My parents have always been Big-Car People. I grew up in a ’77 Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon that they traded in for an ’86 Caprice Classic wagon and a subsequent ’90 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon. But they joined the SUV bandwagon early with the new-for-1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited and they’ve never looked back, choosing successive full-size SUVs since then. The latest is a 2011 Nissan Armada, a Titan pickup truck-based body-on-frame SUV built in Mississippi and meant to go head-to-head with the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition.
But their Armada is getting long in the tooth and starting to show its age — not unlike my folks, who now are deep into their 70s. It’s time for a replacement (for the Armada, not my parents), and being a good son well versed in helping people pick the perfect new car for them, I decided to try to help influence their next purchase with a gentle push toward something more efficient, more comfortable, just as usefully spacious and, most important to me, safer. The vehicle I chose to try to pry them out of big, ridiculous SUVs? The brand-new 2020 Kia Telluride SX.
A few things to note: My folks live in Texas, where big trucks and SUVs reign supreme. The question for people there isn’t “Why’d you buy such a big truck?” so much as “Why wouldn’t you buy such a big truck?” So the peer pressure to drive something excessive is real. They’re also retired “snowbirds,” spending half the year in Texas at a retirement community and the other half in temperate Michigan at their riparian manse on Lake Huron. That twice-a-year trek between Texas and Michigan is the main reason they insist on having such a big vehicle despite it being just two of them using it 99% of the time — they pack six months of clothing, food and other must-haves to take with them. They also don’t move as well as they used to, so ease of entry and exit and lots of space inside helps them feel comfortable. Switching to a Honda Civic is out of the question — they insist that whatever replaces the big Armada has to be of comparable size.
Given the space requirements, there were really only a few possibilities I seriously considered pushing them toward: the Volkswagen Atlas, the Kia Telluride/Hyundai Palisade twins, and the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Why not the new Armada? My parents’ rationale: It’s smaller than their current one (it is, marginally) and a lot more expensive than it used to be. My rationale? It’s not any more efficient (gas mileage is abhorrent). Getting them into a minivan seemed a tall order despite the Pacifica’s excellent comfort, long list of safety amenities and friendly price; plus, Cars.com’s recent experience with the Pacifica’s persistent transmission issues have soured us on recommending the thing. The Atlas was a real possibility thanks to its cavernous interior space, friendly price and powertrain options, but its interior quality made me suspect my parents wouldn’t warm to it. A new Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Tahoe isn’t a price-conscious choice — the prices for new full-size SUVs are insane.
That left the new-for-2020 Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, with their big interiors, efficient V-6 engines, excellent value, scads of standard safety equipment and top-notch multimedia tech. But which one should I bring home for a long weekend to show them? In the end, I settled on the Kia over the Hyundai for one simple reason: the shifter. The Kia has a traditional shift lever, while the Hyundai makes do with a push-button affair. I figured the traditional lever would be more to their liking.
The Object of My Persuasion
I took delivery of a shiny new 2020 Kia Telluride SX in Snow White Pearl to bring to the parents for a weekend of trying to convince them to dump the old, inefficient SUV in favor of modern features at a reasonable price. The big Telluride SUV slots atop Kia’s line of people carriers — a V-6-powered, seven-occupant, car-based crossover that’s technically listed as “mid-size,” but with interior volume at the bigger end of the three-row segment, along with the Chevrolet Traverse, Atlas, Buick Enclave and Nissan Pathfinder.
The SX trim level is loaded, too: all-wheel drive, leather interior, heated and ventilated seats, a moonroof, 20-inch wheels, LED headlights, premium Harman Kardon audio system, head-up display and a laundry list of electronic safety equipment including forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and intervention, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors all around and more — and perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the package, an as-tested price of $46,100 including destination. In comparison, a new Ford Expedition XLT 4×4 starts at $57,215 with almost none of that equipment.
As soon as I pulled up to my folks’ summer home, the comparisons began. “Oh, it’s not as big as the Armada, is it?” Well, no, not exactly. The Telluride is clearly shorter and lower. The truck-based Armada is more than 10 inches longer with a 9-inch longer wheelbase and is taller by nearly 8 inches, though it’s only an inch wider than the Kia. On the outside, the old Armada definitely casts a larger shadow.
Inside, it also edges the smaller Kia, but not by nearly as much as you might expect. “The cargo area doesn’t quite look as big, but it definitely seems lower,” my mother observed. The cargo room is comparable to a point: Behind the third row of seats, the Kia actually edges out the bigger Armada by 1 cubic foot of cargo room. Drop the third row and the Armada bests the Telluride thanks to a taller roof with 56.7 cubic feet of cargo room to the Kia’s 46.0. Drop all the seats and the Armada is only 10 cubic feet bigger, 97.1 cubic feet to the Kia’s 87.0, and most of it seems to come from height. It’s definitely more of a task to get stuff into the old Armada’s cargo area thanks to the higher floor. In terms of overall space, the Kia’s not quite as big, but it’s easier to use.
Occupant space is a closer story. The new Telluride is about the same as the old Armada for legroom in the first two rows, though it comes up a bit short in the third row. The Telluride has 41.4 inches versus the Armada’s 41.8 up front, 42.4 to 41.9 in the second row, and 31.4 to 32.2 for the third row. I suspect the latter may be due to some measuring quirks in the third-row legroom, however, as sitting in both of these third rows, the Kia’s is more comfortable and easier to get in and out of. But the third row is almost never used by my folks, so it’s the first two rows that matter most for space, and the easier ingress and egress of the Kia definitely shines. Headroom isn’t an issue in either vehicle thanks to tall roofs on both. But the big panoramic moonroof in the Kia doesn’t impinge on headroom until you get to the third row — and even then, it’s no big deal due to the shaped headliner.
The Kia’s gee-whiz technology on the top SX model also presents well. The enormous central multimedia touchscreen makes the Armada’s look positively ancient (which it was even in 2011), and neat touches such as side-view cameras with images that pop up in the electronic gauge cluster when the turn signal is activated are things that simply didn’t exist in 2011. There are far more electronic features in the Telluride, as one would expect in two vehicles nearly a decade apart. But the biggest advances have come in the safety department, where the Telluride has scored an IIHS Top Safety Pick award and comes with that standard forward collision system with automatic braking, plus has a host of other features available; the newest Nissan Armada doesn’t even offer a lot of these features as options. The Kia definitely wins on safety and technology, but it’s also not full of overly complicated systems, tricky controls or confusing beeps and warnings.
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Will They Go for It?
My folks liked the Kia for its style, comfort and invisible safety technology (fuel efficiency isn’t a concern of theirs and never has been). The price certainly was right, as well, far below what getting into a comparable new full-size traditional SUV would set them back (by nearly $15,000, yikes). But they also like the idea of keeping their big old Armada for its familiarity, its size and … its size. Convincing them that they don’t need all that room, even for the twice-a-year drive across six states, has proven problematic for the last 20 years. We’ll see if the lure of up-to-date technology, reliable safety equipment, and considerably better fuel economy at an eminently reasonable sticker price will do the trick. I think the Kia would be perfect for them. Then again, last week, my dad texted me from the Volkswagen dealer where they’re looking at a new Atlas. So what do I know?
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