Since Kia unveiled the Telluride three years ago, it has been one of the most desirable three row crossovers on the market, combining capability, luxury, style, and value in an attractive package that’s just the right size for families. The factor that has limited the Telluride most has been its availability in the market, with Kia claiming an average of 4 days between delivery and sales at the dealership.
Furthermore, Covid-19 production stoppages and supply chain issues limited the volume of available cars in the past two years. Despite this, the Telluride has continued to be a top pick by automotive journalists and consumers alike.
However, the industry can change quickly and manufacturers need to adapt to keep up. Kia, for its part, has now taken the covers off the refreshed 2023 Telluride, which is a very slight update to its winning package. Is this facelifted Telluride enough to keep it on top of the large crossover segment?
From the outside, this is clearly a subtle change: the front and rear bumpers have been chiseled by Kia’s design team to appear more upright with better defined and more integrated details. For example, the front air intake below the grille is now better incorporated into the face of the car. The grille itself has also been slightly squared off on the edges to give a beefier appearance. The Telluride’s headlights have been fully updated, losing the halo effect daytime running lights and adding a more upright linear theme that appears more modern but has sparked a lot of criticism from people who loved the amber halos of the pre-facelift model.
The taillights have been revised as well, appearing more purposeful and continuing the LED pattern into the tailgate while moving the reverse lamps to the lower bumper. Some new colors and new wheel styles have been added, and the popular Nightfall edition has been replaced by the X-Line trim level which comes in a styling-only X-Line version and an X-Pro trim that includes smaller wheels and larger all-terrain tires with some other small mechanical updates to make the X-Pro slightly more capable off-road (just don’t confuse this added capability with a true body-on-frame off-roader).
On the inside, the previous more traditional dashboard has been replaced by a two-screen setup with 12.3” displays for both the gauge cluster and the infotainment interface. This brings the Telluride in line with other new Kia models which include this dual-screen setup, and makes the Telluride’s interior feel very much like an Escalade on a budget. Beyond the dash, the seating patterns are more rugged for 2023, but nothing else really changes on the inside.
From a powertrain perspective, the Telluride remains unchanged with at 3.8L naturally aspirated V6 providing an adequate but not excessive 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. This engine also nets the Telluride an average fuel economy of 23 miles per gallon. However, this is one of the areas where the Telluride is really starting to show its age in comparison to the market. The powertrain is neither highly performant nor extremely fuel efficient, meaning that those who have the cash to ignore rapidly raising gas prices may find it underpowered and those who are more frugal will find it exceedingly thirsty.
In comparison to competitors who have entered the market since Telluride first went on sale, this powertrain just isn’t very competitive. For example, Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee L matches the Telluride in terms of luxury and has an arguably more attractive badge, but offers a 5.7L V8 with 357 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque (albeit with a lower 17mpg average). On the other side of the spectrum, a Toyota Highlander Hybrid may be slightly less desirable than a Telluride overall, but sees a 35mpg average fuel economy, which starts to look extremely attractive with gas prices spiking.
Furthermore, Telluride could start seeing more competition coming from the growing popularity of full-size SUVs, especially the new Toyota Sequoia which offers a larger package with more power and better fuel efficiency for not much more money than a Telluride. Kia doesn’t yet have an offering in this segment and I’m sure they will start to feel this growing competition as the Telluride ages.
Finally, Kia needs to consider competition from within its corporate umbrella, as the 2023 Hyundai Palisade has undergone a much more substantial redesign and now features a much more rugged look. While the Telluride was undoubtedly the more attractive car before the redesign, Hyundai could pull a few buyers over the fence with the latest Palisade.
Despite these challenges, the Kia Telluride still has a strong position in the market as of today, and it enjoys the continued momentum of its good reputation. The changes for 2023 do keep the car fresh, but can it hold on to its crown until a full redesign, which is surely a good 2 or 3 years in the future? We’ll see, but at least for me, I think it’s clear that Kia will need to address its lackluster powertrain, perhaps by adding a twin turbo, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid option, and increase the Telluride’s size, or at least offer a long wheelbase version, if it wants to keep up with shifts in the market. And if Kia gets the upcoming EV9 large electric crossover right, we might even see another option within the Kia lineup that could steal back some of those who might be swayed by the current and upcoming competition but prefer the benefits of the all-electric E-GMP platform.