As far as mass-transit solutions and public policy go, regular readers will know that SUVs and crossovers are not my usual jam, particularly in their increasingly popular roles as jacked up on-tarmac people movers and single-occupant identikit commuter vehicles. Having gotten that out of the way, I’m here to tell you that the new Kia Telluride impressed me so deeply and so unexpectedly that I feel compelled to sing its praises. Quick take: If you’re looking for a seven-passenger SUV that gets decent gas mileage (I’ve seen 26 mpg in more than 300 miles of driving so far, including quite a bit of NYC traffic), one that looks good inside and out, and one that drives like a smaller, nimbler vehicle, I think I may have found what you’re after.
This is not the first time I’ve had the experience of suddenly realizing that a vehicle I’d been pretty much prepared to dismiss out of hand was actually so decent in the metal that my preconceptions were instantly zapped, freeze-dried, if you will, leaving my mind to crumble and blow away. Surprises happen in this business, it’s an occupational hazard, but this time the feeling was so strong it reminded me eerily of the only other time I was quite so surprised.
That would be a week spent around the turn of the century in the company of a Daewoo Leganza. I was so stunned by its creamy okayness that I wrote of the mortal danger it represented—in terms of overall build quality and as a value for money proposition—to American brands like, say, Pontiac. As it happened, I was right about Pontiac, which had gone from being GM’s Wide Track division to becoming its second-thought Side Track division. In a sense, I was wrong about Daewoo, a GM protectorate that met its untimely demise as an America-facing brand not long after I’d discovered its merit for myself. But Daewoo soldiers on as GM Korea and remains profitable. (In fact, its engineering can be found in more GM cars than the company might want its hard-core American buyer base to know, while its plants built Korean-market Chevrolets and Buick’s U.S. bestseller, the Encore.) We know this because if it wasn’t making money, you can assume current GM management would have gotten rid of it already, possibly selling it to someone who would’ve quickly turned the business around (à la Opel with new owner). And I wasn’t commenting on Daewoo’s salability as a US brand, mind you, only on its fundamental decency, which was abundant.
In this case, however, we have something that is, unlike the Leganza, genuinely salable in America. Kia dealers are trilling with delight as Tellurides scamper from their showroom floors like so many happy puppies off to loving homes. The approximately $48,000 an owner might leave behind in exchange for one like the fully spec’d example I’ve been testing represent almost astonishing good value for something so good. It’s smooth to drive, with capable handling and body control that puts more famous brands to shame, with smooth controls and steering just this side of engaging, plus interior materials that leave some traditional American nameplates and even some high-end Europeans in the plastic, nano-particle-filled dust. Like some of the best Mazdas, it’s so rich in style and quality for its price that it leaves one to wonder why some other car companies even bother.
In a funny way the Telluride reminds me of Ford’s Flex, another tastefully low-riding SUV/minivan/people-mover-type-thing that its maker all but stopped marketing a minute after they launched it. But the Flex has made it to the present day on the rightness of its design and conception, a fact recognized by enough people that the vehicle has been allowed to self-select its way into the future, earning its keep in spite of getting no love from its corporate mothers and fathers.
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There’s no danger of that here, as Kia can only enjoy hoisting itself upmarket with a popular vehicle in a premium price zone. Good on them. Still, this may be the last time I salute a new member of the SUV field that’s caught my eye. Don’t ask, don’t Telluride.
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