The verdict: Very minor changes to the 2023 Kia Telluride make an already stellar family SUV even better.
Versus the competition: Few mid-size three-row SUVs can match the Telluride’s combination of style, capability, comfort, technology and ease of use for the money.
When Kia debuted the 2020 Telluride, it was something of a revelation: a truck-styled three-row SUV that offered big space, big value, big comfort and a healthy dose of flair. It won a bunch of major industry awards and was so popular that customers were having trouble finding any to buy, with Tellurides being sold before they even made it off the transport trucks.
Related: Refreshed 2023 Kia Telluride Priced From $37,025
Kia hit upon a formula for success with the Telluride, and for the 2023 model year, it’s given the SUV a slight freshening. The company has also increased production capacity at its plant in Georgia. To see what the 2023 model is like, I traveled to San Antonio at Kia’s invitation to drive it. (Per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its own airfare and lodging at such automaker-sponsored events.)
Spot the Differences?
Go Google an image of the 2022 Kia Telluride, compare it with the 2023 model above and see if you can spot the differences. They’re subtle to the point of near invisibility, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the Telluride’s styling is only 3 years old, and it still looks fresh despite its traditional profile. For 2023, there are new headlights (LEDs are now standard), a new grille, new lower door sills, taillights with clear lenses, some new wheel designs … and that’s it. The blacked-out Nightfall Edition is gone, but two new off-road-styled variants replace it: X-Line and X-Pro.
These trims offer an off-road-ready appearance, if not true off-road capability, and get trim-specific grilles, a different suspension with taller shocks and springs, blacked-out headlights and taillights, body-colored door handles and roof rails. The X models sit higher, too, with 8.4 inches of ground clearance, or just under half an inch more than the 2022 Telluride. The bigger differences come with the wheels and tires: The X-Line gets 20-inch gloss-black wheels, while the X-Pro gets more off-road-suitable Continental all-terrain tires on 18-inch wheels. Slightly different bumper designs allow for slightly better approach and departure angles than other Telluride trims, but to call this an off-road SUV would be a huge stretch of the imagination — there’s no dedicated “off-road” drive mode, no underbody skid plate protection and no special four-wheel-drive algorithms beyond a “lock” button for the all-wheel-drive system that makes the clutches act more aggressively when driving on slippery or loose surfaces.
Same On-Road Goodness
I tested SX-Prestige X-Pro and X-Line models in San Antonio, and they drove pretty much the same as the prior Telluride. The sole powertrain is a carryover 3.8-liter V-6 making 291 horsepower and 262 pounds-feet of torque that teams with a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. Front- and all-wheel-drive variants are available.
Like its predecessor, the 2023 Telluride feels heavy but solid; acceleration is tepid and unhurried unless you mash the accelerator pedal. When you do that, power from the big V-6 arrives in a smooth rush accompanied by a pleasing exhaust burble. The Telluride also can tow up to 5,500 pounds when properly equipped.
The Telluride’s ride and handling are just as good as we remember, with an excellent balance of on-road smoothness with either the 18- or 20-inch wheels and tires. There’s a level of road noise, however, that can’t entirely be attributed to San Antonio’s totally awful pressed-gravel road surfaces; both the 18-inch all-terrain tires and 20-inch on-road rubber generate a significant level of noise in the cabin. The all-terrain tires also introduce a bit of wandering behavior on the highway.
Overall, though, the Telluride’s steering is fantastic, with a nicely weighted heft to it and decent feedback that is often lacking in this class. The Telluride will also hustle along a twisty back road at decent speed, the brakes providing firm and reliable stopping power when needed. There’s no disguising the Telluride’s hefty proportions and mass, however, and nothing about the SUV invites you to do any spirited driving. Still, it delivers a confident driving experience more akin to a Ford Explorer than the numbness of a Toyota Highlander.
It Goes Off-Road … Barely
Look, if you’re really intent on going off-road in your Telluride … just don’t. It will last longer. Kia provided an off-road loop for the SX-Prestige X-Pro that included some deep gullies and banked mounds, but all-terrain tires and slightly higher ground clearance does not make an off-road SUV. Kia maintains that the X-Pro is better at getting city-dwelling families to campsites on fire trails that may have the odd washout, but without any underbody protection, low-range 4WD, greater wheel travel or even an off-road drive mode, the big Telluride isn’t much better at going through the dirt than any other crossover. It’ll do it, but this is really more of a family station wagon or minivan replacement than a true rock climber. Stick to gravel roads and stay off two-tracks, and the Telluride will serve you just fine.