improved the driving experience and the ability to put the power down when needed. All-wheel drive would have also increased confidence during the few occasions when we drove on unmaintained dirt roads.

The only other hiccup came when my wife and I towed a small travel trailer on a camping trip. For the 2020 model year, Kia only installed a four-pin trailer connector even though it has a 5,000-pound tow rating. Kia even showed it towing a horse trailer in advertisements. The automaker has rectified that, and newer Tellurides use the more common seven-blade connector.

One thing you might notice if you’ve glanced at the chart that kicked off this story: IntelliChoice reports a 96 percent trade-in value after three years and 42,000 miles. That’s an unprecedented figure. That doesn’t actually mean the Telluride has unprecedented long-term value, though. Rather, that’s a reflection of what the market looks like right now for used vehicles. Will the big Kia actually return almost the entirety of its original purchase price when three years are up? Probably not. But it’s anyone’s guess when chip shortages and other supply chain disruptions will cease creating havoc on the market.

All that brings us to the part of the story where I get to say I told you so. The Kia Telluride is a class-leading, great-driving, good-looking, and comfortable three-row SUV. It took home our Golden Calipers two years ago, and it hasn’t slowed down a bit since. The only real issue we found—the lack of AWD—is easily rectified via a reasonably priced option, should your demands require power to all four wheels. And even if its true residual value ends up being far below the current 96 percent figure, we’re betting you won’t want to give it up after three years, anyway. The Telluride really is a great vehicle, and we’re sad to see this good thing come to an end.

Read More About Our Long-term 2020 Kia Telluride S:

  • Arrival
  • Update 1: SX Appeal
  • Update 2: AWD, a Tow Hitch, and My Love for the SEA
  • Update 3: 2020 Kia Telluride Pulls a Small Trailer and It’s Tow-tally Awesome!
  • Update 4: Still the King After 18,000 Miles
  • Update 5: One Tank, 330-Mile Road Trip

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