Any readers following along with my disappointing year chaperoning our long-term 2018 Volkswagen Atlas know that it was a complicated one. A cavernous, comfortable interior and gutsy V-6 were not enough to overcome its lackluster driving dynamics and the persistent steering problem that plagued my experience throughout much of the year. Although my opinion changed for the better after the steering issue was remedied, it was not enough to leave me with a positive outlook from my year with the supersized VW.
Say hello to the newest member of the MotorTrend long-term fleet, the Kia Telluride, which we also named our 2020 SUV of the Year. Whether it’s battling all of the new, or significantly changed SUVs during this year’s “Of the Year” event, or playing one-on-one against the Hyundai Palisade in a comparison test, the Telluride has been victorious thus far. I’m just hoping it will be the salve to heal my wounds of frustration left by the Atlas.
On paper, the Telluride and Atlas look pretty similar. Three rows of comfortable seating? Check. V-6 engine feeding power through an eight-speed automatic transmission? Check. Front-wheel drive? Unfortunately, check. Priced at $36,015, our Telluride S V-6 actually comes in less than the $38,265 commanded by our outgoing Atlas (and keep in mind it was a 2018 model). With the spec charts looking pretty similar, this year should be full of comparisons between the old dog VW and the new pup.
Speaking of specs, let’s take a look at what we got. Starting one step up from the bottom LX trim level, the 2020 Telluride S starts at an impressive $35,085. Just for comparison, the cheapest FWD V-6 2019 VW Atlas will set you back $36,490. The S trim line we chose for our long-term Telluride gets a few upgrades from the base LX. On the inside, we get a power-adjustable and heated driver seat, LED interior lamps, and a leather-wrapped shift knob. The most important upgrades are found on the outside and include 20-inch wheels, a more premium looking front grille insert, a sunroof, dual exhaust tips, and satin chrome-finished exterior trim pieces. It’s not that the LX trim version is a bad-looking vehicle, but the added touches on the S trim make it look even better. Likewise, jumping all of the way up to the top SX trim level continues the visual improvements with slick, black finished wheels, dual sunroofs, and LED headlamps and fog lamps. Although our Telluride has a lot to offer, we still envy those who forked over the additional $7,500 for the coolest version of the Telluride.
Back to our long-termer. Our Telluride S, painted in Everlasting Silver, is powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 making 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. You may be asking yourself if all of the power going through the front wheels results in any torque steer? Yes, it does. Also, in Sport mode, it will light up the front tires if you give it too much throttle from a standstill, or so I have been told… Sure, a little more torque would be great, and I would prefer to have the optional AWD, but overall, the engine and transmission are really well matched with the chassis.
The Telluride really is a pleasure to drive. During our SUV of the Year evaluation, many of this year’s judges sang its praises for superior comfort, quietness, and refinement compared to other vehicles in the class. We’ll explore the Telluride’s driving dynamics in future updates, but my first impression is that when it comes to ride and handling, the Telluride is in a different league compared to the Atlas.
Looking around from the comfortable black leatherette driver’s seat, I’m satisfied with the Telluride’s interior. We opted for the $100 eight-seater option, which replaces the second row captain’s chairs with a 60/40 split-folding bench seat. The captain’s chairs have a premium look and make access to the third row easier, but I personally think a bench is more useful, and my dog hammock only works with a bench seat. Getting us to that incredibly reasonable $36,015 final price tag, we added carpeted floor mats, a cargo cover, cargo tray, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink garage door opener and compass.
With the Telluride winning SUV of the Year, I have reason to think that my year with the Telluride should be a pleasant one. It maintains much of the utility offered by the gargantuan Volkswagen Atlas, but in a more refined package, leaving me with a lot of hope for the year to come.